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A basic modelling primer. 69EG3137 – Impacts & Models of Climate Change. Details for Today: DATE: 14 th October 2004 BY: Mark Cresswell FOLLOWED BY: Practical. Lecture Topics. Introduction (what is a model?) Modelling philosophy The systems approach to modelling Systems analysis

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a basic modelling primer

A basic modelling primer

69EG3137 – Impacts & Models of Climate Change

Details for Today:

DATE: 14th October 2004

BY: Mark Cresswell

FOLLOWED BY: Practical

lecture topics
Lecture Topics
  • Introduction (what is a model?)
  • Modelling philosophy
  • The systems approach to modelling
  • Systems analysis
  • Climate model basics
  • Suggested reading
  • Assignment 1 set today
introduction 1
Introduction #1

What is a Model?

  • A necessarily simplified abstraction of the real-world
  • Comprises the known fundamental sources of causality within a natural system
  • Disregards factors of little or no importance
  • Uses assumptions
  • Uses parameterisations where factors are not known or hard to calculate
introduction 2
Introduction #2

What is a Model?

  • A climate model must attempt to describe the climate system in terms of basic physical, chemical and biological principles (laws)
  • The model becomes a series of equations expressing these laws
  • Equations must be solved rapidly for individual grid-points and for many time integrations
introduction 3
Introduction #3

What is Modelling?

  • A process such as weathering (by wind or rain) may be represented mathematically by the inputs (water), outputs (sediment solution) and weathering action involved. An entire system is a collection of processes (like the climate system for example) - each one defined by a set of rules at the simplest level or complex equations and physics at a higher level. The mathematical representation of the dynamics of real world systems is known as simulation modelling.
modelling philosophy 1
Modelling Philosophy #1
  • It has been suggested that the most useful links between a theory and a model are mediated through imagination (Harvey, 1969)
modelling philosophy 2
Modelling Philosophy #2

There are three broad categories of model as outlined by Hardisty, 1995:

  • Natural analogues. The use of actual events or objects occurring in different times or different places to help examine what has, is or will happen to a particular system
  • Hardware or physical models. A range of materials (often natural) is used
  • Mathematical models. A range of deterministic or stochastic approaches based upon the solution of equations, rules and algorithms.
modelling philosophy 3
Modelling Philosophy #3

Example of a very basic model

modelling philosophy 4
Modelling Philosophy #4

When modelling a dynamic process (like the climate) we are concerned with the following paradigm:

Future value (or state) = present value + change

We may also consider the following re-arrangement:

Change = future value – present value

modelling philosophy 5
Modelling Philosophy #5

The MOST important principle of modelling

garbage in = garbage out

the systems approach 1
The Systems Approach #1
  • Complex systems (such as the climate or ecosystem) may be disassembled into smaller sub-systems, each of which has individual inputs and outputs
  • By breaking down a large system in this way, we can study and model individual components more easily. This strategy is known as the systems approach
  • Many natural systems blur into other systems making the demarcation of a system (and hence the limits of the model boundary) a difficult issue
the systems approach 2
The Systems Approach #2
  • Since the 1970s there has been a shift (in the environmental sciences) to a dynamical systems approach after the realisation that models can evolve in time as the processes and sub-systems they represent change and evolve.
  • The study of the functioning and composition of systems is known as systems analysis (Hardisty et al., 1995). Systems analysis is very closely allied to modelling as system construction is an early phase in modelling itself
systems analysis 1
Systems Analysis #1
  • There are four phases
  • Phase 1: The lexical phase. This requires the (a) definition of the system boundaries; (b) selection of system components (more correctly referred to as state variables); and (c) estimation of the value (state) of the state variables. Huggett (1980) calls these stages system closure, entitation and quantitation respectively
systems analysis 2
Systems Analysis #2
  • Phase 2: The parsing phase. This involves defining the relationships of the state variables of the system in a mathematical way. Relationships may be deterministic (a single value) or stochastic (a more probabilistic or random value).
  • Deterministic model solutions provide a single outcome - with no estimate of error or probability
  • Stochastic models provide both probabilities and estimates of skill and reliability
systems analysis 3
Systems Analysis #3
  • Phase 3: The modelling phase. The first step is model construction which requires that changes in controlling and state variables are well understood. The second step is running the model.
  • In advanced global climate model simulations the ocean model is coupled to the atmospheric model
  • Less advanced (and hence less computationally intensive) climate models run atmospheric models with oceanic persistence or climatology
systems analysis 4
Systems Analysis #4
  • Phase 4: The analysis phase. This is where the model is validated – when we compare the model output against actual observations. Once we are happy the model performs well, we can begin to trust its outputs
  • Observational data used for validation of climate models is often referred to as reanalysis
  • ECMWF produces ERA-15 (1979-1993)
  • ERA-15 however is flawed and hence climate models have been affected as a result
climate model basics 1
Climate model basics #1
  • Radiation: input, output and absorption of solar radiation and the emission of infrared radiation
  • Dynamics: movement of energy around the globe by oceans and winds - both horizontal and vertical
  • Surface processes: effects of sea- and land-ice, snow, vegetation, albedo, emissivity and surface-atmosphere energy exchanges
  • Chemistry: chemical composition of the atmosphere
  • Resolution: both in time and space
climate model basics 2
Climate model basics #2

Fundamental equations solved in GCMs

  • Conservation of energy (first law of thermodynamics):
    • Input energy = increase in internal energy + work done
  • Conservation of momentum (Newton’s second law of motion):
    • Force = Mass x Acceleration
  • Conservation of mass (the continuity equation)
  • Ideal gas law
climate model basics 3
Climate model basics #3

1. Conservation of momentum

2. Conservation of mass

3. Conservation of energy

4. Ideal gas law


Suggested reading

Text Books

Hardisty J, Taylor DM and Metcalfe SE (1995). Computerised environmental modelling: A practical

introduction using Excel. Published by John Wiley & Sons, England.

Berry J and Houston K. (1995). Mathematical modelling. Published by Edward Arnold, London

Giordano F, Weir M and Fox W. (1997). A first course in mathematical modeling. Published by

Brooks and Cole, California.

Deaton M and Winebrake J. (1999). Dynamic modelling of environmental systems. Published by

Springer Verlag, New York

assignment 1 set today
Assignment 1 Set Today

Climate change is influenced by complex interlinked processes. This interactive model lets you explore the system and how we can change it, simply by moving controls with your mouse and observing the effect instantly on plots ranging from emissions to impacts. The calculation methods are based on those used in the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Third Assessment Report, implemented efficiently in the java language to work within your web browser.


The model can be accessed from the J:\ drive: J:\EG3137\JCM\Index.html

Some additional resources relating to climate change in Africa can be found at: