Like tears in rain: weather and climate modellers are an endangered species

The way scientific success is measured has negatively impacted on the new model army. Cristof Stache/AFP

Storm clouds are gathering in the world of weather and climate modelling – a discipline that saves lives and property every day and has revolutionised our lives in recent decades.

What we might call the “species” of model developer has been in severe decline, in Australia and around the world. So much so, in fact, that it was given “endangered species” status at a recent meeting of 1,800 climate scientists in Denver, Colorado. How did this happen?

Being a model developer is not an easy job – it requires dealing with difficult subjects such as mathematics, physics and computer science, all at the same time.

Getting with the program

Weather and climate models are sophisticated computer programs with more lines of code than many popular computer games. They require large supercomputers to make their predictions. They are used in making predictions every day.

Literally every weather forecast and seasonal outlook today is based on computer models, which themselves are based on mathematical expressions of well-known physical laws.