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Future research

As powerful as CCSM-2 is, there is much about Earth’s climate that still cannot be simulated.

For example, oceanographers want to recreate large-scale eddies in the ocean, which have an impact on the amount of heat carried to high latitudes. But such eddies are narrower than 100 kilometers (62 miles), and successfully simulating them would require a leap in resolution to one-tenth of a degree by one-tenth of a degree.

Other scientists want to model the impact of rain and snowfall on water supplies to help society prepare for cycles of drought. But this would require much finer-scale modeling that could provide more detail about river flows and other surface features.

One of the most important questions to society is the impact that increased carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere will have on the world’s climate. But addressing this vital issue with greater precision at global and regional levels requires added computer power and the modeling of comprehensive natural processes to account for the cycling of carbon among land, ocean, and atmosphere.

Down the road, scientists are hoping to move toward a new generation of modeling altogether by incorporating the interaction between global climate and all Earth’s processes, thereby capturing subtle feedback loops. A future model, for example, might be able to track the movement and health of northern-latitude forests in times of higher temperatures and monitor the ability of those altered forests to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

In time, scientists hope that models such as CCSM will shed light on future climate behavior for specific regions. Such information will help political leaders tackle such fundamental issues as whether to boost funding for firefighters because of shifts in dry forest conditions or to consider the effect of a largely ice-free Arctic Ocean on national security. Business leaders can try to anticipate significant trends, such as a downturn in energy consumption or a surplus of crops. And society as a whole will reap the benefits.

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