Modeling Earth’s future: Princeton researchers project a planet affected by climate change


Earth’s atmosphere, oceans and land surfaces interact and combine in powerful, yet often unseen, ways as part of a complex planetary system that determines the climate. Over many decades, researchers at Princeton University have played a leading role in the development of advanced computational models that simulate interactions among these elements to inform an understanding of future climate scenarios under varying conditions. The work of climate modelers informs public policy and influences strategies for mitigating risks and adapting to change.

“Climate models use mathematical equations that represent the Earth’s systems to understand what happened in the past and assess how it’s going to evolve,” said Princeton geoscientist Laure Resplandy.

The climate modeling work at Princeton involves climate scientists, environmental engineers, geologists, biologists, and physicists, and is advantaged by a long-standing and highly productive collaboration with researchers at the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, a national lab that is located in close proximity to the University and where the earliest climate models originated.

Using vast amounts of data, and aided by powerful super computers, researchers model regional and global climate patterns and develop projections of future outcomes under different emissions scenarios.

“Climate models allow us to ask ‘what if’ questions about our planet, such as ‘what if we continue to let greenhouse gases increase unabated,’ or ‘what if we reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere?’ What does that mean for the oceans, atmosphere, land, and ice?’” said Princeton climate scientist Gabe Vecchi.

Climate models are important tools for understanding how the climate system is changing over time and crucial for managing the effects of climate change and preventing further harm.