Resource Database: Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Title Global Climate Change Modelling
Originator D. J. Unwin
Department Department of Geography, Birkbeck College, University of London
Tel. +44 (0)171-631-6485
Fax. +44 (0)171-631-6498

Modern climatology is essentially model based (see Henderson Sellers and McGuffie, 1996). Most of our knowledge, for example, about the causes, course and consequences of global warming is based on the examination of model output statistics.

I have used an exercise based around student experimentation with a computer model in three very different teaching settings and with different emphases placed on the aims and objectives:

a) In a specialist option in Urban Climatology use has been made of a very simple zero-dimensional energy balance model originally formulated by Myrup (1969) for an analogue computer but subsequently coded for a digital machine (Outcalt, 1972). As my report (Unwin 1981) makes clear, interest here is primarily to reinforce a course based around energy balance concepts such that students might be expected to acquire an understanding of the model structure, if not the method of solution. For this, the Myrup/Outcalt model seems to be an ideal vehicle. In the early days, running it involved access to what at the time was a very advanced multi-user mainframe, but nowadays the model runs easily on virtually any PC. I usually allow around 3 laboratory sessions (each circa 2 hours) for exercise.

b) As a class room demonstration of a global climate model to a first year course in Global Environmental Issues, using a latitude dependent, one dimensional energy balance model (Burt, undated). Interest here is not at all concerned with the model detail, but is to give a feel for the fundamental nature of model results and thus the uncertainty of prognostications about CO2 induced global warming. For this, Jim Burt's model may seem vastly oversimplified, but students are surprised to learn that similar models were "state of the art" during the early 1970s when concern was first expressed about anthropogenic changes to the climate system. The model runs easily on virtually any well-specified PC and its choice of output graphs and table allows it to be used to stimulate discussion. The exercise is used to 'break up' a 3 hour timetable slot on global climate models and change.

c) Most recently, I have begun to use the same Burt model in an assignment given to MSc class in Environmental Science. Interest here combines (a) and (b) above but in addition the exercise asks that students design, execute and report their own set of experiments in global climate change. For this the Burt model is simple enough to be explained at this level, and its parameter space is large enough to permit a variety of change experiments. Student are expected to report their work 'in the manner of a standard scientific paper'. Usually, two three hour timetable slots are devoted to the formal part of the exercise.

Materials for (c) are available as:
(i) A brief model
(ii) A project briefing

The Burt Model is one of the many resources for teaching climatology/meteorology available at:

Relevant References:


Climate change
Energy balance
Global warming
Myrup/Outcal model

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Page created 3 February 1997
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