Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

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David Bader

David Bader

Director of the Laboratory’s Climate Program

Making Climate Change More Tangible

Headlines such as “Extreme Wildfire,” “Bomb Cyclone,” “Super Typhoon,” and “Megadrought” make climate change tangible to billions of people who once viewed the phenomenon as a far-off, abstract concept. While these headlines are recent, the challenges of climate change and the national and international responses to it have been the subject of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory research for nearly 40 years. The Department of Energy recognized early on that combining the big-science capabilities of high-performance computing with a strong foundation in physics and numerical modeling would inform what was then an emerging area of science. Our early contributions were foundational, and the Laboratory’s work continues to have an outsized impact.

Much of this history, including the Laboratory’s direct connections to Nobel Prize in Physics winners Syukuro Manabe and Klaus Hasselmann, is chronicled in this issue’s feature article, Climate Change Comes into Focus. While great attention is paid to Livermore’s Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison (PCMDI), essential and continuing contributions to the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP)—an earlier PCMDI-led international collaboration—can be recalled as well. Organized by Livermore’s Jerry Potter and Bob Cess of Stony Brook University, the Feedback Analysis of GCMs and in Observations (FANGIO) climate model intercomparison was the first to quantify the large uncertainty in cloud–climate feedback in climate model results, spawning a new research area crucial to the development of accurate climate and Earth system models.

Continuing this legacy, Livermore’s Steve Klein led a team of international experts, including the Laboratory’s Mark Zelinka, that bounded the value of climate sensitivity per a process-based understanding of clouds and other climate feedbacks. Climate sensitivity, defined as the near-surface atmospheric warming projected from a doubling of the atmosphere’s concentration of carbon dioxide, is crucially dependent on the correct evaluation of cloud–climate feedback. The team’s results initiated a critical revaluation of the way clouds and aerosols are represented in climate models.

A common thread in the Laboratory’s climate science research history is our role as an integrator, whether through building large multi-institutional collaborations or matching the big-science capabilities of a national laboratory with the expertise and creativity of its scientists. Today, we continue this role in our technical and intellectual leadership of the eight-laboratory Energy Exascale Earth System Model (E3SM)—just one tool in the chest as we seek solutions to the complex problems of resilience to climate changes happening now and mitigation against even more destructive changes in the decades to come.

Lawrence Livermore embraces these challenges head on, with Laboratory Director Kimberly Budil designating Climate Resilience as a Laboratory Mission Focus Area. The theme of the Laboratory as an integrator will become ever more important as we connect additional Livermore capabilities with external partners to address climate change—often described as the biggest threat to human civilization.

This issue of S&TR highlights two other examples of Livermore’s culture of integrating individual creativity with the big-science capability of a national laboratory. The highlight, Eyes High in the Skies, describes how breakthroughs in materials and optics, both long-standing core competencies, support the small-satellite revolution. Like PCMDI’s and the E3SM coalition’s work in climate science, the Laboratory’s strengths in data science and multi-institutional collaborations are key to advances in diagnosing brain injuries, as presented in the highlight, Accelerating the Path to Precision Medicine.

The final highlight, Shining a Light on Technical Excellence, recognizes recent Distinguished Member of Technical Staff (DMTS) appointees, bringing the issue full circle as now-retired climate research scientists Ben Santer and Dean Williams were also DMTS members. Our culture of integration and excellence in science and our capabilities attract creative staff members with the opportunity to make a difference in our world in ways they could not in other institutions.