there is no value in elaborating these comprehensive simulations in ways that have no practical consequences or no hope of confronting data, an emphasis on elegance can be counterproductive, as a large number of details may very well be needed to get things right quantitatively.

As we back off from this high end, the balance between elegance and realism becomes more of an issue. My reading of the literature is that elegance is often sacrificed unnecessarily, partly for the sake of a competition with comprehensive models. The latter seem, after all, to be extraordinarily inefficient at attacking many key climate problems. Yet, in an era of exponentially increasing computational power, this competition is often less valuable than we might like to admit, given the time scale at which studies become feasible at a more comprehensive level.

Elegance and lasting value are correlated. An elegant hierarchy of models upon which the field as a whole bases its understanding of the climate system can be of benefit to future generations for whom our comprehensive simulations will have become obsolete.


The health of climate theory/modeling in the coming decades is threatened by a growing gap between high-end simulations and idealized theoretical work. In order to fill this gap it is evident that research with a hierarchy of models is needed. But to be successful, this work must make progress towards two goals simultaneously. It must, on the one hand, make contact with the high-end simulations and improve the comprehensive model development process; otherwise it is irrelevant to that process, and, therefore, to all of the important applications built on our ability to simulate. On the other hand, it must proceed more systematically towards the creation of a hierarchy of lasting value, providing a solid framework within which our understanding of the climate system, and that of future generations, is embedded. Funding for climate dynamics should reflect this need to balance conceptual research, simulation, and hierarchy development.


Hoskins, B. J. 1983. Dynamical processes in the atmosphere and the use of models. Quart. J. Roy. Meteorol. Soc. 109:1-21.

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