I’ve been collecting examples of different types of climate model that students can use in the classroom to explore different aspects of climate science and climate policy. In the long run, I’d like to use these to make the teaching of climate literacy much more hands-on and discovery-based. My goal is to foster more critical thinking, by having students analyze the kinds of questions people ask about climate, figure out how to put together good answers using a combination of existing data, data analysis tools, simple computational models, and more sophisticated simulations. And of course, learn how to critique the answers based on the uncertainties in the lines of evidence they have used.
Anyway, as a start, here’s a collection of runnable and not-so-runnable models, some of which I’ve used in the classroom:
Simple Energy Balance Models (for exploring the basic physics)
- Zero dimensional Energy Balance from Wolfram. Allows you to adjust one parameter, the greenhouse effect, and explore the resulting equilibrium global temperature. Also serves to show off Wolfram’s Computable Document Format (CDF) which might be a neat way to share simple models with students.
- A simple spreadsheet zero-dimension energy balance model from Climateprediction.net. I like the idea of getting the students to do this in spreadsheets, because most of them already understand spreadsheets. This one has a parameter for heat capacity, so you can see how long it takes to reach a new equilibrium temperature.
- Energy Balance Model with ability to add atmosphere layers from Phet. This simulation shows off how greenhouse gas molecules interact with photons, trapping them or allowing them through. Pretty neat for giving students an intuition for how the greenhouse effect works.
- One-dimensional Energy Balance model from Shodor. Calculates the equilibrium temperature for each latitude zone on the planet, allowing you to specify cloud and ice albedo, solar constant, longwave radiation loss, and starting temperatures for each zone. Not very usable, but good illustration of what a 1-dimensional model might do. (Note: Shodor also have a great ecosystem sim with rabbits and wolves, and a disease transmission sim).
- A one-layer energy-balance model developed by Michael Mann at Penn state, for use in his course on global warming. Allows you to alter different feedback factors (albedo, clouds, ice, water vapour), to test their effect on temperature and climate sensitivity.
- A Java applet Global Energy Balance Model, from Rob MacKay at Clark College (part of a whole collection of Java Physlets from Davidson University)
- A simple spreadsheet zero-dimension energy balance model from Climateprediction.net. I like the idea of getting the students to do this in spreadsheets, because most of them already unnew equilibrium temperature.
- The Global Equilibrium Energy Balance Interactive Tinker Toy (Geebitt) from Chris Petersen at NASA GISS, a more sophisticated spreadsheet model.
- An energy flow simulator written in NetLogo from Northwestern U, showing how heat transfer works between the sun, atmosphere and ground, and allowing you to adjust CO2 and cloudiness dynamically.
General Circulation Models (for studying earth system interactions)
- EdGCM – an educational version of the NASA GISS general circulation model (well, an older version of it). EdGCM provides a simplified user interface for setting up model runs, but allows for some fairly sophisticated experiments. You typically need to let the model run overnight for a century-long simulation.
- Portable University Model of the Atmosphere (PUMA) – a planet Simulator designed by folks at the University of Hamburg for use in the classroom to help train students interested in becoming climate scientists.
Integrated Assessment Models (for policy analysis)
- C-Learn, a simple policy analysis tool from Climate Interactive. Allows you to specify emissions trajectories for three groups of nations, and explore the impact on global temperature. This is a simplified version of the C-ROADS model, which is used to analyze proposals during international climate treaty negotiations.
- Java Climate Model (JVM) – a detailed desktop assessment model that offers detailed controls over different emissions scenarios and regional responses.
Systems Dynamics Models (to foster systems thinking)
- Bathtub Dynamics and Climate Change from John Sterman at MIT. This simulation is intended to get students thinking about the relationship between emissions and concentrations, using the bathtub metaphor. It’s based on Sterman’s work on mental models of climate change.
- The Climate Challenge: Our Choices, also from Sterman’s team at MIT. This one looks fancier, but gives you less control over the simulation – you can just pick one of three emissions paths: increasing, stabilized or reducing. On the other hand, it’s very effective at demonstrating the point about emissions vs. concentrations.
- Carbon Cycle Model from Shodor, originally developed using Stella by folks at Cornell.
- And while we’re on systems dynamics, I ought to mention toolkits for building your own systems dynamics models, such as Stella from ISEE Systems (here’s an example of it used to teach the global carbon cycle).
Other Related Models
- A Kaya Identity Calculator, from David Archer at U Chicago. The Kaya identity is a way of expressing the interaction between the key drivers of carbon emissions: population growth, economic growth, energy efficiency, and the carbon intensity of our energy supply. Archer’s model allows you to play with these numbers.
- An Orbital Forcing Calculator, also from David Archer. This allows you to calculate what the effect changes in the earth’s orbit and the wobble on its axis have on the solar energy that the earth receives, in any year in the past of future.
Useful readings on the hierarchy of climate models
- Isaac Held on how simple models are like fruit flies in biological research – we can use them to give us a first test of whether an idea makes sense.
- John Baez has been collecting basic introductions to the different types of climate model, and has an entire grad course that walks through the mathematics of climate modelling.