Programming and Analysis

GISS research programs supported are grouped into four broad areas: (1) Global Climate Modeling, (2) Earth Observations, (3) Climate Impacts, and (4) Planetary Atmospheres.

Global Climate Modeling:

The GISS climate modeling program is aimed primarily at the development of three-dimensional coupled land, ocean, and atmosphere general circulation models (GCMs). The GCMs are used to investigate climate sensitivity and variability, deduced in part on the comparison of model output to observational data, including paleo-climate studies, remote sensing and in situ data, and on projections of decadal and centennial climate change. Ongoing model development is focused on examining sensitivities to parameterizations of physical properties such as radiative transfer, clouds and convection, aerosols and chemistry, boundary-layer turbulence, ground hydrology, the carbon cycle, the dynamics of ocean-ice system, and air-surface interactions.

Earth Observations:

Earth Observation research at GISS is primarily aimed at development of and enhancement of data sets used to characterize and identify and monitor changes in the Earth’s climate. Satellite observations provide the potential for obtaining Earth system information on a global scale. GISS serves as a processing center for the International Satellite Cloud Climatology Project (ISCCP). ISCCP was established as part of the World Climate Research Programme to collect and analyze satellite radiance measurements to infer global distribution of clouds, their properties, and their diurnal, seasonal, and interannual variations. The resulting datasets and analysis products are used to improve understanding of the role of clouds in climate, with the primary focus being the effects of clouds on radiation balance. GISS also analyzes, tabulates and plots GHCN v3 surface air temperatures and ERSST Sea Surface Temperatures (SST) for public use.

Climate Impacts:

With a particular emphasis on agricultural and public health impacts, the Climate Impacts group at GISS aims to improve our understanding of how climate affects human society through assessment of the effect of current climate variability and of potential climate change impacts caused by anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gasses and aerosols. Observed satellite and ground-based climate impact data as well as model outputs (e.g. temperature, precipitation, etc.) are used as inputs for impact models to forecast changes in regional crop yields, freshwater availability, forest productivity, and other variables.

Planetary Atmospheres:

The atmospheres of other planets in our solar system and planets in other stellar systems provide the GISS Planetary Atmospheres group with a broad range of conditions under which they can test our basic understanding of atmospheric processes. Current solar system research focuses on improving understanding of atmospheric dynamics on Jupiter, Saturn and Titan with data obtained by the Cassini Spacecraft’s Imaging Science Subsystem (ISS). GISS is also one of the lead centers for NASA’s Nexus for Exoplanet System Science whose goal is to improve understanding of the habitability of rocky exoplanets, interpret current and near-future satellite observations, and inform the design of future direct imaging spacecraft missions. To that end, a planetary version of the GCM is being used to address outstanding questions about how Earth became and has remained habitable despite wide swings in solar radiation, atmospheric chemistry, and other climate forcings; whether these eras of habitability may produce signals that might be detectable from a great distance; whether and how planets such as Mars and Venus were potentially habitable in the past; and how common habitable exoplanets might be.