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The General Circulation Model & Climate Change

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  • 00:00 The General Circulation Model
  • 2:02 A Possible Future Climate
  • 3:05 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Joanne Abramson

Joanne has taught middle school and high school science for more than ten years and has a master's degree in education.

How are scientist able to predict our Earth's climate 100 years into the future? Read about the general circulation model to discover the answer to this question and then take a quiz to test your understanding.

The General Circulation Model

Hi! My name is Kali and I live at the Alaska Zoo. I'm an Arctic ambassador with Polar Bears International. This is all true! Look! I even have a hashtag!

My job as an Arctic ambassador is to educate you about global warming and what will happen to my home if it doesn't stop. I'm sure you have heard about global warming; it has been all over the news for many years now.

Maybe you are saying to yourself, 'Sure, I have heard of global warming, but how do we know that it is actually happening?' Well, I can help you answer that question. Scientists have developed what is called a general circulation model, which is a computer model that both identifies possible causes of climate change and predicts climate change into the future.

General circulation models are also called a global climate models. And, lucky for us, they both use the acronym GCM. A model is a smaller representation of a larger object or process. For example, a model train is an accurate, but much smaller replica of an actual train. In this case, scientists are using computer programs to model past, present, and future climates.

A general circulation model uses lots of intricate math and physics equations to model the circulation of the atmosphere and the oceans on planet Earth. More complex versions take many factors into account such as living things, glacier ice, energy from the sun, land forms, and how all these factors interact. The math required to make all of these calculations is so elaborate that these models can only be run on supercomputers. The GCM at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, for example, is so sophisticated that it uses almost three trillion equations to simulate a single day!

A Possible Future Climate

So let's take a look at a GCM in action.

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