How scientists in Ireland are using technology to predict the climate

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In August, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) made the world aware of the intensity of the climate crisis affecting every region of the world because of human activity, and Ireland was no exception.

Scientists at the Irish Centre for High-End Computing (ICHEC) have used advanced technology such as machine learning to create climate models and simulations that indicate the impact of the climate crisis on Ireland by mid-century.

Led by climate scientists Dr Paul Nolan and Dr Enda O’Brien, the study found some concerning revelations about Ireland’s weather patterns in the coming decades, including more heatwaves, less snow, and increasingly unpredictable rainfall patterns – even by Irish standards.

Temperatures are set to increase by between 1 to 1.6 degrees Celsius relative to levels experienced between 1991 to 2000, with the east seeing the sharpest rise. Heatwaves, especially in the south, will also become more frequent.

The simulations also found that the number of days Ireland experiences frost and ice will be slashed by half, as will the amount of snow that falls in winter. Rainfall will be more variable with longer dry and wet periods, and surface winds will become weaker.

‘Dramatic changes’

While the report suggests that a warming climate may be good for farming in Ireland – a significant contributor to the economy – it will also be accompanied by the rise of pests that can have potentially devastating effects on agriculture.

“A warming climate will also result in an increase in pests as a result of an increase in pest growing degree days and a decrease in frost and ice days, as cold conditions are a key control mechanism for the survival of pests,” the report reads.

Reduced wind strength and unpredictable weather will have an impact on Ireland’s renewable energy infrastructure that relies heavily on specific climate conditions to reach targets.

“A mean warming of 2 or 3 degrees Celsius does not seem like much, given that temperatures can vary by a lot more than that just from day to day,” said Nolan and O’Brien in a joint comment.

“However, even that amount of warming is likely to lead to widespread and even dramatic changes in ice cover – especially in the Arctic – to sea levels, and in the natural world of plants and animals.”

Ireland’s contribution

Ireland is part of a consortium of several northern European countries that contribute to the IPCC report by running global climate models that feed into the report’s assessment.

As part of the consortium, Nolan has conducted many centuries worth of global climate simulations using the ‘EC-Earth’ climate model, which represents the most relevant physical processes that operate in the atmosphere, oceans, land surface, and sea ice.

The simulations range from the past to the end of the 21st century to provide a comprehensive picture of climate trends and what it could look like. The research is funded and supported by the EPA, Met Éireann and the Marine Institute in Galway.

“The level of detail and consistency achieved gives confidence in these projections and allows an ever more persuasive evidence-based consensus to emerge that humans are forcing rapid climate change in well-understood ways,” Nolan and O’Brien wrote in the Irish Times.

“How to respond to that consensus now is a matter primarily for governments, since they can have the most impact, as well as for individuals.”

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