Cantabria leads the Interactive Atlas Project of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

Instituto de Física de Cantabria (IFCA)
  • Cantabria participates with a leading role in the elaboration of the sixth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report
  • The Interactive Atlas by IFCA researchers will help navigate the huge amount of data from international projects researching climate change
  • The Atlas is expected to support evidence-based policies in defence of climate action


The advances of science are intimately bound to technological advances. In the case of climate change and the capabilities to predict its consequences, the availability of supercomputers and networks to process enormous amounts of information is key to obtain not only global predictive models, but also models at the regional scale: supercomputing is essential to obtain higher precision levels. Another key challenge is to extract the relevant insights from the huge amount of climatic information available in order to take transcendental political decisions for the the short, mid and long term.


An Interactive Atlas for the IPCC

With the scientific and technological leadership of the Institute of Physics of Cantabria (IFCA, a joint institute of the CSIC and the University of Cantabria) in collaboration with the Applied Mathematics and Computation Department of the University of Cantrabria, a group of researchers coordinates the flagship project of the sixth report of the Inter-government Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) of the United Nations.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change started in 1988 to convey current knowledge about climate change to policiymakers.

In the elaboration of the report, a new challenge was the elaboration of an interactive Atlas that the IPCC requested to the Santander Meteorology Group via the IFCA, owing to its previous experience in developing such elements for the Spanish National Plan for the Adaptation to Climate Change and for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

The group, composed of 20 members and led by José Manuel Gutiérrez Llorente, director of IFCA, relies on the technological alliance with the spin-off Predictia for the web development, and becomes an IPCC support centre at the same level as Germany, United Kingdom or the United States via the NASA.

José Manuel Gutiérrez Llorente at the supercomputing facility with a display portraying models calculated for the IPCC atlas.

After a year of work, Gutiérrez and his team elaborated two drafts of the report, to be submitted for the scrutiny of scientists as well as of governments. “Each product has to be validated”, which entails having to answer one by one to thousands of comments done by reviewers in a process providing all possible guarantees. It is for that reason that it was difficult to convince to develop such an interactive product, explains the expert, “but finally we persuaded about its necessity” and now “there are high expectations with the end-product”.

The Atlas provides two advantages, if compared with previous reports based only on static documents: it allows to query the maps in a flexible way, picking the zone and time period or season of the year, and it attempts to facilitate that the information reaches the population, as the interface is much more attractive. “We also strive for promoting Open Science: each figure in the Atlas includes metadata that explains how it has been created, making it reproducible; this is a milestone for the IPCC”, adds Gutiérrez.


A tool for supporting evidence-based policy decisions

The end result was to come to light in April 2021, allowing to query the essential variables for the monitoring of climate change such as rainfall, temperature and wind via data structures hosted at the Santander Climate Data Service, coordinated by Antonio Cofiño, and with the advanced and cloud computing systems at IFCA. On top of these systems adds the supercomputer Altamira, which performs simultaneous regional simulations with the contribution of another member of the meteorology group, Jesús Fernández.

In this field of knowledge “we have to be grounded on a solid methodology and we need to have the adequate technology to launch the computational calculations necessary to obtain reliable results”, explains Gutiérrez. As this is a complex endeavour, all basic information depends, in turn, on large collaborative initiatives such as the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP) or the Coordinated Regional Climate Downscaling Experiment (CORDEX), a network whose ends are to obtain nested high-resolution models to obtain increasing detail of regional climate (within a margin of 10-40 kilometres). Doing so is necessary to analyse what will happen, for instance, in Cantabria (which has itself a relatively small area, 5,321 km²). For all this, one has to face computational challenges that imply “considering an enormous amount of data”.

Interactive IPCC report Atlas video (in Spanish).


A firm commitment for climate change research

Of the 500 most powerful supercomputers in the world, among which the CPD of IFCA counts itself, 50 run only models, such as those studying climate: that adds up to a total of several “petabytes” (10^15 bytes) of information stored in several supercomputing centres. Thanks to this project, Cantabria plays a fundamental role in the impact studies that will help governments of the whole world to undertake appropriate policy decisions. Prof. Gutiérrez of IFCA is one of the 15 Spaniards coordinating a chapter of the sixth report of the IPCC.

Supercomputing facility operation at IFCA. Leveraging a vast computational power is essential for the success of such a project.

The known scenarios from here to the year 2100 talk of an average increase of temperatures of between 6-7 degrees Celsius if no action is taken, while managing to limit this increase to only 1.5-2 degrees would accomplish the objectives established in the Paris Agreement.

“Spain has led the last United Nations Climate Change conference precisely because it is committing strongly with this matter. Everybody has to do his part”, points Gutiérrez. In his opinion, the power of consumers must have a central position in this matter, “as companies will follow the demands of consumers”, reason why we must reflect upon our individual consumption habits. “Climate change and sustainability are two aligned objectives”, he says, stressing the importance of social movements as levers to demand the necessary regulations, as is yet happening in Spain.


Media credits:

UN Headquarters picture is in the public domain and was downloaded from Pixabay.

Other pictures kindly provided by IFCA and re-used with permission.

Video by University of Cantabria linked from original release.

Ongoing collaboration