GFDL - Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory

The General Circulation Research Section (GFDL)


Source For This Material: pdf


Related Material: History of Global Warming


The Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory



The Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, located at Princeton University,
is among the oldest institutions to have developed general circulation models.
Its origins and current work are described below.

The General Circulation Research Section/Laboratory

In 1955, at von Neumann’s instigation, the U.S. Weather Bureau created a General
Circulation Research Section under the direction of Joseph Smagorinsky.
Smagorinsky felt that his charge was to continue with the final step of the
von Neumann/Charney computer modeling program: a three-dimensional, global,
primitive-equation general circulation model of the atmosphere.[1]
The General Circulation Research Section was initially located in Suitland, Maryland,
near the Weather Bureau’s JNWP unit). The lab’s name was changed in 1959 to the
General Circulation Research Laboratory, and it moved to Washington, D.C.

In 1955-56, Smagorinsky collaborated with von Neumann, Charney, and Phillips
to develop a 2-level, zonal hemispheric model using a subset of the primitive
equations.[3] Beginning in 1959, he proceeded to develop a nine-level
primitive-equation GCM (still hemispheric).[4] Smagorinsky was among the first
to recognize the need to couple ocean models to atmospheric GCMs; he brought
the ocean modeler Kirk Bryan to the GCRL in 1961 to begin this research.

The Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory

The General Circulation Research Laboratory was renamed the Geophysical Fluid
Dynamics Laboratory in 1963. In 1968, the GFDL moved to its current home at
Princeton University.

Syukuro Manabe and the GFDL General Circulation Modeling Program

In 1959, Smagorinsky invited Syukuro Manabe of the Tokyo NWP Group to join the
General Circulation Research Laboratory, where he assigned Manabe to the GCM
coding and development. By 1963, Smagorinsky, Manabe, and their collaborators
had completed a nine-level, hemispheric primitive-equation GCM. Manabe was given
a large programming staff. He was thus able to focus on mathematical structure
of the models, without becoming overly involved in coding. (Leith, by contrast,
worked mostly alone, and wrote his own code.)

In the mid-1960s, as Smagorinsky became increasingly involved in planning for
the Global Atmospheric Research Program (GARP), Manabe became the de facto leader
of GFDL’s GCM effort, although Smagorinsky remained peripherally involved. Until
his retirement in 1998, Manabe led one of the most vigorous and longest-lasting GCM
development programs in the world.

Manabe’s work style has been highly collaborative. With his colleagues Strickler,
Wetherald, Holloway, Stouffer, and Bryan, as well as others, Manabe was among the first
to perform carbon-dioxide doubling experiments with GCMs,[5] to couple atmospheric
GCMs with ocean models,[6] and to perform very long runs of GCMs under carbon-dioxide
doubling.[7] Another characteristic of Manabe’s work style is a focus on basic issues
rather than on fine-tuning of model parameterizations.

The GFDL Atmospheric GCMs

The names used in the following section are the informal terms used by GFDL members,
who do not always agree on their interpretation.


The MARKFORT series began with Smagorinsky’s nine-level, 3-D hemispheric
model, and was used well into the 1960s. Initially, the model was run on the
IBM STRETCH. A number of GFDL’s most influential publications resulted from
the MARKFORT model.[8]


The Zodiac model series was the second major GFDL GCM. It was a
finite-difference model. The chief innovation was the use of a new spherical
coordinate system developed by Yoshio Kurihara.[9] This model remained
in use throughout the 1970s.


The Sector series was not an independent GCM, but a subset of the
GFDL global models. To conserve computer time (especially for coupled
ocean-atmosphere modeling), integrations were performed on a 60-degree
longitudinal “slice” of the globe, with a symmetry assumption for conversion
to global results. In the early sector models, highly idealized land-ocean
distributions were employed.[10]


Work on Skyhigh, a high-vertical-resolution GCM covering the troposphere,
stratosphere, and mesophere, began in 1975.[11]

GFDL Spectral Model

In the mid-1970s, GFDL imported a copy of the spectral GCM code developed
by W. Bourke at the Australian Numerical Meteorological Research Centre.[12]
Interestingly, Bourke and Barrie Hunt had originally worked out the spectral
modeling techniques while visiting GFDL in the early 1970s.


Beginning in the late 1970s, Holloway began to recode the GFDL spectral
model to add modularity and user-specifiable options. The result was
Supersource, the modular, spectral atmospheric GCM that remains in use at
GFDL today. “Holloway fit the physics from Manabe’s grid model (ZODIAC and
relatives) into the spectral model. Holloway then unified all the versions
of this new spectral model into one Supersource.”[13]

Users can specify code components and options. Among these options is a
mixed-layer ocean model, but Supersource does not contain an ocean GCM.
Supersource code has frequently been used as the atmospheric component in
coupled OAGCM studies.[14]


During the late 1990s, an intensize, lab-wide effort began involving new
model development activities within a framework known as GFDL’s FMS
(Flexible Modeling System). The new models include those of the atmosphere,
ocean, land, and sea-ice, as well as biospheric components. Aside from the
ocean, the new models represent a radical departure in that they are in large
part independent of earlier GFDL models. The development efforts were broad
and team-based and involve expertise both from within and outside of GFDL.

The new codes are modular, use Fortran 90, and are based on standardized
interfaces between component models. The FMS code organization isolates
aspects related to parallel computing to a relatively simple interface. [15]

GFDL Home Page

Back to GCM Family Tree


J. Smagorinsky, “The Beginnings of Numerical Weather Prediction and
General Circulation Modeling: Early Recollections,” Advances in
25 (1983): 3-37.

J. Smagorinsky, “On the Numerical Integration of the Primitive
Equations of Motion for Baroclinic Flow in a Closed Region,”
Monthly Weather Review 86, no. 12 (1958): 457-466.

J. Smagorinsky, “General Circulation Experiments with the Primitive
Equations,” Monthly Weather Review 91, no. 3 (1963):

S. Manabe, “The Dependence of Atmospheric Temperature on the
Concentration of Carbon Dioxide,” in Global Effects of
Environmental Pollution
, ed. S.F. Singer (Dallas, Texas: 1970),

S. Manabe, “Estimates of Future Change of Climate Due to the Increase
of Carbon Dioxide,” in Man’s Impact on the Climate, eds. W.H.
Mathews, W.W. Kellog, and G.D. Robinson (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press,
1971), 250-264.

S. Manabe and K. Bryan, “Climate Calculations with a Combined
Ocean-Atmosphere Model,” Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences
26, no. July (1969): 786-789.

S. Manabe and R.J. Stouffer, “Multiple-Century Response of a Coupled
Ocean-Atmosphere Model to an Increase of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide,”
Journal of Climate 7, no. January (1994): 5-23.

S. Manabe, J. Smagorinsky, and R.F. Strickler, “Simulated Climatology
of General Circulation with a Hydrologic Cycle,” Monthly Weather
93, no. December (1965): 769-798.

S. Manabe and R. Wetherald, “Thermal Equilibrium of the Atmosphere
with a Given Distribution of Relative Humidity,” Journal of the
Atmospheric Sciences
24 (1967): 241-259.

J. Smagorinsky, S. Manabe, and J.L. Holloway, “Numerical Results from
a Nine-Level General Circulation Model of the Atmosphere,” Monthly
Weather Review
93 (1965): 727-768.

Y. Kurihara, “Numerical Integration of the Primitive Equations on a
Spherical Grid,” Monthly Weather Review XCIII, no. 7 (1965):

S. Manabe, K. Byran, and M.J. Spelman, “A Global Ocean-Atmosphere
Climate Model: Part I. The Atmospheric Circulation,” Journal of
Physical Oceanography
5, no. 1 (1975): 3-29.

J.D. Mahlman, R.W. Sinclair, and M.D. Schwarzkopf, “Simulated
Response of the Atmospheric Circulation to a Large Ozone Reduction”
(paper presented at the Proceedings of the WMO Symposium on the
Geophysical Aspects and Consequences of Changes in the Composition of
the Stratosphere, 26-30 June 1978, Toronto,, 1978), 219-220.

T. Gordon and B. Stern, “Spectral Modeling at GFDL,” (GARP Programme
on Numerical Experimentation, 1974).

W. Bourke, “A Multi-Level Spectral Model. I. Formulation and
Hemispheric Integrations,” Monthly Weather Review 102 (1974):

C.T. Gordon, “Verification of the GFDL Spectral Model,” in Weather
Forecasting and Weather Forecasts: Models, Systems, and Users. Notes
from a colloquium, Summer 1976
, eds. D.L. Williamson et al.
(Boulder, CO: National Center for Atmospheric Research, 1976), v.

Ron Stouffer to Paul N. Edwards, personal communication, 5/13/98.

S. Manabe and R.J. Stouffer, “Two Stable Equilibria of a Coupled
Ocean-Atmosphere Model,” Journal of Climate 1, no. September
(1988): 841-865.

S. Manabe and R.J. Stouffer, “Multiple-Century Response of a Coupled
Ocean-Atmosphere Model to an Increase of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide,”
Journal of Climate 7, no. January (1994): 5-23.

Anderson, J. L., V. Balaji, A. J. Broccoli, W. F. Cooke, T. L. Delworth,
K. W. Dixon, L. J. Donner, K. A. Dunne, S. M. Freidenreich, S. T. Garner,
R. G. Gudgel, C. T. Gordon, I. M. Held, R. S. Hemler, L. W. Horowitz,
S. A. Klein, T. R. Knutson, P. J. Kushner, A. R. Langenhorst, N.-C. Lau,
Z. Liang, S. L. Malyshev, P. C. D. Milly, M. J. Nath, J. J. Ploshay,
V. Ramaswamy, M. D. Schwarzkopf, E. Shevliakova, J. J. Sirutis,
B. J. Soden, W. F. Stern, L. A. Thompson, R. John Wilson,
A. T. Wittenberg, and B. L. Wyman, “The new GFDL global atmosphere and
land model AM2/LM2: Evaluation with prescribed SST simulations.,”
Journal of Climate 17, (2004): To Appear.