Climate modeling at Princeton

Written by
Liz Fuller-Wright, Office of Communications
July 29, 2020

Princeton’s vital research across the spectrum of environmental issues is today and will continue to be pivotal to solving some of humanity’s toughest problems. Our impact is built on a long, deep, broad legacy of personal commitment, intellectual leadership, perseverance and innovation. This article is the first in a series to present the sweep of Princeton’s environmental excellence over the past half-century.

Imagine you could experimentally manipulate the climate of the whole planet. You could sprinkle rain clouds where you want them, add or remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, change the intensity of incoming sunlight, rearrange mountains or forests at will … the possibilities are endless.

That is the promise of climate models, sophisticated computer simulations running on the world’s fastest computers. These behemoth undertakings — with over a million lines of computer code that would fill thousands of pages of printed text — replicate as many aspects of the Earth’s systems as possible. 

The effort is aimed at addressing one of humanity’s biggest challenges: climate change. Computer modeling, the beating heart of modern climate science, is fundamental to our understanding of human-induced global warming and is a singularly important tool cited by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its climate change assessments. If international policymakers succeed in organizing to avert climate catastrophe, it will be largely due to the impact of these models — and the scientists who created them.