“Cybernetics of Climate”

Dr. Michael Tobis
Research Scientist Associate, The University of Texas Institute for Geophysics
The University of Texas at Austin

Michael Tobis, Ph.D.

Michael Tobis, Ph.D.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009
5:45 p.m. – Networking Reception
6:30 p.m. – Presentation

You’re invited to a discussion session entitled “Cybernetics of Climate” presented by Dr. Michael Tobis, Research Scientist Associate at the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics. at The University of Texas at Austin.

Dr. Tobis’s presentation will focus on climate change as an example of whether, when and how computing can influence policy.

As human activity changes the composition of the global atmosphere at an unprecedented pace, human society is faced with unprecedented challenges. We have to determine to what extent the changes matter, and by when. Some argue that the risks of excessive policy response are as large as or larger than the risks of inadequate policy response. One of the unique aspects of the problem is that the conditions being predicted have no historical or paleontological analogy. We are entering new territory, and are forced to make projections based only on scientific principles, without any direct observations.

Most progress in engineering relies to some extent on doing exactly this sort of extrapolation. The assistance of high performance computers is crucial in developing most new technologies these days, from spacecraft to medicines.

How well do these techniques apply to predicting the future of the earth as a physical system? Climate simulations often take center stage in public discussions about climate change, but how should these computations be understood? Is the climate system well enough characterized to rely on models? If not, how should that affect what we do about it?

Dr. Tobis will offer a tour of how computers and computations are used in addressing our planet’s future and some ideas as to the strengths and limitations of these approaches.


Michael Tobis started his career as an electrical engineer with a focus in statistics. As a graduate student, he built one of the first multicore computers and used it to run ocean simulations using code he himself developed. Since his doctorate in climatology, he has been focusing on climate computation, at Argonne National Laboratory, at the University of Chicago, and now at the University of Texas.