For "Remo," Germany is nothing more than an array of boxes, each of them 10 by 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) in area and 100 meters (328 feet) tall. But these are no ordinary boxes. Brimming with data, they are designed to forecast changes to Germany's climate between now and the year 2100. This makes "Remo," a climate model developed by the Hamburg-based Max Planck Institute for Meteorology (MPI-M), more than 20 times more precise, from a spatial standpoint, than the global models used by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
A more precise calculation of the consequences of climate change does not exist anywhere in the world. It is intended to serve as a basis for political planning, as well as to enable disaster relief agencies, farmers, vintners, power plant operators and the tourism industry to adjust to the new environment in a timely way.
To complete the calculations, commissioned by the German Federal Environment Agency, the MPI-M researchers assumed only a gradual decline in worldwide emissions of greenhouse gases from cars, power plants and factories. At the intersections of the grid made up of virtual cubes, the MPI-M's mainframe computer has calculated various weather variables, such as temperature, humidity and wind speed.
To calculate such values for every 30-second period over the next 92 years, the computer had to perform hundreds of quadrillions of calculations. Processes occurring in the air, in the oceans and on earth were expressed in mathematical formulas. In addition, about two dozen influencing variables on the ground were incorporated into the calculations, including vegetation, the composition of the top layer of soil and the water coating leaves.
According to the model's results, a warming climate will change Germany, but not as dramatically as has been widely feared. The scientists calculated the following risks for Germany:
- Declining groundwater levels in the summer, especially in southwestern Germany
- An elevated risk of forest fires, especially in southwestern and northeastern Germany
- An increase in heat-related illnesses, especially in southern Germany
- A risk to the cooling systems of nuclear power plants in the summer, also especially in southern Germany
- A greater risk of flooding in the rainy fall, especially along the Elbe River
However, the Hamburg researchers emphasize that climate change also brings opportunities for Germany, such as:
- Higher agricultural yields, especially in northern Germany
- A more productive grape harvest in southern Germany
- Fewer cold-related illnesses
- A tourism boom in Germany, especially along the coast
According to the calculations, palm trees will not be lining the Baltic seacoast in the future, the North Sea will not flood Cologne's cathedral and the Alps will keep their snow cover, although it will shrink. "We will not get a Mediterranean climate," says Holger Göttel of MPI-M. According to Göttel, Germany will continue to lie within the west-wind zone and, as has been the case for a very long time, rain-filled low-pressure zones will travel across the country. The calculations predict that by the end of the century, average annual rainfall will be about the same as it is today, and neither dry periods nor occurrences of torrential rain will become more frequent.