Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (Germany) Climate research: More precise and efficient weather forecasts

Improving weather forecasts and at the same time reducing computing effort in order to save costs and energy – these are the goals of the ASPIRE project. Meteorologist Dr. Julian Quinting of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) uses recurring signals in the tropical Pacific, which have an important influence on the atmospheric circulation in Europe. He also develops machine learning models that mimic the effects of high resolution. For his project, the young scientist has now received a Starting Grant from the European Research Council (ERC).

In view of the energy crisis and climate change, the importance of reliable weather forecasts for periods between two weeks and two months is growing. It is therefore important to know where the temperatures will be in four weeks in order to estimate the heating requirements for buildings and to fill the gas storage tanks accordingly. It is also important to predict weather extremes such as heat waves, droughts or floods as accurately as possible so that authorities and the public can take timely measures to prevent or limit damage. Dr. Julian Quinting of KIT’s Institute of Meteorology and Climate Research – Department of Tropospheric Research deals with forecasts on the mentioned time scale, so-called subseasonal forecasts, in his new project ASPIRE (stands for:Advancing Subseasonal PredIctions at Reduced computational Effort). The European Research Council (ERC) is funding the project with a Starting Grant.

Recurring patterns with high predictability

The award-winning young scientist and his future working group are not only concerned with improving the precision of forecasts, but also with reducing computing effort in order to reduce costs and energy consumption and thus also reduce greenhouse gas emissions. “My basic idea is to make better use of sources in the atmospheric system with high intrinsic predictability,” explains Quinting. “Such sources are, for example, recurring patterns in the atmosphere, which vary on the time scale from two weeks to two months.” The meteorologist considers recurring signals in the tropical Pacific, which have an important influence on the atmospheric circulation in Europe, to be particularly promising. However, these signals in the tropics are only incorrectly reproduced in numerical weather forecast models, i.e. weather forecasts working with concrete numbers, so that their inherent predictability cannot be used. In ASPIRE, Quinting initially intends to improve the representation of these signals through high spatial resolution of weather forecasts in the tropics. However, this high spatial resolution requires a great deal of computational effort. In a second step, Quinting and his research group are therefore developing machine learning models that mimic the effects of high resolution. This makes it possible to reduce the computational effort.

World map with magnifying glass on wind streamsDr. Julian Quinting; Data: NOAA
The aim of the ASPIRE project is to make better use of intrinsic predictability in the tropics and thus make predictions
in the mid-latitudes more reliable.
(Image: Dr. Julian Quinting; Data: NOAA)

New possibilities for weather services

“In ASPIRE, we want to show the potential of locally high-resolution simulations,” says Quinting. “Ideally, weather services will be able to make even better use of existing computing capacity.” If the chosen approach proves successful, climate research could also apply it to other components of the atmospheric system that also have high intrinsic predictability, but have so far been incorrectly represented in weather prediction models.

ERC Starting Grants 2022

With Starting Grants, the ERC supports excellent young researchers who want to start an independent career and establish their own working group. Each selected project will be supported with up to 1.5 million euros for up to five years. Under certain conditions, for example, up to one million euros can be applied for in addition, for equipment or access to infrastructure. In the 2022 call for proposals, the European Research Council awarded Starting Grants to a total of 408 scientists conducting research in 26 European countries, 81 of them in Germany. The total funding volume of the ERC Starting Grants 2022 amounts to 636 million euros. 2932 applications were received; the approval rate is thus around 13.9 percent.

Further information on the ERC

Details on the KIT Climate and Environment Center

As “The Research University in the Helmholtz Association”, KIT creates and imparts knowledge for society and the environment. The aim is to make significant contributions to global challenges in the fields of energy, mobility and information. To this end, around 9,800 employees work together on a broad disciplinary basis in the natural sciences, engineering, economics, humanities and social sciences. KIT prepares its 22,300 students for responsible tasks in society, industry, and science through research-oriented university studies. Innovation activities at KIT bridge the gap between knowledge and application for social benefit, economic prosperity, and preservation of our natural resources. KIT is one of Germany’s Universities of Excellence.