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Frontier’s exascale power enables the Energy, Exascale and Earth System Model-Multiscale Modeling Framework — or E3SM-MMF — project to run years’ worth of climate simulations at unprecedented speed and scale. Credit: Mark Taylor/Sandia National Laboratories, U.S. Dept. of Energy

The world’s first exascale supercomputer will help scientists peer into the future of global climate change and open a window into weather patterns that could affect the world a generation from now.

Christian Salvador is studying natural and manmade aerosols at Oak Ridge National Laboratory to improve our understanding of how atmospheric pollutants affect ecosystems and the Earth’s climate. Credit: Carlos Jones/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy

While completing his undergraduate studies in the Philippines, atmospheric chemist Christian Salvador caught a glimpse of the horizon. What he saw concerned him: a thin, black line hovering above the city.

red and green sphagnum moss

A type of peat moss has surprised scientists with its climate resilience: Sphagnum divinum is actively speciating in response to hot, dry conditions. 

ORNL’s Ben Sulman and Shannon Jones at a mangrove habitat in Port Aransas, Texas

To better understand important dynamics at play in flood-prone coastal areas, Oak Ridge National Laboratory scientists working on simulations of Earth’s carbon and nutrient cycles paid a visit to experimentalists gathering data in a Texas wetland.

ORNL’s David Sholl is director of the new DOE Energy Earthshot Non-Equilibrium Energy Transfer for Efficient Reactions center to help decarbonize the industrial chemical industry. Credit: Genevieve Martin, ORNL/U.S. Dept. of Energy

ORNL has been selected to lead an Energy Earthshot Research Center, or EERC, focused on developing chemical processes that use sustainable methods instead of burning fossil fuels to radically reduce industrial greenhouse gas emissions to stem climate change and limit the crisis of a rapidly warming planet.

The ORNL DAAC gathers, processes, archives and distributes information on key land processes, including the shifting ecological and geomorphological features of the U.S. Atchafalaya and Terrebonne basins gathered by the NASA Delta-X mission shown here. Credit: NASA Delta-X

In 1993 as data managers at ORNL began compiling observations from field experiments for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the information fit on compact discs and was mailed to users along with printed manuals.

Bob Bolton has spent much of his career studying environmental change in Alaska. He recently moved to East Tennessee to join the ORNL-led NGEE Arctic project as deputy for operations. Credit: Carlos Jones/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy

Bob Bolton may have moved to a southerly latitude at ORNL, but he is still stewarding scientific exploration in the Arctic, along with a project that helps amplify the voices of Alaskans who reside in a landscape on the front lines of climate change.

Researchers used the open-source Community Earth System Model to simulate the effects that extreme climatic conditions have on processes like land carbon storage. Credit: Carlos Jones/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy

Researchers from Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Northeastern University modeled how extreme conditions in a changing climate affect the land’s ability to absorb atmospheric carbon — a key process for mitigating human-caused emissions. They found that 88% of Earth’s regions could become carbon emitters by the end of the 21st century. 

ORNL’s Fernanda Santos examines a soil sample at an NGEE Arctic field site in the Alaskan tundra in June 2022. Credit: Amy Breen, University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Wildfires are an ancient force shaping the environment, but they have grown in frequency, range and intensity in response to a changing climate. At ORNL, scientists are working on several fronts to better understand and predict these events and what they mean for the carbon cycle and biodiversity.

Clouds of gray smoke in the lower left are funneled northward from wildfires in Western Canada, reaching the edge of the sea ice covering the Arctic Ocean. A second path of thick smoke is visible at the top center of the image, emanating from wildfires in the boreal areas of Russia’s Far East, in this image captured on July 13, 2023. Credit: NASA MODIS

Wildfires have shaped the environment for millennia, but they are increasing in frequency, range and intensity in response to a hotter climate. The phenomenon is being incorporated into high-resolution simulations of the Earth’s climate by scientists at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, with a mission to better understand and predict environmental change.