Whisper the weather | University of California
The outlook has been steadily improving over time, and it continues to improve. A five-day weather forecast today is as accurate as a three-day weather forecast two decades ago.
The rate of improvement has slowed in recent years, but we may see renewed growth as computing power continues to increase and as new methods are used. Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning are already changing this field. It’s not far from physics, but these types of tools could potentially be leveraged to make them more computationally efficient.
Could better computers give us more certainty about what the climate might look like by, say, 2100?
Thirty or forty years from now, the key question is not uncertainty in climate models or uncertainty about tipping points. It is an uncertainty in political and social systems: we do not know how much carbon we will emit in the coming decades.
This is a great example of why some of these important issues cannot be solved exclusively by one area of science. You can’t use a climate model to predict how much carbon humans will emit between now and 2080. This isn’t a physics question, first and foremost. It is a matter of everything else in society.
To the extent that you are able to get precise and accurate climate information out to the world, how do you do that?
In part, this is the structure of my league at UCLA. I don’t teach classes. I conduct research, write scientific papers and lead investigations into how extreme events such as floods, droughts and adjacent events such as wildfires change in a warming climate, how they affect us and what we can do about it.
The other half of my job, which is clearly stated in my role, is to have conversations with all different types of people. This means I can take a last-minute call from a reporter, or I can prepare a summary for a representative tomorrow. I give a lot of lectures, blog, and write for popular media.
Is it difficult to find this type of role in academia?
I’m not aware of anything that could compare to my role at UCLA or any other institution. There are any number of topics where this can be critical, from climate change to epidemiology to geopolitics to social justice – anywhere where there is nuance and context involved, we need people who look at the big picture and distill it in a timely manner so that Actually to people.
Because nuance and context, of course, are crucial to combating rising misinformation. And this is how it spreads: on social media, through viral videos, and through word of mouth. To combat this on a scale proportional to the amount of bad information out there, or missing or inappropriate context, there is a much broader need for communications experts in this area.