Rocky Mountain Section - 64th Annual Meeting (9–11 May 2012)

Paper No. 10
Presentation Time: 11:30 AM


SOHL, Linda E.1, CHANDLER, Mark A.1 and WILLIAMS, John W.2, (1)Center for Climate Systems Research, Columbia University, NASA/GISS, 2880 Broadway, New York, NY 10025, (2)Department of Geography, University of Wisconsin Madison, 550 N Park Street, Madison, WI 53706,

Earth system science provides an integrated approach to understanding the complete Earth System: atmosphere, hydrosphere, lithosphere, and biosphere. These days many geoscience students benefit greatly from this emphasis on a systems approach, but often still get little exposure to the atmospheric portion of the Earth system, much less the numerical modeling tools used in global climate or Earth system modeling. This learning gap is particularly acute at institutions where Earth and atmospheric sciences are taught by separate departments, and in more traditional geology departments where paleoclimates are explored mainly through geochemical proxies and conceptual (qualitative) models of climate.

One way to bridge the gap is via paleoclimate studies that place a greater emphasis on data/model comparisons, and stress the role of iterative cooperation between observation and simulation. To make this approach more feasible, the Educational Global Climate Model (EdGCM) Project seeks to increase access to climate models by providing a more user-friendly experience that doesn't require supercomputers and scientific programming skills. In addition, to enhance the modeling experience, the EdGCM interface is built around a genuine NASA global climate model, and is designed for users to run pre-defined numerical climate simulations or, for power-users, experiments of their own design. For paleoclimate studies, EdGCM is capable of running specific paleoclimate simulations/reconstructions for the Neoproterozoic Snowball Earth, mid-Cretaceous, Paleocene/Eocene, Pliocene, the Last Glacial Maximum, and a range of Holocene climates. Other paleoclimate time periods (e.g., the Late Ordovician glaciation) can be explored via sensitivity experiments that address “big picture” questions relating to greenhouse gas levels, solar luminosity levels, and orbital configurations.

Over the past several years, the Department of Geography at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has required some 200 students to develop semester paleoclimate projects using EdGCM, with an overall positive impact on the students’ ability to consider paleoclimate from a broader Earth system perspective. We consider the UW experience to be indicative of the benefits that paleoclimate modeling can bring to Earth system science studies.