Colloquium: September 13, 2016


Climate Modeling: Its history and prediction of future climate change

Warren M. Washington

(video within Langley firewall only)
Tuesday, September 13, 2016 at 2:00 P.M. in the Pearl Young Theater


Climate modeling has developed like other areas of science and engineering over the last fifty years to become a very useful tool for research and prediction of future changes in our global environment. The most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Assessment Report (IPCC assessment) has convinced most climate scientists that humankind is changing the earth’s climate and that significant global warming is already taking place.

Some scientists are skeptical of the IPCC view and think the observed changes result from natural climate variability or other causes. A brief review of recently observed 20th century climate change will be presented and compared with climate model simulations. These computer simulations are extended into the 21st century and beyond in preparation for the next IPCC assessment. A brief description of the history and what is in climate models will be given with an emphasis on the physical and computational aspects. Computer simulations and animations of present climate and future climate change will be shown using low and high carbon emission scenarios.

Finally, at the end there will be a discussion of the scientific uncertainties and societal impacts along with an analysis of policy options including possible geoengineering of the climate system. The issue of environmental justice will also be addressed.


Dr. Warren Washington delivered a Colloquium lecture on Atmospheric Modeling, on March 11, 1974. We are delighted to welcome him back for the celebration of the 45th anniversary of the Colloquium Series.

He is a Senior Scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado. His group uses state-of-the-art computer climate models to study present and future climate change. He has engaged in research for more than fifty years. He has had Presidential Appointments under the Carter, Reagan, Clinton, and Bush, Jr. Administrations. More recently, he served on the National Science Board which governs the National Science Foundation from 1994 to 2006 and he was Chair from 2002 to 2006. He has over 150 publications and co-authored with Claire Parkinson a book considered a standard reference on climate modeling — Dr. Washington has many awards including being a member of the National Academy of Engineering, President of the American Meteorological Society (1994), a member of American Philosophical Society and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has honorary degrees from Oregon State University, Bates College, and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. In November 2010, he was awarded the National Medal of Science by President Obama, the nation’s highest science award. The citation for this award is for his development and use of global climate models to understand climate and explain the role of human activities and natural processes in the Earth’s climate system and for his work to support a diverse science and engineering workforce. In addition to serving on many boards and committees, he is presently serving as the chair of the National Research Council’s Advisory Committee for the U.S. Global Change Research Program.