A supercomputer climate model is so accurate it predicted the weather patterns seen in the famous 1972 'Blue Marble' image of Earth

A supercomputer climate model is so accurate it predicted the weather patterns seen in the famous 1972 ‘Blue Marble’ image of Earth

The “Blue Marble” was one of the most iconic images of the Apollo era. Taken by Apollo 17 astronauts on their return trip from the moon, the first fully illuminated image of Earth taken by a person captured what the world looked like on December 7, 1972, just over 50 years ago. year. Now a team from the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology has recreated this iconic image using a climate model.

As a new press release describes, they didn’t do it for a publicity stunt. This effort was the culmination of two decades of climate modeling work the team worked on. Their climate model, which they ran with the help of researchers from the German Climate Computing Center, is now able to work out details as fine as 1 km to accurately recreate environmental conditions at any given time.

To feed this model, however, they need data. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much data available in terms of data that could be fed into the mode from 1972, let alone data from the southern hemisphere, where the image was focused. The researchers therefore did their best to model what they could based on the data available to them using the equations already developed and the Levante supercomputer from the German Climate Computing Centre.

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Video showing the new climate model in action – compared to the original image.
Credit – Science Magazine YouTube Channel

The result was spectacularly similar to the actual image captured by the Apollo 17 astronauts. So much so that even the team was surprised at the fidelity, given the data limitations that went into the algorithm that powered the image.

However, the result of the models is not always graphical and, for the sake of inspiration, the team wanted to go further. So they enlisted the help of one of the biggest graphics companies in the world – nVIDIA.

They used a tool developed by nVIDIA called Omniverse to view the model output in a format similar to that captured by the Blue Marble image. He also used a ray-tracing technique commonly used in the other primary use case for nVIDIA chips – video games, to make the image as realistic as possible. And then, the model also introduces its other major asset: it moves.

An economist video on how to model climate change.
Credit – The Economist YouTube Channel

The blue marble has always been a static image – a unique snapshot of how the Earth looked on that day in 1972. But, if the model is correct (and it looks like its result is the day the photo was taken), it can be rewound or pushed forward to observe the changing clouds, temperatures and atmospheric composition before and after the iconic image.

In fact, it’s like watching what the Apollo 17 astronauts would have seen if they had stood still and set up a video camera to constantly monitor their homeworld. The effect is fascinating, but more importantly, it is useful. Many weather and climate phenomena can only be explored if we understand their input factors at the 1 km scale. It’s the result of these climate patterns, and they can be useful for more than just looking back in the past.

Although this particular effort was a way to commemorate a beautiful image and the original founding of the Max Planck Meteorological Institute, where many researchers work, it is essentially a test of a fully functional high-resolution climate model. . It will be all the more useful as we move forward in a changing and uncertain climate, even if its future results may be more disheartening than inspiring as this one was.

Learn more:
Science – A supercomputer recreates one of the most famous images of the Earth
Max Planck Institute for Meteorology – Revisiting the Blue Marble: ICON simulating the coupled climate system at 1 km
UT – Best ‘Blue Marble’ Pictures Yet
UT – A whole new “Blue Marble” view of the Earth
UT – NASA Blue Marble… Side B.

Main picture:
The original blue marble image.
Credit – NASA

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