We live in a very complex environment: complexity and dynamism and patterns of evidence from satellite photographs, from videos. You can even see it outside your window. It's endlessly complex, but somehow familiar, but the patterns kind of repeat, but they never repeat exactly. It's a huge challenge to understand. The patterns that you see are there at all of the different scales, but you can't chop it into one little bit and say, "Oh, well let me just make a smaller climate." I can't use the normal products of reductionism to get a smaller and smaller thing that I can study in a laboratory and say, "Oh, now that's something I now understand." It's the whole or it's nothing.
But how do we go about doing it? How do we go from that complexity that you saw to a line of code? We do it one piece at a time. This is a picture of sea ice taken flying over the Arctic. We can look at all of the different equations that go into making the ice grow or melt or change shape. We can look at the fluxes. We can look at the rate at which snow turns to ice, and we can code that. We can encapsulate that in code. These models are around a million lines of code at this point, and growing by tens of thousands of lines of code every year.
So you can look at that piece, but you can look at the other pieces too. What happens when you have clouds? What happens when clouds form, when they dissipate, when they rain out? That's another piece. What happens when we have radiation coming from the sun, going through the atmosphere, being absorbed and reflected? We can code each of those very small pieces as well. There are other pieces: the winds changing the ocean currents. We can talk about the role of vegetation in transporting water from the soils back into the atmosphere. And each of these different elements we can encapsulate and put into a system. Each of those pieces ends up adding to the whole.
And you get something like this. You get a beautiful representation of what's going on in the climate system, where each and every one of those emergent patterns that you can see, the swirls in the Southern Ocean, the tropical cyclone in the Gulf of Mexico, and there's two more that are going to pop up in the Pacific at any point now, those rivers of atmospheric water, all of those are emergent properties that come from the interactions of all of those small-scale processes I mentioned. There's no code that says, "Do a wiggle in the Southern Ocean." There's no code that says, "Have two tropical cyclones that spin around each other." All of those things are emergent properties.
I could go through a dozen more examples: the skill associated with solar cycles, changing the ozone in the stratosphere; the skill associated with orbital changes over 6,000 years. We can look at that too, and the models are skillful. The models are skillful in response to the ice sheets 20,000 years ago. The models are skillful when it comes to the 20th-century trends over the decades. Models are successful at modeling lake outbursts into the North Atlantic 8,000 years ago. And we can get a good match to the data.
Each of these different targets, each of these different evaluations, leads us to add more scope to these models, and leads us to more and more complex situations that we can ask more and more interesting questions, like, how does dust from the Sahara, that you can see in the orange, interact with tropical cyclones in the Atlantic? How do organic aerosols from biomass burning, which you can see in the red dots, intersect with clouds and rainfall patterns? How does pollution, which you can see in the white wisps of sulfate pollution in Europe, how does that affect the temperatures at the surface and the sunlight that you get at the surface?
We can look at this across the world. We can look at the pollution from China. We can look at the impacts of storms on sea salt particles in the atmosphere. We can see the combination of all of these different things happening all at once, and we can ask much more interesting questions. How do air pollution and climate coexist? Can we change things that affect air pollution and climate at the same time? The answer is yes.
So this is a history of the 20th century. The first one is the model. The weather is a little bit different to what actually happened. The second one are the observations. And we're going through the 1930s. There's variability, there are things going on, but it's all kind of in the noise. As you get towards the 1970s, things are going to start to change. They're going to start to look more similar, and by the time you get to the 2000s, you're already seeing the patterns of global warming, both in the observations and in the model.
We know what happened over the 20th century. Right? We know that it's gotten warmer. We know where it's gotten warmer. And if you ask the models why did that happen, and you say, okay, well, yes, basically it's because of the carbon dioxide we put into the atmosphere. We have a very good match up until the present day.
But there's one key reason why we look at models, and that's because of this phrase here. Because if we had observations of the future, we obviously would trust them more than models, But unfortunately, observations of the future are not available at this time.
So when we go out into the future, there's a difference. The future is unknown, the future is uncertain, and there are choices. Here are the choices that we have. We can do some work to mitigate the emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. That's the top one. We can do more work to really bring it down so that by the end of the century, it's not much more than there is now. Or we can just leave it to fate and continue on with a business-as-usual type of attitude. The differences between these choices can't be answered by looking at models.
There's a great phrase that Sherwood Rowland, who won the Nobel Prize for the chemistry that led to ozone depletion, when he was accepting his Nobel Prize, he asked this question: "What is the use of having developed a science well enough to make predictions if, in the end, all we're willing to do is stand around and wait for them to come true?" The models are skillful, but what we do with the information from those models is totally up to you.