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Francisco Doblas-Reyes, Barcelona Supercomputing Center

"We are in time to prevent the most serious consequences of climate warming."

Tags: 'Sostenibilidad' 'Super-computación' 'Superordenador'

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Francisco Javier Doblas-Reyes is the Director of the Earth Sciences Department at Barcelona Supercomputing Center - Centro Nacional de Supercomputación (BSC-CNS). He led the Climate Forecast Unit at the Institut Català de Ciències del Clima (IC3) from 2010 to 2015. Francisco is currently the head of the Department of Earth Sciences of the Barcelona Supercomputing Center (BSC-CNS). The Department hosts more than 70 engineers, physicists, mathematicians and social scientists who try to bring the latest developments in supercomputing and data analysis to provide the best information and services on climate and air quality.

Could you give us an overview of your work?

I run the Department of Earth Sciences at the Barcelona Supercomputing Center where we conduct research on how to model and predict the evolution of climate and air quality on a global scale.

I run the Department of Earth Sciences at the Barcelona Supercomputing Center where we conduct research on how to model and predict the evolution of climate and air quality on a global scale.

This requires the use of numerical models of the climate system. We develop these models with the help of a super-computer and manage large amounts of data. The latter include the many observations that we use to validate our simulations as well as the simulations that we disseminate publicly.

What's a super computer?

It’s a big computer made up by many powerful ones (called nodes) all located in the same physical space and interconnected through a very high speed communication network. All nodes share the same disk space, which has great capacity. This tool allows to divide big problems into small pieces. Each of those pieces is handled by a specific node which communicates very frequently with the other nodes to share information relevant to the resolution of the problem.

How reliable are the climate forecasting models developed by the Barcelona Supercomputer Center?

We have several models, each with a different purpose. The model of air quality prediction, which allows us to make predictions several days in advance, has great precision when checked against records registered by local and regional stations. For climate simulations we run a global model developed by us that simulates the different components of the climate system: the ocean, the atmosphere, the ice and the continental surface. We use it to predict the variations of global climate in the coming months, years and until the end of the century.

For climate simulations we run a global model developed by us that simulates the different components of the climate system: the ocean, the atmosphere, the ice and the continental surface. We use it to predict the variations of global climate in the coming months, years and until the end of the century.

The information generated has varying degrees of reliability, but it is always referred to as probabilities, allowing for the degree of uncertainty. In all cases the quality measures are in accordance with the generated climate information. Both are designed as to satisfy the necessities detected in our interaction with different sectors of society.

Which are, following super-computers, the most serious short and long term consequences of climate change?

In the short term our research allows us to determine the probability of climate phenomena such as El Niño, particularly cold winters or exceptionally hot summers several months in advance. This information is used in the public and private sectors (renewable energy, insurance, agro-production) to take measures that help alleviate the consequences of these phenomena, especially for those most vulnerable. In the long term it is clear that the planet heats up and this has some very serious consequences for other processes such as the change in very important aspects of rainfall regime, the rise of sea level and its acidification and the desertification. The extent of all these phenomena depends on the evolution of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions in the next years or decades. However, what is true is that we have caused a level of climate change associated with emissions in the last 200 years and that these have and will have consequences in the line of phenomena that I mentioned earlier. This process is known as committed climate warming.

Are we still in time to revert the situation?

Yes, we are in time to prevent the most serious consequences of climate warming, but, as I said before, preventing the committed climate warming will require even more radical socioeconomic changes than the ones so far considered, in particular the implementation of atmospheric carbon capture methods.

Yes, we are in time to prevent the most serious consequences of climate warming, but, as I said before, preventing the committed climate warming will require even more radical socioeconomic changes than the ones so far considered, in particular the implementation of atmospheric carbon capture methods.

To prevent climate warming from surpassing the committed level there is no another viable option today than dramatically reducing emissions. Every ton of carbon counts. Depending on what we emit from now on we can limit the average warming of the planet at 1.5, 2, 3 or more degrees. It depends on us.

Which should be, following your opinion, the first steps we should take to fight climate warming?

There are many steps that can be taken simultaneously. Besides the socioeconomic change that allows us to reduce greenhouse emissions, known as mitigation, adaptation to climate warming requires us to start working now. Climate change of anthropogenic origin is already taking place and there are sectors that already notice its effects, such as agriculture. The adaptation requires entering the best possible climate information about current and future climate in all decision processes that are climate vulnerable. That’s where we play a role, in trying to provide the best climate information so that the pertinent sector can adopt the optimal strategies for mitigation and adaptation. But this will not be possible unless we support research in a much more determined way than so far. The change will only be possible if backed up by science.

At a particular level, should we all consider changing the way we live?

Definitely, but it is also important not to blame the individual. Our experiments allow us to estimate how hard the impact on society can be. It is an honest message but difficult for the citizen to come to terms with. The risk exists of not only disconnecting from society before such a message, but also blaming the individual for not doing everything possible, when the tools in his hand are limited. There are very positive messages that can help along this change, such as the collateral benefits brought by the effort to reduce emissions and to adapt to climate change.

There are very positive messages that can help along this change, such as the collateral benefits brought by the effort to reduce emissions and to adapt to climate change.

For example, reducing emissions in cities requires the optimization of public transport and the electrification of the fleet. It is a great effort, but at the same time it can help our cities become more resilient and healthy (by reducing the problem of air quality or noise) and fair (because the benefit is general throughout the city).

What do you think about climate change denial?

We all have the right to freedom of speech. However, the anthropogenic origin of global warming does not belong in the territory of beliefs. It’s like gravity, science and experience support it. The same cannot be said of the positions that deniers hold.

However, the anthropogenic origin of global warming does not belong in the territory of beliefs. It’s like gravity, science and experience support it. The same cannot be said of the positions that deniers hold.

In any case, the fight against climate warming of anthropogenic origin has very positive aspects, such as increased social justice, labor market activation, energy independence or the reduction of environmental vulnerabilities. These benefit all and everyone, whether they agree or disagree with the evidence of climate change.

How useful do you consider summits as the COP25?

There is no doubt that they are necessary. It is one of the few forums in which
countries can double check on their priorities and try to get agreements worldwide. There are few global initiatives with a similar commitment by most countries worldwide – putting the COP in the right context is important. Not all COPs can be like those in Paris, but it’s important to keep trying for something so important, and that requires not giving up.