GFDL - Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory

Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory Review – Themes

NOAA is charged with increasing scientific understanding, performing assessments, and projecting and predicting climate variability and change, by providing information based on the highest scientific integrity that enables society to anticipate and respond. This is achieved through the development and delivery of climate services and products, the implementation of a global observing system, and focused research and modeling to understand key climate processes. The NOAA climate mission is an end-to-end endeavor focused on providing a predictive understanding of the global climate system so that the information, data, and products can be input directly into the decision-making process.

NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL) plays a crucial role in NOAA’s climate research and modeling activities in order to support this charge and advance the science needed for making sound decisions. This review will focus on the recent developments of science-based numerical models of the atmosphere, ocean, and climate; their application to further our understanding of the physics, chemistry and dynamics of climate, and to build a predictive capability for climate from weeks to centuries; and extending GFDL’s research beyond physical climate models to the development of increasingly complex Earth System models that advance the Nation’s understanding of the interaction between climate change, the Earth’s biogeochemical cycles, and terrestrial and marine ecosystems.


Model Development at GFDL is fundamental and central to the laboratory’s research mission, enabling new science and applications. The discussion of model development at this review is broken into three sections 1) atmospheric physics and chemistry, 2) atmospheric dynamics, and 3) ocean sciences. In each case, the model development activity is an essential component of our research into fundamental science questions, ranging from aerosol-cloud interactions, to the dynamics of tropical cyclogenesis, to the effects of small scale ocean mixing on large-scale oceanic flows. The presentations reflect this interplay between model development and basic understanding of the system being simulated, and the resulting influences on climate response to natural and anthropogenic forcings on climate. Model developments proper that are described in each section are focused in large part on 1) the incorporation of new aerosol physics, tropospheric, and stratospheric chemistry into a new backbone model for the AR5 assessments, 2) the development of new high horizontal resolution atmospheric models for studies of tropical storms and regional climate change, and 3) the improvements to, and incorporation into, coupled models using both z-coordinate and isopycnal ocean models.


This review theme focuses on GFDL activities that have addressed the following components of the NOAA mission: (a) “… focused research and modeling to understand key climate processes”, and (b) ” … providing a predictive understanding of the global climate system”. In this section we provide results from research projects that seek to use both observational analyses and model experimentation to increase our understanding of key climate processes and phenomena including investigations into factors affecting climate change. Topics covered include trends in surface and atmospheric temperatures, large-scale tropical climate change, ENSO, hurricane activity, Sahelian drought, ocean circulation, and sea level change. The increased understanding of these processes and phenomena is then used as a foundation to develop a “predictive understanding” of the global climate system. This understanding, combined with a newly developed coupled data assimilation system, will ultimately lead to robust science-based evaluations of the predictive capability of the climate system on time scales from seasonal to centennial.


The final theme in this review focuses on understanding carbon and other biogeochemical cycles in the Earth. For example, changes in carbon uptake in the land and oceans directly impact the climate by changing the rate of CO2 growth in the atmosphere which is directly related to the future climate changes. The warming world can lead to shifts in the forests and grassland regions. There are also non-climate impacts resulting from human activities; increasing CO2 in the atmosphere is closely related to increasing ocean acidification which can adversely impact ocean biology. In order to improve understanding of these interactions and make reliable future projections of how these changes effect the Earth’s ecosystems, models are developed to make projections of the carbon uptake changes. Topics discussed in this theme range from the impact of hydrology, land vegetation dynamics and land use, and ocean biogeochemistry on climate to the effect of climate change on the fisheries NOAA is charged to manage.

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