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Supercomputing the Climate

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

This video provides an overview of how computer models work. It explains the process of data assimilation, which is necessary to ensure that models are tied to reality. The video includes a discussion of weather models using the Goddard Earth Observing System (GEOS-5) model and climate models using the MERRA (Modern Era Retrospective Analysis for Research and Applications) technique.

Video length 5:30 minutes.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Video supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
High School: 5 Disciplinary Core Ideas, 3 Cross Cutting Concepts

Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

Observations, experiments, and theory are used to construct and refine computer models
About Teaching Principle 5
Other materials addressing 5c
Meteorology and climatology are related but different sciences, and their processes are modeled and forecast differently
About Teaching Principle 5
Other materials addressing 5d
Climate models are robust enough to be used for guiding decision and actions as response to climate change
About Teaching Principle 5
Other materials addressing 5e
Our understanding of climate
About Teaching Climate Literacy
Other materials addressing Our understanding of climate

Notes From Our Reviewers The CLEAN collection is hand-picked and rigorously reviewed for scientific accuracy and classroom effectiveness. Read what our review team had to say about this resource below or learn more about how CLEAN reviews teaching materials
Teaching Tips | Science | Pedagogy | Technical Details

Teaching Tips

  • The contemporary "nature of science" involves the union of science, mathematics, and technology where computer-coded equations are solved to help understand satellite and ground observations and predict future conditions.
  • This video can be used to introduce the roles of data, scientists, and computer models in predicting weather and climate conditions.

About the Science

  • The animation includes several examples of visual results of computer model runs. While there is some advanced reference to the NASA Center for Climate Simulation (NCCS) and current NASA / Goddard Space Flight Center approaches, the visuals may help general audiences understand the scientific material.
  • Comments from expert scientist:
    Scientific strengths:
    great visual of climate and weather models and how they work!
    - Clear explanation of what numerical models are and what they do
    - Clear explanation of why weather models are important (most accurate prediction of weather from 1 week to 10 days)
    - Explanation of how data is used (satellites collect data--> data entered to computers --> supercomputers --> continuing daily accumulation of satellite and ground observations)
    - Difference between weather and climate models
    - Examples of actual models used (MERA)

About the Pedagogy

  • Prefacing the video with a definition of computer models as "systems of equations that represent physical systems" may help prepare students to understand the abstract concepts of weather and climate models.
  • You may want to follow the video with a review of data assimilation, in which models run forward to make predictions, then actual observations are brought into the system (assimilated) to give the model an accurate snapshot of reality before making the next set of predictions.
  • There is no specific teacher's guide for this video. There is a transcript of the narration at: http://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/vis/a010000/a010500/a010563/NCCS_transcript.html.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

  • The video is available in multiple sizes and formats.

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Video supports:

High School

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 5

HS-ESS2.A1:Earth’s systems, being dynamic and interacting, cause feedback effects that can increase or decrease the original changes.

HS-ESS2.D1:The foundation for Earth’s global climate systems is the electromagnetic radiation from the sun, as well as its reflection, absorption, storage, and redistribution among the atmosphere, ocean, and land systems, and this energy’s re-radiation into space.

HS-ESS2.D4:Current models predict that, although future regional climate changes will be complex and varied, average global temperatures will continue to rise. The outcomes predicted by global climate models strongly depend on the amounts of human-generated greenhouse gases added to the atmosphere each year and by the ways in which these gases are absorbed by the ocean and biosphere.

HS-ESS3.D1:Though the magnitudes of human impacts are greater than they have ever been, so too are human abilities to model, predict, and manage current and future impacts.

HS-ESS3.D2:Through computer simulations and other studies, important discoveries are still being made about how the ocean, the atmosphere, and the biosphere interact and are modified in response to human activities.

Cross Cutting Concepts: 3

Systems and System Models

HS-C4.2:When investigating or describing a system, the boundaries and initial conditions of the system need to be defined and their inputs and outputs analyzed and described using models.

HS-C4.3:Models (e.g., physical, mathematical, computer models) can be used to simulate systems and interactions—including energy, matter, and information flows—within and between systems at different scales.

HS-C4.4:Models can be used to predict the behavior of a system, but these predictions have limited precision and reliability due to the assumptions and approximations inherent in models.

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