The Myth of the Single Model: De-“mist”-ifying Aerosols
| Medea Steinman,
Tags: 11.03.10 webinar, aerosols, modeling
A lot of people still aren’t comfortable with the whole idea of “models”—what they are and how to use them. But they have become increasingly important in many fields, including ocean and climate research. Carolyn Jordan is a research scientist at the Complex Systems Research Center: Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space at the University of New Hampshire (UNH). In this week’s webinar, she explained how mathematical models work.
A model design is driven by the purpose and goals of the researcher and this, in turn, drives the modeling process that is needed. For her concept map, Carolyn used the example of aerosols to illustrate the variety of chemical, biological and physical processes that come into play in her models. But, other than hairspray, what do we mean by aerosols? They are fine solid particles or liquid droplets suspended in air and they can come from natural (dust storms, forest fires) or human sources (urban haze, industrial outputs). They mix in the Earth’s atmosphere and eventually settle into sediments or get rained out. The role of aerosols in the climate system is not well understood so there is a lot of research focusing on them now.
A satellite image tracks a dust cloud moving east over the Korean Peninsula into the Sea of Japan (the white patches are clouds).
Carolyn also talked about what she calls “the myth of the single model.” She emphasized that a single model is rarely sufficient on its own for explaining or predicting any phenomenon. Part of the reason is the complex temporal and spatial scales that come into play. Her map provides a number of excellent images and videos of different scale phenomena. She also illustrated how modeling can help scientists fill in the missing links in their knowledge about things they’re studying, as illustrated in these graphs.
When model predictions didn’t fit the observed data (left), Carolyn and her colleagues were led to new information about a chemical reaction—and then they were able to get “a good fit” (right).
So how do you take the information Carolyn just explained and make it interesting for 2-year olds? It isn’t easy! Kate Leavitt is the Marine Science Program Coordinator at the Seacoast Science Center (SSC) in Rye, NH. She teaches and develops marine education programs for all ages. Scientists are increasingly turning to people like Kate to help them explain their science to diverse audiences. Kate used the concept map of Dr. Hui Feng (UNH) as a training resource for the staff at the SSC. Then the staff adapted the information into lesson plans and activities that can benefit different age groups. These lesson plans and activities will be available through the archive for this webinar.
This is the map Kate and her colleagues adapted from Dr. Hui Feng’s map on aerosols (click to enlarge).
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