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Center for International Security and Cooperation
Freeman Spogli Institute
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The Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory

The Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, located at Princeton University, is among the oldest institutions to have developed general circulation models. Its origins and current work are described below.

The General Circulation Research Section/Laboratory

In 1955, at von Neumann's instigation, the U.S. Weather Bureau created a General Circulation Research Section under the direction of Joseph Smagorinsky. Smagorinsky felt that his charge was to continue with the final step of the von Neumann/Charney computer modeling program: a three-dimensional, global, primitive-equation general circulation model of the atmosphere.[1] The General Circulation Research Section was initially located in Suitland, Maryland, near the Weather Bureau's JNWP unit). The lab's name was changed in 1959 to the General Circulation Research Laboratory, and it moved to Washington, D.C.

In 1955-56, Smagorinsky collaborated with von Neumann, Charney, and Phillips to develop a 2-level, zonal hemispheric model using a subset of the primitive equations.[3] Beginning in 1959, he proceeded to develop a nine-level primitive-equation GCM (still hemispheric).[4] Smagorinsky was among the first to recognize the need to couple ocean models to atmospheric GCMs; he brought the ocean modeler Kirk Bryan to the GCRL in 1961 to begin this research.

The Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory

The General Circulation Research Laboratory was renamed the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in 1963. In 1968, the GFDL moved to its current home at Princeton University.

Syukuro Manabe and the GFDL General Circulation Modeling Program

In 1959, Smagorinsky invited Syukuro Manabe of the Tokyo NWP Group to join the General Circulation Research Laboratory, where he assigned Manabe to the GCM coding and development. By 1963, Smagorinsky, Manabe, and their collaborators had completed a nine-level, hemispheric primitive-equation GCM. Manabe was given a large programming staff. He was thus able to focus on mathematical structure of the models, without becoming overly involved in coding. (Leith, by contrast, worked mostly alone, and wrote his own code.)

In the mid-1960s, as Smagorinsky became increasingly involved in planning for the Global Atmospheric Research Program (GARP), Manabe became the de facto leader of GFDL's GCM effort, although Smagorinsky remained peripherally involved. Until his retirement in 1998, Manabe led one of the most vigorous and longest-lasting GCM development programs in the world.

Manabe's work style has been highly collaborative. With his colleagues Strickler, Wetherald, Holloway, Stouffer, and Bryan, as well as others, Manabe was among the first to perform carbon-dioxide doubling experiments with GCMs,[5] to couple atmospheric GCMs with ocean models,[6] and to perform very long runs of GCMs under carbon-dioxide doubling.[7] Another characteristic of Manabe's work style is a focus on basic issues rather than on fine-tuning of model parameterizations.

The GFDL Atmospheric GCMs

The names used in the following section are the informal terms used by GFDL members, who do not always agree on their interpretation.


The MARKFORT series began with Smagorinsky's nine-level, 3-D hemispheric model, and was used well into the 1960s. Initially, the model was run on the IBM STRETCH. A number of GFDL's most influential publications resulted from the MARKFORT model.[8]


The Zodiac model series was the second major GFDL GCM. It was a finite-difference model. The chief innovation was the use of a new spherical coordinate system developed by Yoshio Kurihara.[9] This model remained in use throughout the 1970s.


The Sector series was not an independent GCM, but a subset of the GFDL global models. To conserve computer time (especially for coupled ocean-atmosphere modeling), integrations were performed on a 60-degree longitudinal "slice" of the globe, with a symmetry assumption for conversion to global results. In the early sector models, highly idealized land-ocean distributions were employed.[10]


Work on Skyhigh, a high-vertical-resolution GCM covering the troposphere, stratosphere, and mesophere, began in 1975.[11]

GFDL Spectral Model

In the mid-1970s, GFDL imported a copy of the spectral GCM code developed by W. Bourke at the Australian Numerical Meteorological Research Centre.[12] Interestingly, Bourke and Barrie Hunt had originally worked out the spectral modeling techniques while visiting GFDL in the early 1970s.


Beginning in the late 1970s, Holloway began to recode the GFDL spectral model to add modularity and user-specifiable options. The result was Supersource, the modular, spectral atmospheric GCM that remains in use at GFDL today. "Holloway fit the physics from Manabe's grid model (ZODIAC and relatives) into the spectral model. Holloway then unified all the versions of this new spectral model into one Supersource."[13]

Users can specify code components and options. Among these options is a mixed-layer ocean model, but Supersource does not contain an ocean GCM. Supersource code has frequently been used as the atmospheric component in coupled OAGCM studies.[14]

Current GFDL Models:

GFDL Home Page

Back to AGCM Family Tree


[1] J. Smagorinsky, "The Beginnings of Numerical Weather Prediction and General Circulation Modeling: Early Recollections," Advances in Geophysics 25 (1983): 3-37.

[3] J. Smagorinsky, "On the Numerical Integration of the Primitive Equations of Motion for Baroclinic Flow in a Closed Region," Monthly Weather Review 86, no. 12 (1958): 457-466.

[4] J. Smagorinsky, "General Circulation Experiments with the Primitive Equations," Monthly Weather Review 91, no. 3 (1963): 99-164.

[5] S. Manabe, "The Dependence of Atmospheric Temperature on the Concentration of Carbon Dioxide," in Global Effects of Environmental Pollution, ed. S.F. Singer (Dallas, Texas: 1970), 25-29.

S. Manabe, "Estimates of Future Change of Climate Due to the Increase of Carbon Dioxide," in Man's Impact on the Climate, eds. W.H. Mathews, W.W. Kellog, and G.D. Robinson (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1971), 250-264.

[6] S. Manabe and K. Bryan, "Climate Calculations with a Combined Ocean-Atmosphere Model," Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences 26, no. July (1969): 786-789.

[7] S. Manabe and R.J. Stouffer, "Multiple-Century Response of a Coupled Ocean-Atmosphere Model to an Increase of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide," Journal of Climate 7, no. January (1994): 5-23.

[8] S. Manabe, J. Smagorinsky, and R.F. Strickler, "Simulated Climatology of General Circulation with a Hydrologic Cycle," Monthly Weather Review 93, no. December (1965): 769-798.

S. Manabe and R. Wetherald, "Thermal Equilibrium of the Atmosphere with a Given Distribution of Relative Humidity," Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences 24 (1967): 241-259.

J. Smagorinsky, S. Manabe, and J.L. Holloway, "Numerical Results from a Nine-Level General Circulation Model of the Atmosphere," Monthly Weather Review 93 (1965): 727-768.

[9] Y. Kurihara, "Numerical Integration of the Primitive Equations on a Spherical Grid," Monthly Weather Review XCIII, no. 7 (1965): 399-415.

[10] S. Manabe, K. Byran, and M.J. Spelman, "A Global Ocean-Atmosphere Climate Model: Part I. The Atmospheric Circulation," Journal of Physical Oceanography 5, no. 1 (1975): 3-29.

[11] J.D. Mahlman, R.W. Sinclair, and M.D. Schwarzkopf, "Simulated Response of the Atmospheric Circulation to a Large Ozone Reduction" (paper presented at the Proceedings of the WMO Symposium on the Geophysical Aspects and Consequences of Changes in the Composition of the Stratosphere, 26-30 June 1978, Toronto,, 1978), 219-220.

[12] T. Gordon and B. Stern, "Spectral Modeling at GFDL," (GARP Programme on Numerical Experimentation, 1974).

W. Bourke, "A Multi-Level Spectral Model. I. Formulation and Hemispheric Integrations," Monthly Weather Review 102 (1974): 687-701.

C.T. Gordon, "Verification of the GFDL Spectral Model," in Weather Forecasting and Weather Forecasts: Models, Systems, and Users. Notes from a colloquium, Summer 1976, eds. D.L. Williamson et al. (Boulder, CO: National Center for Atmospheric Research, 1976), v. 2.

[13] Ron Stouffer to Paul N. Edwards, personal communication, 5/13/98.

[14] S. Manabe and R.J. Stouffer, "Two Stable Equilibria of a Coupled Ocean-Atmosphere Model," Journal of Climate 1, no. September (1988): 841-865.

S. Manabe and R.J. Stouffer, "Multiple-Century Response of a Coupled Ocean-Atmosphere Model to an Increase of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide," Journal of Climate 7, no. January (1994): 5-23.