Climate & Environmental Hazards Research

The Climate & Environmental Hazards program focuses on the areas of atmospheric, climate, ecosystem, geophysical, and ocean modeling. With the advent of computer simulation in the 1950s, numerical weather predictions finally began producing realistic results. Today, mathematical models using advanced computing have taken prediction to the next level, and these models can now be used to generate either short-term weather forecasts or longer-term global climate predictions. The resulting data can be widely applied for understanding and projecting climate change. General circulation models are often used in theoretical approaches to make future projections, and to link causes and effects in climate change.

Climate Modeling and Climate Change

Ben Kirtman speaks to Governor Scott in Tallahassee regarding Climate ChangeCCS Climate & Environmental Hazards Program Director and RSMAS Scientist/Professor Dr. Ben Kirtman is committed to raising awareness of climate change.  The Lead on NOAA’s Climate Prediction Task Force, Dr. Kirtman uses complex, coupled, ocean-atmosphere, general-circulation models to investigate the predictability of the climate system (on time scales from days to decades), and to study the influence of tropical variability on mid-latitude predictability.  Dr. Kirtman and his team have been doing forecasts for NOAA since 2009, and their CCSM4 model [part of the NOAA North American Multi-Model Ensemble (NMME-II) research initiative] is being officially adopted in July 2015, and will be used through June 2018.

Miami Beach seawater flooding

Dr. Kirtman was one of five scientists who met with Florida Governor Rick Scott on Climate Change in August of 2104. Speaking to about the threat of sea level rising, Dr. Kirtman said:  “We stand ready to discuss advances in clean energy options, such as energy efficiency, solar, and wind power. [Clean] energy sources offer the best potential for meeting the carbon limits cost effectively and reducing the future impacts of climate change on Florida, with the added benefit of creating jobs and keeping energy dollars in the state.”

On November 13, 2015, UM co-hosted a Conference on Climate Change with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to educate the world about climate change and its impact. Dr. Kirtman, the lead author of one of the key sections of the IPCC’s fifth assessment report, said there have been unprecedented changes in climate and sea levels between the 1950s and now, and, its repercussions are expected to continue to escalate.

Thomas LeBlanc, the University’s executive vice president and provost, noted that nearly all of the University’s 11 schools and colleges are involved in some way with researching and evaluating sustainability and climate change. “We think of Miami as ground zero on climate change,” LeBlanc told the more than 200 people at the BankUnited Center’s Fieldhouse. “Miami, in some ways, is a model for every coastal city.”

SOURCE: eVeritas


Ocean Modeling

Villy KourafalouAnother RSMAS Scientist/Professor at the forefront of prediction is Dr. Villy Kourafalou.  She writes (excerpted from The Gainesville Sun) “Just as weather prediction has become a fundamental tool in everyday life, ocean prediction has been emerging to carry out similar capabilities in the marine environment. Sophisticated models that integrate observations are being developed for the Gulf of Mexico, going from global to regional to coastal models. We now have the capability to use supercomputers to compile these data to create high-resolution models that highlight the impact of offshore currents on coastal areas.”

She continues  “Such systems have to be sustained and continuously improved, then coupled to the atmospheric models to generate more comprehensive environmental predictions. We know that this is the correct pathway to address a broad range of concerns from hurricanes to climate change, to human-made natural disasters like [the Deepwater Horizon] oil spill. The debate on offshore drilling in the Gulf should include the data accumulated by oceanographers and the models of ocean prediction that assimilate data in real time and provide a wealth of information that could help preserve our environment and even save lives.  Any exploration of marine resources should include scientific support for management, in tandem with sustained ability of rapid response to environmental hazards. We should not wait for a significant environmental catastrophe to start thinking of putting a critical framework in place.”

 Oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill laps around the mouth of the Mississippi River deltaPictured at right, oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill laps around the mouth of the Mississippi River delta. [UM Scientists] used a high-resolution prediction model to study the relationship between the Mississippi River and the spill. To understand the influence of Mississippi River waters and quantify connecting patterns of river and oiled waters, researchers developed a high-resolution, northern-Gulf-of-Mexico model with daily freshwater inputs from all major rivers, and a detailed representation of the river plume development under the influence of winds, the complicated northern Gulf topography, and also the Loop Current system.

Dr. Kourafalou, lead author of this study, explained, “Since the Gulf of Mexico is a complex ocean system and the oil spill was near the Mississippi Delta, we had to carefully account for both the offshore and coastal currents, which are largely dominated by the Mississippi River plume.” For this study, they added observational data on marine and atmospheric conditions from that region and daily satellite images of the surface slick.

The researchers published their findings in the October 2013 Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans, “Influence of Mississippi River induced circulation on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill transport“. The study marks the first time scientists tracked a large river plume in relation to the surface spreading of a deep water oil spill and provides new information on contaminant behavior in the Gulf.


Gulf of Mexico Loop Current


If you are interest in a collaboration, reach out to the Program Director, Benjamin Kirtman:



Research News



Crunching Data at CCS

While computer science studies the different components of computers and computer programming, computational science builds the interface of computing within the scientific discipline . . .

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UM’s Special Report on Climate Change

The University of Miami’s Climate Change Special Report launched today . . .

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Miami Takes Center Stage as ‘Ground Zero’ for Climate Change

Prof. Ben Kirtman participated in C-SPAN’s flagship morning call-in program, Washington Journal, via the mobile studio on the bus. During the segment, Kirtman discussed climate change and other topics while taking calls from C-SPAN viewers.

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LOOP CURRENT IMAGE CREDIT:  National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

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