UCSD, 2 Federal Labs Join in Study of Man’s Effect in Changing Climate

Times Staff Writer

Scientists at UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography are joining forces with two federal laboratories run by the University of California for a major study of how human interference is changing the climate.

Using supercomputers at UCSD and the Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore national laboratories, the researchers will try to answer fundamental questions about how the oceans and the atmosphere interact to maintain the planet.

UC runs the two federal laboratories for the U. S. Department of Energy.

The knowledge that the four-year effort will seek is essential to determining, for instance, how fast world temperatures will rise because of the “greenhouse effect.” Scientists now suspect that this byproduct of the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could raise average annual temperatures within the next few decades to levels not experienced in more than 100,000 years.


Byproduct Blamed for Drought

In June, scientists told Congress that they believe that the drought that scorched crops in the nation’s Farm Belt could be attributed to this byproduct of the buildup of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere.

But such conclusions can neither be reached nor supported without sophisticated supercomputer models of how ocean, air, land and plants interact to create climate--and how a change in one affects all the others.

One of these suspected “feedback loops,” reported in 1987, involved showing that microscopic ocean plants help cool the Earth by releasing a gas that causes clouds to form over the ocean. In climate models programmed into the supercomputers, scientists in the UC effort might ask: Do these clouds limit the plants’ growth and turn down the gas production? Would a slight rise in global temperature from the greenhouse effect hurt the plants and cut down on the Earth’s cloud cover, making the planet even hotter?


The scientific effort is being organized under the UC Institutional Collaborative Research Program, which aims at promoting long-term research among UC facilities. It will be financed with $200,000 from that program and another $200,000 from the three institutions.

Resources of 3 Institutions

“The collaboration by Scripps, Los Alamos and Lawrence Livermore effectively demonstrates the intent and the advantages of the university’s program,” said UC Senior Vice President William R. Frazer. “It allows the resources of the three institutions to work together for the benefit of all.”

The issues the project will address have important global significance, said Richard C. J. Somerville, head of the climate research group at Scripps and program director for the collaborative study.

“Understanding and predicting the magnitude of such an unprecedented event are immense challenges to science,” Somerville said. “The scope of the effort required is colossal, and the prospect for serious social and economic consequences is very real.”

Scripps researchers will contribute to the effort their expertise in climate forecasting, ocean modeling, remote sensing of large-scale ocean dynamics, and the interactions of atmospheric gases.

The Los Alamos, N.M., lab has programs in several areas of climate research, and is a leader in supercomputer technology. Researchers at Lawrence Livermore lab in Livermore, Calif., have been working for a decade to develop improved computer models of global climate and atmospheric chemistry.