Predicting the unpredictable
Great Lakes climate the subject of MTU computer model
HOUGHTON — A Michigan Tech University researcher is leading the effort to create a comprehensive model for the complicated and diverse climate of the Great Lakes region.
Pengfei Xue, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Michigan Tech, developed a model combining climate and water models with assistance from Loyola Marymount University, LimnoTech and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory.
Traditional models are one-dimensional and require plugging in certain boundary conditions. The new model takes into account the factors in water and atmosphere climate models that influence each other, such as solar radiation and ice levels, which create a more detailed simulation.
The complexity of the model will allow researchers to improve future climate projections.
“If you want to do the simulation for the lake, and you need to provide future winds and the surface heat flux, where do you get that? You can’t,” Xue said. “You have to do a lot of assumptions and simplifications, but if you put these two models together, running simultaneously, then you don’t need to specify the parameters. The two models interact with each other and produce these interactions in between.”
The model is detailed enough to require the Great Lakes Research Center’s Superior supercomputer. The 3-D hydrodynamic model includes data from each of the Great Lakes taken in 2-kilometer increments horizontally and about 40 vertical layers of 5 meters each.
Future improvements to the model would include incorporating data on surface runoff into the lakes. That will aid navigation and give researchers a better understanding of the habitats for aquatic invasive species.
“When we have that component, the entire water cycle and surface water cycle would be complete,” Xue said.