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Improving climate change models

NSF Award:

Type I - Collaborative Research: Topographic Control of the Gulf Stream  (Florida State University)

Type I - Collaborative Research: Topographic Control of the Gulf Stream  (University of California-Los Angeles)

Type I - Collaborative Research: Topographic Control of the Gulf Stream  (University Corporation For Atmospheric Res)

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The Gulf Stream is a warm, surface ocean current that carries a large amount of heat from the tropics to polar regions. However, current models incorrectly place the Gulf Stream in the north Atlantic Ocean as it moves away from the U.S. East Coast and flows towards Western Europe. This error causes them to depict inaccurate warming of the atmosphere in the mid-latitudes.

Now, NSF-funded researchers have developed a technique to remove the positioning error. Collaborators at Florida State University, the University of California, Los Angeles, and the National Center for Atmospheric Research have shown that the Gulf Stream position is sensitive to the details of how a model depicts the ocean bottom. However, determining how best to represent the bottom is a subtle problem because the topology of the ocean bottom is not completely known.

In demonstrating the model's sensitivity to variations in the ocean bottom, the researchers proposed reasonable bottom depictions that reduced the model error. As a result, the warm water flowing northward at the ocean surface follows a more realistic path, and represents a warming of the overlying atmosphere in a more accurate manner. 

Ultimately, this advance could lead to more accurate ocean circulation and climate models. Such simulations may reduce prediction errors of future climate states. 


  • relocated gulf stream improves climate models
Repositioned Gulf Stream improves climate models.
William Dewar, Florida State University; modified by Krista Henrie, NSF; Google Earth

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