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CCSI Research Themes


At the Climate Change Science Institute at ORNL, more than 130 scientists work collaboratively across disciplines to advance understanding of our changing planet. Modelers work with field experimentalists, who collect data that in turn improves Earth system models. Data experts enhance the availability and analysis of information. Researchers use the modeled climate change scenarios to determine impacts on various stakeholders.

CCSI focuses this integrated approach along with big science capabilities—including world-class supercomputers—on improving regional and global climate models and evaluating potential solutions at the intersection of climate, clean energy, national security, and environmental justice.

Research focus areas include the following.


Earth System Modeling: Computational models that simulate natural systems are vital to predicting climate impacts. Using high-performance computing and data from large-scale field experiments, scientists in CCSI translate new knowledge of environmental processes into DOE’s Energy Exascale Earth System Model (E3SM). By developing and evaluating improvements to E3SM and other global models, ORNL teams are working toward greater predictive accuracy on finer geographic scales.

Data Integration, Dissemination, and Informatics

Data Integration, Dissemination, and Informatics: Building useful climate models requires vast amounts of data. Millions of atmospheric measurements influencing global climate are shared via the ORNL-managed data center for the DOE Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) User Facility. Similarly, the ORNL Distributed Active Archive Center (ORNL DAAC) archives and distributes terrestrial ecology data from NASA Earth Science missions. CCSI makes diverse data and data management tools accessible to a range of stakeholders to facilitate science.

Arctic 1

Integrative Ecosystem Science: ORNL is a global leader in large-scale ecosystem experiments; notably, the Next-Generation Ecosystem Experiments (NGEE) Arctic, based in Alaska, and the Spruce and Peatland Responses Under Changing Environments (SPRUCE) project, based in northern Minnesota. Researchers also contribute to the NGEE Tropics project. These long-term experiments examine ecosystems particularly vulnerable to climate change, producing data to inform predictive models from local to global scales.


Impacts, Adaptation, and Community Dynamics: Researchers develop analysis tools and methods for assessing adaptation strategies at the intersection of climate science, energy use, and environmental justice. They provide data and tools to stakeholders who must prepare community members and infrastructure for risks associated with climate change. One example is TRITON, the Two-dimensional Runoff Inundation Toolkit for Operational Needs, a model that uses supercomputing to create flood forecasts for any scenario and terrain.

Pathways to Net-Zero Carbon Emissions

Pathways to Net-Zero Carbon Emissions: Scientists use artificial intelligence and high-performance computing to integrate data from diverse sources into regional models to inform decision-making, mitigation strategies, and technology development. For example, ORNL researchers examined building architectures in the Chicago area and identified which geometries had the greatest cooling effects on local and regional temperatures and resulting energy use. Determining effective decarbonization pathways is an emerging capability that draws on expertise across the laboratory, including innovations in clean energy technologies.