University of Chicago Big Ideas Generator


Big Question: Constraining Nonlinearity in Earth’s Climate

University of Chicago Big Questions

Principal Investigator: Dorian Abbot, Geophysical Sciences

Funding Type: Seed

Focus Area: Complexity

Big Idea: Climate is a high-dimensional chaotic system that exhibits complex behavior, but has previously been approximated as linear. Lurking in this complexity is the possibility of nonlinear global warming as CO2 is released, which would radically worsen damage estimates and provide a stronger economic argument in favor of global action to combat climate change. We propose to carefully evaluate the potential for nonlinear behavior in climate, using a hierarchy of numerical climate models. This hierarchy will include a global model that cannot resolve clouds and convection, and a cloud and convection model that cannot be run globally. This work aims to challenge the widely-held belief that linearity underestimates the risk of high warming and transform the state of the field by determining the nonlinearity of climate.

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