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dynamics--differences in surface area, mass, specific heat, density, and a myriad of other factors lead to very different responses to environmental inputs. Perhaps most importantly, the ocean and atmosphere have temperature response and equilibrium times that differ by several orders of magnitude. That is, the amount of time that it takes the ocean to respond to a change in the magnitude of some climate forcing (e.g. an increase in insolation, or an increase in the concentration of greenhouse gases) is significantly greater than the amount of time that it takes the atmosphere to respond to the same forcing change. This is fairly intuitive; it takes far more time to heat up a volume of water by a given amount than to heat up the same volume of air by the same amount (as anyone who has attempted to boil a pot of water in his or her oven can verify). This difference in response time means that ocean and atmosphere models which are coupled directly together must incorporate some sort of correction factor, or else run asynchronously most of the time, coupling only occasionally to exchange data at appropriate intervals.[1] Were they to couple directly and constantly, the two models’ outputs would gradually drift apart temporally.

In order to get around this problem, many models incorporate an independent module called a “flux coupler,” which is designed to coordinate the exchange of information between the different models that are being coupled together. The flux coupler is directly analogous to the “orchestra conductor” figure from Richardson’s forecast factory. In just the same way that Richardson’s conductor used colored beams of light to keep the various factory workers synchronized in their work, the flux coupler transforms the data it receives from the component models, implementing an appropriate time-shift to account for differences in response time (and


  1. McGuffie and Anderson-Sellers (2010), p. 204-205

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