Assessing ocean vertical mixing schemes for the study of climate change

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Armando McNeil Howard1,2, Fari Lindo1, Jovian Fells1, Vijay Tulsee1, Ye Cheng2 and Vittorio Canuto2, (1)Medgar Evers College, Brooklyn, NY, United States, (2)NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, New York, NY, United States
Climate change is a burning issue of our time. It is critical to know the consequences of choosing “business as usual” vs. mitigating our emissions for impacts e.g. ecosystem disruption, sea-level rise, floods and droughts. To make predictions we must model realistically each component of the climate system. The ocean must be modeled carefully as it plays a critical role, including transporting heat and storing heat and dissolved carbon dioxide. Modeling the ocean realistically in turn requires physically based parameterizations of key processes in it that cannot be explicitly represented in a global climate model. One such process is vertical mixing.

The turbulence group at NASA-GISS has developed a comprehensive new vertical mixing scheme (GISSVM) based on turbulence theory, including surface convection and wind shear, interior waves and double-diffusion, and bottom tides. The GISSVM is tested in stand-alone ocean simulations before being used in coupled climate models. It is also being upgraded to more faithfully represent the physical processes.

To help assess mixing schemes, students use data from NASA-GISS to create visualizations and calculate statistics including mean bias and rms differences and correlations of fields. These are created and programmed with MATLAB. Results with the commonly used KPP mixing scheme and the present GISSVM and candidate improved variants of GISSVM will be compared between stand-alone ocean models and coupled models and observations.

This project introduces students to modeling of a complex system, an important theme in contemporary science and helps them gain a better appreciation of climate science and a new perspective on it. They also gain familiarity with MATLAB, a widely used tool, and develop skills in writing and understanding programs. Moreover they contribute to the advancement of science by providing information that will help guide the improvement of the GISSVM and hence of ocean and climate models and ultimately our understanding and prediction of climate.

The PI is both a member of the turbulence group at NASA-GISS and an associate professor at Medgar Evers College of CUNY, a minority serving institution in an urban setting in central Brooklyn.

This Project is supported by NSF award AGS-1359293 REU site: CUNY/GISS Center for Global Climate Research.