Demystifying Climate Models

Volume 2 of the series Earth Systems Data and Models pp 109-137

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.


Simulating Terrestrial Systems

  • Andrew GettelmanAffiliated withNational Center for Atmospheric Research Email author 
  • , Richard B. RoodAffiliated withAtmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences, College of Engineering, University of Michigan


How are the pieces of the terrestrial system (land surface, glaciers, and ice sheets) modeled? Although terrestrial systems are often thought of as just modeling the land and its biology surface, the system also includes two other important components: the cryosphere (ice and snow) that sits on land and the anthroposphere (the role of humans). Plants are critical for modeling the land surface because they help govern the exchange of heat, water and carbon between the soil and the atmosphere. The coupling between plants, soil and atmosphere is discussed, along with the role of glaciers and ice sheets. Some of the major challenges in terrestrial models are discussed. The interaction of human systems and the climate system is also discussed as a framework to think about climate change. A national park in North America is used as an example of modeling effects of climate change on land ecosystems.