Numerical  Weather  Predictions  

Do  they  affect  our  society?  
  Coding  Culture  Paper   Max  van  der  Pluijm  –  3727726   Trimester  4,  2011/2012   July  2,  2012   Teacher:  Johannes  Paßmann    

Numerical   weather   predictions   nowadays   rely   on   the   representations   and   numerical   modelling   of   the   atmosphere   by   a   computer   model.   Since   mathematical   equations   that   are   being   used   in   order   to   govern   the   atmospheric   outlines   are   not   precise,   they   also   tend  not  to  represent  the  real  atmosphere  entirely  and  accurately.  Seen  from  a  critical   point   of   view   this   is   a   big   shortcoming,   since   numerical   weather   predictions   are   positioned  at  the  basis  of  modern  meteorology.  Nevertheless  we  rely  much  upon  these   computer   simulations,   which   are   being   used   in   order   to   prevent   certain   catastrophes   or   simply  stating  that  it  is  going  to  be  nice  weather.  This  paper  investigates  some  specific   problems  within  the  field  of  numerical  weather  predictions.     Computer   simulations   can   be   seen   as   powerful   tools   if   understood   and   used   properly.   The   introduction   starts   off   with   a   definition   and   historical   perspective   surrounding  numerical  weather  predictions.  Then  goes  through  a  centralised  case  about   various   weather   forecasts   that   have   a   great   impact   upon   economical,   political   and   cultural   structures.   This   will   also   be   the   main   problem   addressed   within   this   paper,   in   what   way   the   outcomes   of   computer   simulations   that   are   being   used   to   produce   numerical  weather  predictions  affect  our  society.  Throughout  the  paper,  there  is  an  on-­‐ going  discussion  on  issues  concerning  the  use  of  computer  simulation  within  everyday   life.  Connected  to  this  the  issues  will  be  put  onto  a  globally  put  level.      

Abstract  .................................................................................................................................  1   1.0  Introduction  .................................................................................................................  3   2.0  The  case:  the  21st  of  june,  a  warning  was  given   ................................................  5  
2.1  Issues  regarding  numerical  weather  predictions  –  part  one  .............................................  6   2.2  The  eruption  of  the  Eyjafjallajökull  Icelandic  volcano  ..........................................................  8   2.3  Issues  regarding  numerical  weather  predictions  –  part  two  .............................................  9  

3.0  Conclusion   ..................................................................................................................  11   Bibliography  .....................................................................................................................  13  




Weather   forecasting   is   an   important   controlling   factor   in   many   activities   within   our   society,  such  as  air,  road  and  water  traffic,  the  planning  of  gas  and  electricity  production,   drainage  purposes,  air  quality,  tourism  and  agriculture.  Numerical  methods  play  a  major   role  in  the  realization  of  the  forecast.  A  century  ago  weather  forecasting  was  a  random   process,   it   was   very   imprecise   and   most   of   all,   very   unreliable.   The   observations   that   were   made   back   in   the   early   days   were   very   irregular   and   the   methods   used   or   practiced   held   a   kind   of   crude   notice.   Forecasters   made   use   of   rough   techniques,   knowledge   of   the   local   weather   conditions   and   foremost   it   was   an   art   of   guessing.   Nowadays   it   is   unthinkable   that   modern   meteorology   would   be   successful   without   the   help   of   powerful   computing   facilities.   Since   the   early   days   people   made   use   of   the   mathematical   models   of   the   atmosphere   and   oceans   present   at   hand   based   on   the   current   weather   conditions.   In   other   words   we   are   now   talking   about   numerical   weather  predictions.     The   idea   of   weather   predictions   based   on   numerical   conditions   is   not   something   that   is   new.   The   central   idea   is   that   you   could   predict   the   weather   by   solving   physical   mathematical   equations.   For   in   fact   the   basic   equations   were   formulated   in   1904   by   Vilhelm   Bjerknes,   a   Norwegian   physicist   and   meteorologist   who   did   much   to   the   founding   of   modern   practice   of   weather   forecasting   (Gramelsberger   2006,   78;   Lynch   2008,  3432;  Tisler  2006,  7).  Although  Bjerknes  was  ahead  for  his  time  by  developing  a   qualitative,   graphical   method,   it   was   not   until   the   British   mathematician   Lewis   Fry   Richardson   that   this   was   pushed   on   to   the   next   level   (Lynch   2008,   3433).   In   his   published   book   Weather   Prediction   by   Numerical   Process,   Richardson   addresses   in   the   preface   a   pure   dream,   which,   in   light   of   this   written   paper,   stands   out   quite   nicely   (Richardson  1922,  xii).  The  dream  Richardson  spoke  of  was  focused  on  the  possibility  to   advance   computations   faster   than   the   weather   advances,   which   became   possible   (Lynch   2008,   3433).   As   we   know   now,   weather   forecasts   are   produced   on   regular   basis   while   running   algorithms   on   computers,   sometimes   even   supercomputers,   which   are   very   similar  to  the  ideas  thought  of  by  Bjerknes  and  Richardson.     This  was  due  to  the  important  work  of  John  von  Neumann,  who  was  one  of  the   leading  mathematicians  of  the  previous  century.  Von  Neumann  experimented  a  lot  with   complex   numerical   equations   and   for   him   it   was   more   than   clear   that   ‘very   fast   automatic   computing   machinery   was   required’   (Ibid.,   3435).   Though   the   complete   history  of  the  computer  shall  not  be  discussed  here,  it  is  still  clear  that  with  the  rise  of   the  computer  the  process  of   numerical  weather  predictions   accelerated  effectively.  This  



is   because   researchers   started   the   implementation   of   models   within   computer   simulations   and   thus   in   recent   years   we   can   now   simulate   all   sorts   of   meteorological   conditions.   From   the   predicaments   of   typhoons,   snowy   weather   forecasts   up   to   the   global  warming  and  melting  of  the  icecaps.     The   aim   of   this   written   paper   is   to   look   into   some   specific   problems   that   present   themselves   with   the   use   of   computer   simulations   benefitting   numerical   weather   predictions.   Instead   of   only   looking   onto   the   positive   side   of   these   uses,   we   should   consider   the   possible   downside(s)   that   are   connected   to   it.   Recent   events   have   shown   that   with   the   use   of   computer   simulations   we   tend   to   overreact   at   some   levels   and   decisions   have   been   made   based   on   computer   simulations   for   some   time   now.   In   this   paper   we   address   a   central   question,  which   will  be  discussed  throughout   the   theoretical   standpoint  and  foremost  the  case  that  will  be  used.  The  central  question  of  this  paper  is;   in   what   way   do   the   outcomes   of   computer   simulations   that   are   being   used   to   produce   numerical  weather  predictions  affect  our  society?   I   will   make   clear   that   with   the   use   of   computer   simulations   regarding  numerical   weather   predictions,   we   rely   too   much   on   the   information   given   by   these   computer   simulations.   Although   history   has   shown   us   that   they   could   be   of   great   use,   the   opposite   also  has  occurred.     This   research   consists   of   two   main   sections   divided   in   several   sub   layers.   The   first   section   is   mainly   covered   by   the   case,   which   will   be   discussed   extensively.   The   centralised  case,  which  is  about  the  extreme  weather  forecasts  within  the  Netherlands   of  the  past  several  years,  will  serve  as  a  good  example  of  the  possible  factors  that  could   go  wrong  with  the  interpretation  of  computer  simulations.  Furthermore  there  will  be  an   extra   element   within   the   case   that   exemplifies   the   thoughts   on   a   more   global   perspective.   This   will   be   met   by   taking   the   eruption   of   the   Icelandic   volcano   Eyjafjallajökull   as   a   fine   example.   Through   the   use   of   theoretical   backgrounds   the   arguments  will  be  made  clear.  Where  the  second  section  will  consist  of  the  conclusion,   supplemented  by  the  discussion,  regarding  the  centralised  question.     It   is   important   to   note   that   within   the   elaboration   of   the   case,   issues   regarding   political  systems,  economic  structures  and  capitalism  will  be  addressed.  Since  these  are   all  connected  to  major  events  and  decisions  regarding  extreme  weather  forecasts,  they   are   implemented   within   this   paper.   Knowing   what   consequences   numerical   weather   predictions   has   on   the   political,   economical   and   cultural   structures   within   a   society   would   help   one   person.   By   stating   the   underlying   aspects   of   the   use   and   trust  



researchers  have  in  computer  simulations  we  can  address  even  the  higher  educational   segments  of  the  discourse  we  are  positioned  in.     Thus   we   can   start   off   with   the   centralised   case,   which   holds   various   examples   of   numerical   weather   predictions   that   led   to   some   big   decisions   with   vigorous   consequences  towards  the  different  structures  within  societies.    

On   the   21st   of   June   2012   the   Royal   Dutch   Meteorological   Institute   foresaw   a   big   irregularity  within  the  climate.  This  irregularity  led  to  the  warning  of  code  orange.  This   means  that  the  weather  is  becoming  dangerous  and  unusual  meteorological  conditions   are   expected.   In   the   worst-­‐case   scenario’s   you   could   speak   of   damages   to   houses,   infrastructure  and  many  more  whereas  accidents  are  not  excluded  ("KNMI  Kleurcodes…”   2012).   The   warning   was   submitted   for   five   provinces   of   the   Netherlands   and   the   expectation  was  that  within  a  short  period  a  massive  amount  of  rain  was  coming  down   from   the   sky,   combined   with   heavy   lighting   storms   and   possibly   hail   (Novum/ANP   2012).     This  is  one  of  the  tasks  that  the  Royal  Dutch  Meteorological  Institute  has  to  do,   warn   the   population   when   there   are   signs   of   possible   heavy   weather.   Making   these   calls   asks  for  a  lot  of  grounded  data  and  conclusions.  When  the  call  was  made,  immediately   everybody   was   in   an   uproar.   This   led   to   a   couple   of   decisions   made   by   various   corporations.   The   first   example   that   could   be   given   here   is   that   the   Dutch   Automobile   Association   gave   notice   to   the   call   that   had   been   given.   They   expected   that   the   heavy   weather   would   cause   a   lot   of   problems   within   the   traffic,   and   especially   during   peak   hours.  The  Traffic  Intelligence  Service  said  that  travellers  should  take  into  account  that   the  heavy  weather  would  cause  extensive  delays  and  of  course  the  possibility  of  damage   and  accidents  ("Avondspits  blijft..."  2012).  The  Dutch  Railway  Corporation  on  their  part   had   to   make   a   lot   of   preparations   in   light   of   the   upcoming   weather,   mostly   because   of   the  fact  that  a  few  days  before  the  warning  submitted  by  the  Royal  Dutch  Meteorological   Institute;  lightning  struck  the  net  of  the  Dutch  Railway  Corporation.  This  led  to  excessive   long  waiting  periods,  because  the  Dutch  Railway  Corporation  was  not  prepared  for  this   kind   of   problem   ("Blikseminslag   ontregelt..."   2012).   So   they   had   to   prepare   a   lot   of   possible  scenarios.  One  of  those  scenarios  meant  the  use  of  ninety  busses,  which  would   shuttle   the   stranded   passengers   between   the   various   railway   stations   if   needed.   When   the  heavy  weather  would  shift  its  position  the  busses  would  follow  its  route.  




In   the   end   the   weather   was   not   that   bad,   certainly   not   an   orange   tinted   warning.  

Thus   all   the   preparations   and   the   uproar   were   for   nothing.   Nonetheless,   all   the   discussed  organisations  had  made  preparations  and  thus  spent  a  lot  of  money,  or  even   perhaps   lost   a   lot   of   money   in   the   case   of   the   Dutch   Railway   Corporation.   Mainly   because  they  advised  people  to  avoid  the  use  of  their  services  and  even  advised  people   to  stay  indoors.  So  in  retrospect,  the  weather  forecast,  the  weather  simulation  that  had   been   run   that   day   by   the   Royal   Dutch   Meteorological   Institute   had   caused   a   pretty   intense  uproar  within  the  Netherlands.    

This   particular   aspect   as   stated   before,   the   fact   that   a   single   computer   simulation   can   alter   an   entire   infrastructure   by   its   core   fundaments,   is   something   that   I   would   like   to   discuss   here.   Despite   the   fact   that   it   still   had   rained   and   lightning   was   spotted   that   evening,   it   was   not   as   bad   as   what   the   computer   simulation   had   shown   when   looking   back   into   the   history   of   the   simulations   run   by   Buienradar,   associated   to   Meteox,   the   European  rainfall  radar  ("…"  2012).   A   lot   of   people   and   organisations   nowadays   rely   on   the   outcomes   of   computer   simulations.  For  in  fact,  what  we  might  have  learned  from  the  particular  case  discussed   above,   computer   simulations   are   rendered   by   a   number   of   variables   and   these   variables   change.   As   Orrin   H.   Pilkey,   professor   Emeritus   of   Earth   and   Ocean   Sciences,   and   Linda   Pilkey-­‐Jarvis,   geologist   in   the   State   of   Washington’s   Department   of   Ecology,   argue   in   their   written   book   Useless  Arithmetic   that   the   outcome   of   natural   processes   in   general   cannot  be  accurately  predicted  by  mathematical  models   (Pilkey  and  Pilkey-­‐Jarvis  2007).   Although   they   make   this   clear   by   addressing   mathematical   models,   which   are   descriptions   of   processes   or   predictions   about   the   end   results   of   certain   processes   expressed  as  equations,  they  still  relate  to  the  central  placed  topic  (Ibid.,  24).  Especially   quantitative   mathematical   models   are   in   order   here   since   they   are   predictive   models   that   seek   the   answer   to   the   questions   where,   when,   and   how   much   (Ibid.,   24).   Within   quantitative   mathematical   models   it   is   crucial   that   everything   is   done   precisely  in   order   to  understand  the  process  and  the  variables  connected  to  it  (Ibid.,  26).     Although   at   some   levels   the   Royal   Dutch   Meteorological   Institute   was   right   about  the  weather  that  day  21st  June  2012,  the  outcome  of  the  process  was  not  correct.   The   mathematical   model   used   for   their   computer   simulation   is   one   with   quantitative   roots.   Except   what   stands   out   most   in   this   case   is   that   relation   between   the   computer   simulations   run   by   the   Royal   Dutch   Meteorological   Institute   and   the   interpretation   between  the  institute  and  the  rest  of  the  country,  which  is  one  of  a  unique  nature.  



As   Gabriele   Gramelsberger,   a   philosopher   who   is   interested   in   the   influence   of   computation   on   science   and   society,   points   out   that   with   the   rise   of   computational   science   there   is   a   twofold   epistemological   function   to   recognise   (Gramelsberger   2006,   84).   On   the   one   hand   you   have   the   computer-­‐based   simulations,   which   describe   the   matter   at   hand,   and   on   the   other   hand   they   determine   their   object   of   research.   For   example,   the   numerical   weather   predictions   that   were   produced   by   the   Royal   Dutch   Meteorological   Institute.   Gramelsberger   reflects   upon   unexpected   insights,   where   for   instance   she   talks   about   the   world   as   a   computer   simulation,   which   is   enclosed   in   the   memory   of   her   USB   stick   (Ibid.,   87).   The   interesting   aspect   of   this   example   is   that   a   simulation   of   the   world,   in   terms   of   global   climate   changes,   can   in   fact   be   stored   on   a   USB   stick.   But   without   the   help   of   supercomputers   and   fast   numerical   equations,   and   don’t   forget   the   necessary   batch   files,   she   had   nothing   to   put   on   her   USB   stick.   The   reason   why   I   point   this   out   is   because   of   the   fact   that   the   scientific   world   has   become   dependent  on  the  fast  growing  industry  that  produces  the  needed  supercomputers.  It  is   perhaps   an   inevitable   path   that   will   be   walked   upon,   except,   spoken   on   a   more   philosophical  level,  who  says  the  supercomputers  are  always  right.  I  do  see  the  benefits   of   the   use   of   supercomputers,   I   also   use   computers   every   day,   but   the   question   could   be   asked  whether  or  not  computers  define  our  perception  of  the  world.  Gramelsberger  also   addresses  this  particular  issue  when  she  talks  about  her  third  and  final  surprise.  When  a   super  computer  like  the  Japanese  Earth  Simulator  unveils  a  perforated  world—missing   pieces  as  big  as  entire  countries  and  time  gaps  of  hours  and  days—one’s  perception  of   the   world   could   be   altered   (Ibid.,   78).   It   also   can   be   related   to   the   choices   that   were   made   when   starting   the   computer   simulation   when   people   decide   which   variables   are   applied  (Quiggin  2008,  204).     Nonetheless,   this   issue   can   be   solved   up   to   a   certain   degree   when   applying   narrative   concepts,  explaining  computer  simulations  via  the  use  of  a  story’s.  The  most  simplified   example  we  can  think  of  is  the  weather  forecast  during  the  daily  news  broadcast.  People   explain  the  computer  simulations  through  a  story  and  most  of  the  time  with  the  help  of   semiotic  concepts.  This  is  no  different  from  the  scientific  stories  that  are  held.  Scientific   stories   are   a   special   type   of   narration   since   they   are   successful   and   believable.   The   scientist   is   perceived   as   being   a   romantic   and   his   narration   is   the   simplified   version.   Simulation   models   (the   mixture   of   computer   simulations   and   the   models   as   components),   as   Gramelsberger   points   it   out,   are   based   on   such   narrations   but   they   add   realistic   details   to   the   abstract   core   (Gramelsberger   2006,   80).   This   resembles   the   characteristics   of   story   telling   a   lot   that   we   all   know   contains   “drama,   actors,   interesting     7  

locations   and   an   enormous   catastrophic   potential”   (Ibid.,   80).   Except,   what   happens   is   that  these  stories  tell  us  a  lie.  The  moment  when  a  computer  simulation  has  been  run  all   sorts   of   tools   are   used   in   order   to   diagnose   its   validity,   accuracy   and   try   to   uncover   mistakes.   In   the   end   these   simulations   give   a   false   pretence,   a   false   story   about   the   world.     This  is  no  different  from  the  case  we  are  dealing  with.  Since  the  story  of  our  case   was   leaning   towards   a   dreadful   afternoon   and   evening,   full   with   rain,   lightning   and   possible  hail,  in  the  end  it  was  a  ‘lie’.  The  reason  eventually  that  it  was  a  lie,  had  to  do   with  the  many  variables  that  are  related  to  the  ever  changing  weather.  The  words  ‘ever   changing’  already  stipulates  it  a  bit.     As   Pilkey   and   Pilkey-­‐Jarvis   made   clear,   a   computer   simulation   of   a   natural   process   over   time   and   space   may   involve   hundreds   of   lines   of   equations   (Pilkey   and   Pilkey-­‐Jarvis   2007,   26).   They   pose   a   very   interesting   question   whether   or   not   the   software  or  computer  code  actually  model  what  the  authors  say  it  models  and  in  the  end   if  it  comes  true  (Ibid.,  26).  In  our  case  it  did  not.  The  warning,  or  the  story,  that  had  been   released   right   after   the   simulations   had   been   run   was   not   correct.   Though   it   has   to   be   said  that  a  lot  of  variables  are  needed  to  be  taken  into  account.  Pilkey  and  Pilkey-­‐Jarvis   explained   it   in   a   reasonable   sense.   Though   perhaps   the   most   important   reason   that   quantitative  predictive  mathematical  models  of  natural  processes  on  earth  are  doomed   to  fail,  had  to  do  with  ordering  complexity  (Ibid.,  32).  When  one  variable  changes  within   the   complexity   that   is   numerical   weather   prediction,   another   one   may   change   exponentially.  Several  variables  may  even  change  simultaneously,  which  makes  it  even   harder.   So   one   could   ask   to   what   length   a   system   can   cope   with   this,   these   never-­‐ending   changes  that  take  place.    

Although  Numerical  weather  predictions  tend  to  be  hard  to  transfer  towards  the  public   opinion,  they  often  succeed  in  a  manner  one  cannot  measure.  When  linking  back  to  the   centralised   case,   we   saw   that   a   vast   majority   of   the   institutes   or   organisations   responsible   for   the   better   part   of   the   infrastructure   met   their   end   of   the   deal.   Except,   this  meant,  especially  for  the  Dutch  Railway  Organisation,  a  lot  of  planning  and  the  loss   of  a  certain  income.  They  advised  people  to  stay  at  home  when  it  was  not  needed  to  go   anywhere.  The  following  logical  step  in  the  chain  was  that  people  really  stayed  at  home   and  thus  the  Dutch  Railway  Organisation  missed  some  income  when  talking  about  train   tickets.   Besides   that   they   had   to   reserve   ninety   busses   that   would   shuttle   between   different   stations.   Although   this   is   a   hypothesis,   it   still   seems   valid   and   thus   proclaiming  



that   numerical   weather   predictions   have   a   significant   impact   on   the   politics   and   economics  of  a  company  and  in  the  end  the  cultural  field.  This  is  not  something  that  is  so   different   from   the   past.   With   a   slight   form   of   hindsight   we   can   state   that   this   is   a   returning  aspect.     The   example   given   about   the   21st   of   June   2012   is   still   our   centralised   case,   however,   to   point   out   an   example   of   the   impact   that   numerical   weather   predictions   could   have,   there   is   another   fine   example   that   took   place   on   a   much   larger   scale.   The   eruption   of   the   Eyjafjallajökull   Icelandic   volcano   during   the   period   14   April   to   21   May   2010  caused  an  unmatched  disruption  to  the  European  airspace.  This  was  caused  due  to   the  massive  amounts  of  volcanic  ash  particles  that  were  spread  across  Europe.   It  is  said   that   when   volcanic   ash   particles   appear   in   the   engines   of   airplanes   they   become   damaged,  damage  flight  control  systems  and  cause  jet  engines  to  fail  (Neal  and  Guffanti   2010,  1).  Of  course  this  is  a  very  dangerous  aspect  and  has  to  be  prevented  at  all  times.   Although  the  ash  cloud  was  not  observable  by  the  naked  eye,  nevertheless  it  was   there   and   had   a   massive   impact   on   the   European   aviation.   Aircrafts   were   grounded   in   most  parts  of  Europe  for  more  than  five  days.  The  air  traffic  bans  for  the  different  parts   of   Europe   were   mostly   based   on   the   forecasted   ash   cloud   dispersion   run   by   computer   simulations.   Thus,   the   forecasting,   or   numerical   weather   predictions,   of   the   dispersion   of   the   ash   clouds   had   become   a   major   public   issue,   which   affected   a   much   broader   perspective  than  only  the  aviation  industry  (Emeis  et  al.  2010,  2690).  

To  start  off  with  the  local  effects,  which  were  quite  dramatic  at  a  certain  point.  People   living  in  the  rural  areas  ‘down  wind’  of  the  volcano  had  to  wear  goggles  and  facemasks   in   order   to   prevent   ash   from   reaching   in   to   the   longs   and   of   course   eyes.   This   was   because   the   ash   was   really   thick.   Further   more   there   was   a   serious   risk   that   the   local   farmers  and  businesses  were  suffering  enormous  from  the  eruption.     When   the   volcano   erupted   the   scientific   world   started   running   computer   simulations  in  order  to  predict  the  course  of  the  massive  ash  cloud  that  was  formed  by   the   volcano.   These   computer   simulations,   which   were   run   by   various   institutes,   immediately  stated  that  the  aviation  of  various  countries  should  be  suspended.  Although   the  predictions  of  another  eruption  around  that  time  were  rather  unpredictable,  the  ash   cloud  itself  was  already  airborne.  Ground-­‐base  observations  and  numerical  predictions   of  the  dispersion  of  the  cloud  were  nonetheless  possible,  and  there  was  a  fundamental   need   for   reliable   predictions.   These   predictions   were   of   course   not   only   for   the   aviation,   but  also  for  the  quality  of  the  air  that  is.  Of  course,  when  there  is  a  large  amount  of  ash  



particles   within   the   sky,   it   is   bound   to   fall   down   eventually,   so   this   aspect   was   rather   important  as  well.     Results   emitted   by   several   institutes   and   unions   showed   us   that   for   air   traffic   security,   the   combination   of   a   good   dispersion   model   with   special   profiling   measurements   means   they   could   predict   the   dispersion   of   the   volcanic   ash   cloud   (Bartnicki     et   al.   2010,   7;   Emeis   et   al.   2010,   2699).   This   lead   to   the   closure   of   several   big   airports,  thus  leading  to  a  lot  of  missed  incomes.  It  has  to  be  said  that  it  was  a  good  thing   that  these  predictions  were  made,  for  the  better  part  of  the  safety  of  course,  but  it  also   meant  a  tremendous  amount  of  impact  on  economical,  political  and  cultural  levels.  The   economic   aspect   was   already   stipulated   in   the   previous   paragraphs,   but   it   is   also   important   to   note   that   the   ash   cloud   on   a   global   perspective   affected   the   world.   The   International   Air   Transport   Association   made   an   estimate   regarding   the   losses   of   a   roughly   160   million   euros   a   day,   which   meant   1,3   billion   in   total   during   an   eight   day   period   ("Iceland   volcano..."   2012).   This   was   not   the   only   economical   impact   that   the   ash   cloud   had.   When   airports   are   closed,   logically   transport   of   goods   are   also   suspended,   air   transport   that   is.   Thus,   resulting   that   companies   had   to   import   or   export   their   goods   via   alternative  channels.  A  good  alternative,  that  is,  when  there  is  no  economical  pressure  to   it.  So  the  different  aspects  of  an  economical  backstab  were  present.     Political  speaking,  tensions  between  different  parts  of  the  world,  which  is  an  on   going  phenomenon  for  centuries  nowadays,  meant  that  meetings  had  to  be  cancelled  or   rearranged.  Although  people  can  have  the  decency  to  wait  a  couple  of  days  when  the  ash   clouds   would   lay   down,   nonetheless   a   lot   of   summits   and   visits   of   ministers   and   royalty’s   had   to   be   cancelled.   And   of   course,   people   have   little   patience   when   they   are   under   pressure,   so   one   could   fill   the   blanks   in   for   themselves   when   someone   would   state  that  the  tensions  between  different  countries  would  only  become  higher.     And   last   but   not   least   we   can   speak   of   a   cultural   impact.   The   ash   clouds   disrupted  television  broadcasts  because  planned  guests  could  not  appear  on  television   due  the  cancelling  of  flights  ("Iron  Man  2  premiere…”  2010).  The  music  industry  had  to   deal  with  a  massive  blow  because  a  lot  of  artist  could  not  realise  their  appearances  on   the   stages   due   to   the   cancelling   of   flights   ("Whitney   Houston,   John   Cleese…”   2010).   Besides   the   music   and   the   television   industry,   the   ash   clouds   also   affected   the   sports   industry,  again  because  of  the  cancelling  of  all  the  flights.     Once   more   it   has   to   be   stipulated   that   without   the   numerical   weather   predictions,   the   risk   of   casualties   would   be   way   to   high.   The   fact   that   a   computer   simulation  can  render  a  very  precise  schematic  of  the  route  the  ash  clouds  would  take  is   amazing  enough.  But,  the  predictions  were  also  a  forecast,  which  meant  that  they  were     10  

run  before  the  actual  trajectory  of  the  ash  clouds  were  set  in  motion.  This  is  something   that   reoccurs   almost   every   time.   To   put   it   bluntly,   data   is   being   gathered,   put   into   a   numerical  model  and  run  by  a  computer  simulation.  This  variables  with  which  we  have   to  deal  with  are  enormous  and  very  unpredictable  up  to  a  certain  degree,  so  when   we   link   this   particular   example   to   the   centralised   case   we   can   see   a   very   clear   resemblance,   the   fact   that   numerical   weather   predictions   are   made   of   equations   and   tell   us   a   story   which  can  alter  any  possible  minute.  Nothing  new  to  that,  but  they  could  have  a  massive   impact   on   economical,   political   and   cultural   levels.   Thus,   in   the   next   chapter   we   will   discuss  the  centralised  case,  in  relation  to  the  main  question  that  has  been  asked  in  the   beginning  of  this  paper.    

The   numerical   weather   predictions   made   by   the   Royal   Dutch   Meteorological   Institute,   the   eruption   of   the   Eyjafjallajökull   Icelandic   volcano   and   all   the   consequences   that   were   connected   to   these   events   showed   us   a   perfect   example   of   how   computer   simulations   have  an  impact  upon  society.       It   became   clear   that   with   the   important   responsibilities   that   the   various   institutes  have,  a  certain  degree  of  shift  within  a  country,  or  even  globally  seen,  becomes   affected.  By  taking  the  centralised  case  we  saw  that  with  the  computer  simulations  that   were  run,  in  order  to  apprehend  numerical  weather  predictions,  a  lot  of  consequences   are   connected   to   the   outcomes.   This   is   of   course   not   a   bad   thing,   but   when   the   predictions,   in   the   case   of   21st   June   of   2012,   are   not   proceeding   as   foreseen,   a   lot   of   levels  within  society  are  being  tested.  The  fact  that  the  Dutch  Railway  Corporation  had   made  a  lot  of  last-­‐minute  plans  in  order  to  prevent  a  certain  infrastructural  catastrophe   was  paired  with  a  lot  of  losses  in  terms  of  money.  Which  in  the  end  was  not  necessary  at   all.       Although   it   is   hard   to   predict   the   weather,   or   to   put   it   in   a   better   sense   of   words,   the   climate,   computer   simulations   play   a   very   big   role   in   this   particular   event.   We   ‘translate’   these   computer   simulations   into   a   story,   which   makes   it   a   lot   easier   for   the   better  part  of  the  people  to  understand.  These  stories,  however,  can  be  deceitful  when   looking  at  a  strict  level.  It  is  not  so  much  the  fact  that  they  often  do  give  us  a  reliable  feed   of  information;  it  is  more  the  part  that  they  have  a  rigorous  impact  upon  various  fields   we   all   move   in.   As   explained   in   throughout   this   paper,   the   computer   simulations   run   daily   affect   economical,   political   and   social   structures.   By   discussing   it   on   a   simpler,   a   more  concrete  level,  it  is  now  possible  to  lift  it  to  a  broader  context  of  speaking.       11  


Though  numerical  weather  predictions  are  a  perfect  subject  of  interest  for  me  as  

an   author   to   stipulate   my   point,   it   can   also   be   transferred   upon   other   scientific   fields   such  as  economics,  political,  medicine  and  a  many  more.  This  is  because  of  the  fact  that   within  computer  simulations  we  have  to  take  into  account  the  various  variables.  As  we   have   seen   with   the   case   we   started   with   and   the   discussed   consequences   of   the   volcanic   eruption,   variables   are   always   playing   with   the   outcomes   of   a   computer   simulation.   It   is   very  hard  to  program  it  into  the  software,  but  the  underlying  fact  is,  we  still  translate  the   outcomes  of  the  computer  simulations  and  follow  or  act  upon  them.  This  phenomenon   then  takes  us  to  a  new  level  of  awareness.         All  the  examples  that  were  put  forth  within  this  paper  help  us  in  understanding  a   bit   of   the   consequences,   which   computer   simulations   can   have.   In   the   case   of   the   eruption   of   the   Icelandic   volcano,   which   meant   a   lot   of   ash   clouds,   the   computer   simulations  were  put  to  the  test  in  order  to  predict  the  trajectories.  But  again,  variables   such  as  winds  and  pressure  areas  can  alter  the  trajectory  that  easy.  These  variables  then   cannot  be  foreseen  at  the  moment  of  simulating  the  Numerical  weather  predictions.  To   put   it   quite   bluntly,   in   light   of   the   described   events   within   this   paper,   we   can   ask   ourselves   in   which   way   computer   simulations   are   valid   enough   to   rely   upon.   The   economical,  political  and  social  consequences  can  be  quite  dramatic  at  times.  Then  again,   without   the   computer   simulations   that   can   be   run   and   used,   we   cannot   foresee   the   trajectory   of   the   ash   clouds   for   instance.   Connected   to   this   particular   example,   airplanes   for   instance,   would   be   damaged   and   in   some   cases   even   crash,   which   would   lead   to   a   lot   of  casualties.       Numerical  weather  predictions  in  the  end  are  a  good  thing  to  make  us  aware  of   the  possible  events  that  might  happen.  Although  the  events  sometimes  neglect  to  appear   in  real  life,  they  do  have  an  impact.  An  impact,  which  can  be  measured  upon  economical,   political  and  social  structures.  Someone  might  say  that  we  do  rely  most  of  the  time  on   the  outcomes  of  these  computer  simulations  and  to  put  in  a  more  philosophical  light  one   might  ask;  in  what  way  do  these  simulations  control  us?  Of  course  this  is  a  very  broad   and  difficult  field  to  do  research  on,  but  in  a  way,  computer  simulations  do  control  our   lives,   decisions   and   major   predictions   subdued   to   big   consequences.   In   light   of   this   written   paper   and   the   more   philosophical   question   put   forward   in   the   end   we   can   conclude  that  simulations,  whether  we  like  it  or  not,  are  important  for  the  wellbeing  of   our   civilisation.   Perhaps   these   new   insights   will   show   that   the   problem   at   hand   with   computer  simulations  is  closer  than  one  might  think.  Either  way,  uncertainty  about  the   future  does  not  justify  inaction  in  the  present.        



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