The Earth Machine

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Science  27 Jul 2018:
Vol. 361, Issue 6400, pp. 344-347
DOI: 10.1126/science.361.6400.344

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This summer, an academic consortium led by Tapio Schneider, a German-born climate dynamicist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, and backed by prominent technology philanthropists, including Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, will launch an ambitious project to create a new climate model. Their upstart project seeks to leverage breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, satellite imaging, and high-resolution simulation to change how climate models render small-scale phenomena, such as sea ice and cloud formation, that have long bedeviled efforts to forecast climate. A focus will be on the major source of uncertainty in current models: the decks of stratocumulus clouds that form off coastlines and populate the trade winds. A shift in their extent by just a few percentage points could turn the global thermostat up or down by a couple of degrees or more within this century—and current models can't predict which way they will go.