'Models of everything' created to improve accuracy of long-term weather forecasting

Sep 12, 2012 by Tracey Peake
'Models of everything' created to improve accuracy of long-term weather forecasting

People love to complain about the weather – and especially about weather forecasters. But real, accurate forecasting beyond five to seven days is immensely complicated, due to the sheer volume of atmospheric processes and factors. Fortunately for us, advances in computing are making it possible for mathematicians, atmospheric scientists and statisticians to create "models of everything," which may lead to accurate long-range weather forecasts.

NC State mathematician John Harlim is working on one such "model of everything," specifically for longer-range and . He's part of a five-year project led by NYU's Andrew Majda that is creating simpler, less expensive stochastic models (a model that includes random variables) for extended range weather and climate prediction.

One major stumbling block to extending and improving beyond seven-day forecasts is a lack of understanding of the dynamics that drive global weather patterns. The mix of factors in these patterns is amazingly complex. According to Harlim, "The dynamics in the tropics involve hierarchies of processes on both huge scales – like, 10,000 km – and much smaller scales over many months.  Physical processes in individual clouds can affect these larger processes in the long run.

"In terms of a model, then, you would have to resolve the entire globe in one kilometer chunks, look at every possible that could possibly occur over every moment given all sorts of variables, and then scale it up," Harlim adds. Since this approach is very expensive, computationally speaking, Harlim and his colleagues hope to develop simpler, cheaper models that can capture tropical dynamics and understand their interactions with extratropical weather patterns.

Says Harlim, "Understanding tropical dynamics is the Holy Grail of atmospheric modeling, and if we're successful, you'll be able to get accurate weather forecasting for months, not just days, in advance."

Atmospheric scientist Sukanta Basu is part of a team working on a "model of everything" for atmospheric turbulence by studying airflow over complex terrain, including islands. The team wants to understand how atmospheric turbulence affects laser propagations, but their work could have other applications as well – such as predicting microbursts for aircraft safety, or estimating evaporation rates for water management in agriculture. And just like Harlim's, Basu's model will have to take a huge number of factors into account.

"We'll be looking at 10 meter terrain maps, finding out every spatial location and time and what the atmospheric field may look like," Basu says. "The amount of computational power needed is huge – one simulation can fill up a terabyte disk – so we're looking at petascale computing, which can do a quadrillion operations per second. Ten years ago we didn't have computing on this scale, so projects like this were impossible."

Explore further: Researchers help Boston Marathon organizers plan for 2014 race

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

New Models of Weather Pattern

Dec 09, 2005

For a mathematician, Joseph Biello spends a lot of time thinking about the weather. But the UC Davis assistant professor isn't looking out the office window. He is using mathematical theory to build a model of the Madden-Julian ...

Taming uncertainty in climate prediction

Mar 23, 2012

(PhysOrg.com) -- Uncertainty just became more certain. Atmospheric and computational researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory used a new scientific approach called "uncertainty quantification," ...

Modeling the local impact of global climate change

Sep 16, 2011

"You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows," Bob Dylan famously sang. But if you want to know how it will blow tomorrow, odds are you're going to check the forecast.

Petascale climate modeling heats up

Sep 04, 2008

The development of powerful supercomputers capable of analyzing decades of data in the blink of an eye mark a technological milestone capable of bringing comprehensive changes to science, medicine, engineering, and business ...

Recommended for you

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

10 hours ago

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

Study finds law dramatically curbing need for speed

Apr 18, 2014

Almost seven years have passed since Ontario's street-racing legislation hit the books and, according to one Western researcher, it has succeeded in putting the brakes on the number of convictions and, more importantly, injuries ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Sep 12, 2012
Models are models and subject to interpretation, whether intuitive or scientific. Actually, they are created out of interpretation.

More news stories

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Airbnb rental site raises $450 mn

Online lodging listings website Airbnb inked a $450 million funding deal with investors led by TPG, a source close to the matter said Friday.