Crystal-Ball Center for Climate Change

A new sentry is now on the lookout for early signs of floods, droughts, and other potentially devastating weather patterns that may take shape months ahead. The Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego and Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, New York, announced today the establishment of a center, the International Research Institute (IRI), that will use cutting-edge climate models to forecast long-term weather changes.

Last spring, Scripps and Columbia won a 3-year, $18 million award from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to jointly launch IRI, and this past year they have refurbished buildings and planned construction of new labs on the two campuses. The new IRI director, Brazilian meteorologist Antonio Divino Moura, and his 15 to 20 staff scientists will use supercomputers to develop global projections of several months or more of precipitation, temperature, and other climate variables, says Scripps climate scientist Nicholas Graham.

IRI plans to make its forecasts freely available, says Graham, for instance by posting them through meteorological organizations and on the Internet. The institute also plans to collaborate with climate researchers and agricultural, water-resource, and health officials in other countries.

The project was inspired, Graham says, by dramatic progress over the past 15 years in predicting El Niño, the periodic warming of surface waters in the Pacific Ocean that affects everything from Indian monsoons to flooding in the midwestern United States. The institute has already started producing routine forecasts that have, for example, successfully predicted periods of drought in East Africa. Says Graham, "We're not standing still."