Climate Issue 

We are witnessing and experiencing a climate crisis, and not just climate change, to paraphrase Al Gore. It can be disheartening to see politicians and others question the very basis of climate science, when the underlying physics has been known for decades if not longer. The motivation behind the ClimateSim project was to develop a very accessible and easy-to-use simulation tool that could be used to communicate, teach and learn the basic physics of climate change in undergraduate and high-school courses -- and perhaps in non-academic settings as well. Simulation is an important way of not only doing science but also learning science today, and climate change is a nearly perfect problem to address with simulation. The challenge was to find the right balance between modeling complexity and simulation speed for a web-based simulator, while remaining true to the science and the educational goal of the tool.


ClimateSim is an initial solution to the problem of creating an educational simulator good enough to help teach and learn the basics of climate change. It is a free web app for fast and simple climate-change simulation. ClimateSim can be used as a virtual lab in physics and environmental science courses for undergraduate and advanced high-school students. ClimateSim allows users to model scenarios of greenhouse gas emissions in the current century and simulates the first-order response of the earth system. Instructors can use ClimateSim to illustrate climate-change concepts, demonstrate dynamic relationships between climate variables, and assign simulation-based exercises for enhanced learning. It is also an appropriate and accessible tool that policymakers, journalists and others can use to get a better understanding and working knowledge of the basics of climate science. 

Feecback to help improve ClimateSim as well as discussions and collaborations would all be greatly appreciated. Thanks!


Under the hood:

ClimateSim is based on an emissions-driven, coupled climate-GHG cycle model. It converts a user-selected or user-defined emissions scenario into atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases over time, and then computes the earth system’s response – including the global mean surface temperature change/anomaly over time as well as latitudinal mean surface temperatures.

In addition to the temperature response, ClimateSim reports a number of other critical climate variables (such as radiative forcing, radiant flux densities, atmospheric longwave emissivity, and albedos) to help users connect the simulation output to theory and models.

ClimateSim models details such as the land/ocean carbon uptake (including climate-carbon feedback), lifetimes of non-CO2 GHGs, ice-albedo feedback, and equator-to-pole heat transport. The current 1.0 version uses an extended one-layer atmospheric model (to be expanded to a multilayer model in 2.0).


Curt Newton's picture

Hi Kumar,

Hi Kumar,

Thanks for posting the ClimateSim project!  

What sort of users have you had so far? I imagine some classroom teachers have been taking a look, would love to hear more about their experience.

Do you have specific requests for how the ClimateX community might contribute?

Presume you're familiar with Climate Interactive's C-ROADS and En-ROADS simulators, and their bundled group role-playing simulations. How do you think about ClimateSim relative to CI's work? Have you worked with or had contact with any of their team?

Kumar Venkat's picture

Hi Curt,

Hi Curt,

Thanks for your comments/questions!  ClimateSim is brand new (it was released just over a month ago). I have seen a lot of interest so far (including from earth science teachers). I hope to collect and post some case studies of teachers using it in their classes this academic year.

I posted it as a project here for multiple reasons: (1) To invite more climate educators to check out this new free resource; (2) To get general feedback on how ClimateSim can be improved as an educational tool ; (3) To create a space where some of the ClimateX members might be able to contribute ideas and expertise to significantly enhance ClimateSim and help push it to the next level; (4) To talk about the role of education and educational tools in climate change mitigation.

Yes, I am familiar with C-ROADS, but haven't yet spoken to their team. Their online climate simulator would be the closest to ClimateSim. C-ROADS seems to be designed for climate policy tests (focusing on modeling regional emissions/sequestrations), while ClimateSim is a science education tool that focuses on the basic physics and is explicitly designed for students and teachers of physics, environmental science, geosciences, etc.

Kumar Venkat's picture

That is a very interesting

That is a very interesting model and I like it.

According to their paper, it appears to be a research tool intended to provide a starting point for development of hypotheses and more detailed CGCM (coupled general circulation model) simulation studies -- so it is quite a bit more complex than the simpler energy-balance-based simulators like ClimateSim. The simulation run times are likely to be significant (even if much faster than the CGCMs), so the web interface only serves up results of pre-run simulation experiments. 

ClimateSim on the other hand is intended for a very different user base, and tries to make the basic physics very explicit for students and teachers in undergraduate and advanced high-school courses. Because of the simpler modeling, simulations can be run on a web server on demand based on user-created custom emission scenarios.

Rick Shankman's picture

"ClimateSim on the other hand

"ClimateSim on the other hand is intended for a very different user base, and tries to make the basic physics very explicit for students and teachers in undergraduate and advanced high-school courses. Because of the simpler modeling, simulations can be run on a web server on demand based on user-created custom emission scenario."

But the science of climate change is not simple.  That's part of the point those kids need to learn.

These oversimplified "tools" start these kids down a very dangerous "learning" path, teaching them that the very complex can be ignored and justified, based solely upon the computing power you happen to have available to you at any given time.

I deal with the real world damage that mindset causes daily in my professional life.

Kumar Venkat's picture

Simulation modeling in the

Simulation modeling in the real world is always a tradeoff between model complexity and runtime on available computing resources.

A cardinal rule (from my decades of simulation experience in industry) is to model only what is required for a given purpose. Research and educational models have very different requirements, and neither one can be used in place of the other. Simulation tools designed for science education need to be able to replicate and help explain basic phenomena within the context of the introductory courses that they are used in. This is no different than textbooks and instructors using simplified mathematical models for pedagogical purposes. (More details on the ClimateSim model)

Ethelbert Akwuruaha's picture

Hi Kumar & Team, ClimateSim

Hi Kumar & Team, ClimateSim looks like a great app! Am currently studying Climate Change & Development module at University of London- MSc Sustainable Development.
Would try out the app and if possible introduce it to my class. Great effort & kudos!!!