Categories: Breakdown Structures, BS, climate, climate change, human-caused climate change, koch brothers, nova, PBS, resource breakdown strucuture
Project Managers are really full of BS. By that, of course, I mean Breakdown Structures. Work Breakdown Structures. Risk Breakdown Structures, Organizational Breakdown Structures, Resource Breakdown Structures.
That last one – Resource Breakdown Structure – and a recent episode of the excellent US Public Broadcasting Service (PBS – yet another BS, but not a Breakdown Structure) show, called Nova – got me thinking. Isn’t the Earth a resource? Is there such a thing as a World Breakdown Structure?
The episode of Nova was called “Decoding the Weather Machine”. It’s a fascinating show in and of itself, but made even more fascinating in that it states in plain terms that climate change is real, it’s caused by humans, and it has significant consequences to us NOW and certainly to our children and grandchildren. “We're poking at the climate system with a long, sharp, carbon-tipped spear”, says Paul Douglas, a meteorologist and former climate change denier, “and we’re not entirely clear of the consequences”, adds Harvard scientist John Holdren. And here's what may be the most amazing and somewhat heartwarming thing: the show is funded by the David H. Koch fund for Science. Yep. THAT David Koch, of the Koch brothers.
This is a 2-hour show and it’s incredibly well-produced – and in a way, entertaining (in a worrisome sort of way). But let’s circle back to our affinity for BS. Breakdown Structures. Remember – they’re all about decomposing something too big to get our minds around into smaller chunks?
Well, have a look at this transcript from a segment of Decoding the Weather Machine:
NARRATOR: To do something about our climate future, we need to know what lies ahead.
KATHARINE HAYHOE: It's kind of as if you are driving down one of our dead straight roads, here in Texas. You can be driving down the road, even staying in your own lane, if you are driving along looking in the rearview mirror, because the road is completely straight, so where you were in the past is a perfect prediction of where you are going to be in the future. But what if you are driving down this road, looking in your rearview mirror and a giant curve comes up? You're going to run off the road, because the past is not a perfect predictor of the future if the road is changing.
NARRATOR: To see the road ahead, scientists at the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, in Princeton, New Jersey, are working to turn our understanding of how the land, sea, ice and air interact into a powerful simulation called a "climate model."
KATHARINE HAYHOE: Using nothing but basic physics, we can actually produce, in our computers, a virtual Earth.
NARRATOR: With this virtual Earth, scientists like Kirsten Findell work to predict where our climate is going, before it's too late to change course.
The first step is breaking the climate machine into its core components.
KIRSTEN FINDELL (Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory): Every climate model has four major physical components represented. We represent the ocean, we represent the land, the sea ice and the atmosphere all around the earth. Within those four components, we also then break up the earth into little grid boxes. And then we can slice up the atmosphere into thin layers and slice down into the ocean and down into the soil.
NARRATOR: Once they have divided the system into manageable parts, they use well-established mathematical equations, grid box by grid box, to run the model forward in time.
KATHARINE HAYHOE: These models are amazing. They can produce weather systems, even hurricanes; they can produce droughts and floods.
NARRATOR: Worldwide, there are dozens of models. They predict how each part of the climate machine will change, like sea surface temperature, storm intensity or the extent of the ice caps. Every detail is included. But the path to perfect models is still a work in progress, because Earth's climate machine is such a complicated one.
The role that clouds play, for instance, is important, but poorly understood. And the speed at which ice sheets will break apart is another big unknown.
STEPHEN PACALA: We're definitely making progress on making better predictions, but there is still an enormous amount about the climate system that we don't fully understand.
NARRATOR: But the models can be checked against things we know, like air temperature over the past hundred years. The models can be started in the past and run forward. The blue line shows the average of those predictions.
When compared with the actual temperature record, in red, their accuracy is revealed.
Below is a screenshot that compares the model output for temperature when run backward (blue) against the actuals (red) – you can see that the alignment is pretty good, speaking to the ability of the model to forecast. So what happens when you let the model run forward?
You’ll just have to wait until the next blog post: Backward Pass, Forward Fail.
If you can’t wait, view the show here: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/earth/decoding-weather-machine.html