Earth Sciences

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José María Baldasano, Director of the Earth Sciences Department

The Earth Sciences Department of BSC-CNS has the aim of modelling and understanding the behaviour of the Earth System, focusing its research activities on atmospheric processes and climate change modelling.


The goal of Earth Sciences is to apply the latest advances of High Performance Computing (HPC) and Big Data on Earth system modelling, putting the department at the forefront of the emerging problem of environmental forecasting. This very broad and ambitious objective is divided into four specific goals:

  • Develop a modelling capability including the modelling of combined atmospheric processes, from urban to global scales, along with their impacts on weather, air quality, climate, health and ecosystems.
  • Implement the most efficient climate prediction system to cover time scales ranging from a month to a few decades (subseasonal-to-decadal climate prediction) at global and regional spatial scales, while expanding at the same time our understanding of the climate system.
  • Research the impact of weather, atmospheric chemistry, and climate on socio-economic sectors through the development of user-oriented services that ensure the transfer of developed technologies, and facilitate societal adaptation to a rapidly changing environment, especially for highly vulnerable communities.
  • Use cutting-edge HPC and big data technologies to increase the efficiency, portability, and user-friendliness of the Earth system models, including pre-processing and post-processing of weather, atmospheric chemistry and climate data.

Currently, the Group maintains daily high-resolution operational air quality forecasts for Europe and Spain[1] under the umbrella of the CALIOPE project; and also mineral dust forecasts for the Euro-Mediterranean region and East Asia[2]. The Department, in collaboration with the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the Spanish Meteorological Agency (AEMET), created the Regional Centre for Sand and Dust Storm Warning System (SDS-WAS) covering Europe, northern Africa and the Middle-East [3] and the first WMO regional meteorological centre specialized in atmospheric sand and dust forecast, the Barcelona Dust Forecast Centre (BDFC) [4].

Organisational Structure

The Department is structured in four groups that represent the main topics of Earth Sciences research: air quality modelling, mineral dust modelling, atmospheric modelling, and global and regional climate modelling. These groups are interrelated and work in a cooperative form. They are each led by a senior scientist and composed of a researcher, post-doctoral fellows and doctoral students. The technical support staff is shared by all the research groups. During 2014 some 46 staff, collaborators and visitors worked with the Department.

Key Projects

  • Continued IS-ENES2 project Infrastructure for the European Network for Earth System modelling - Phase 2, an FP7 Integrating Activity in the Capacities Programme;
  • Continued the MACC-III (Monitoring Atmospheric Composition and Climate) FP7-project in collaboration with AEMET, to establish the core global and regional atmospheric environmental services to be delivered as a component of Europe’s GMES initiative;
  • Continued the APPRAISAL project. Air Pollution Policies foR Assessment of Integrated Strategies At regional and Local scales, an FP7 Environment project;
  • Initiated the CICYT project: Aerosol forecasting and assessment of radiative forcing on weather and climate applications with the online NMMB/BSC-CTM model. Funded by MINECO;
  • Participated in the COST Action ES1004. European framework for online integrated air quality and meteorology modelling (EuMetChem) - focusing on a new generation of online integrated Atmospheric Chemical Transport (ACT) and Meteorology (Numerical Weather Prediction and Climate) modelling with two-way interactions between different atmospheric processes including chemistry (both gases and aerosols), clouds, radiation, boundary layer, emissions, meteorology and climate;
  • Participated in the European Aerosol Research Lidar Network: EARLINET. The dataset generated is used to validate and improve models that predict the future state of the atmosphere and its dependence on different scenarios;
  • Participated in AERONET (AErosol RObotic NETwork), an optical ground based aerosol monitoring network and data archive supported by NASA’s Earth Observing System and expanded by federation with many non-NASA institutions;
  • Hosted the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) SDS-WAS Northern Africa-Middle East-Europe (NA-ME-E) Regional Centre. The SDS-WAS mission is to enhance the ability of countries to deliver timely and quality sand and dust storm forecasts, observations, information and knowledge;
  • Hosted the first WMO Regional Meteorological Centre Specialized on Atmospheric Sand and Dust Forecast, the Barcelona Dust Forecast Centre (BDFC; This centre will build and maintain a web portal to provide forecast products, related information, verification results and services on the internet; it is supported by the WMO;
  • Participated in international initiatives such as the International Cooperative on Aerosol Prediction (ICAP) initiative, the Chemistry-Aerosol Mediterranean Experiment (ChArMEx), Air Quality Modelling Evaluation International Initiative (AQMEII), and the EURODELTA phase III;
  • Participated in the Desert-dust Impact on Air quality through model - Predictions and Advanced Sensors ObservatioNs (Diapason) Project from Institute for Atmospheric Science and Climate of the National Research Council of Italy (CNR–ISAC; LIFE+ 2010 ENV/IT/391);
  • Participated in a European modelling exercise to explore the impact of using finer grid horizontal resolution for policy support applications of the European Monitoring and Evaluation Programme (EMEP) model within the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP) convention;
  • Participated in the The Forum for Air quality Modelling (FAIRMODE) a joint response initiative of the European Environment Agency and the European Commission Joint Research Centre. It aims to bring together air quality modellers and users in order to promote and support the harmonized use of models by European Member States, with emphasis on model application under the European Air Quality Directive;
  • Initiated the Marie Curie project: Effects of Mediterranean desert dust outbreaks on radiation, atmospheric dynamics and forecasting accuracy of a numerical mesoscale model (MDRAF).

Scientific Output

For additional information, please see the Earth Department pages on the BSC-CNS website.

The dissemination of research results obtained by the Earth Sciences Department is significant. These results were presented in numerous ISI-JCR journals, European and international congresses and symposia organised during 2014, such as the Annual CMAS Conf., Harmonisation within Atmospheric Dispersion Modelling for Regulatory Purposes; American Union Geophysical, European Geosciences Union General Assembly Meeting and other congresses organised by the European Meteorology Society (EMS), GLOREAM Conf., International Workshop on Air Quality Forecasting and Research.

Research Groups

Air Quality

Figure 1

The Air Quality Group focuses its research on understanding the physico-chemical processes in the atmosphere that contribute to improving the air quality, and analyses the interactions between air pollutants and atmospheric processes, with the aim of obtaining a precise estimation of the air pollution through high-resolution modelling, especially the relation between emissions, atmospheric transport, chemistry and deposition. For that purpose, an air quality modelling system with high spatial and temporal resolution (1 km – 4 km and 1 hour) is under development, implementation and evaluation using supercomputing infrastructures. It will consist of a set of models that will take into account emissions of anthropogenic and natural pollutants, meteorology and chemistry.

In 2014 the activities of the Group were mainly related to maintaining and improving the daily operational air quality forecast of the CALIOPE system. It encompasses an operational high resolution air quality forecasting system, namely WRF-ARW/HERMES/CMAQ/BSC-DREAM8b, being applied to Europe as a mother domain: 12 km×12 km, 1 h as well as to Spain as the nested domain: 4 km×4 km, 1 h, and with higher detail for some hot spot areas like Andalusia, Barcelona and Madrid, ( Figure 1 shows the improvement in NO2 emission (top panel) and concentration (bottom panel) when increasing resolution from 4 to 1 km. Such high resolution of the modelling system is made possible by its implementation on the MareNostrum supercomputer hosted by BSC-CNS. In parallel, CALIOPE was involved in a model intercomparison exercise to explore the impact of using finer grid horizontal resolution for policy support applications of the European Monitoring and Evaluation Programme (EMEP) model within the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP) convention.

The CALIOPE website and app (web application) for mobiles and tablets devices were maintained and updated with a new products during 2014; the number of people exposed to contamination above air quality limit values by administrative region, and the hourly emission forecast by pollutant and SNAP sector in Spain and by administrative region.

Within the CALIOPE system, the meteorological model was updated to version 3.5.1, and a more accurate land use database (CORINE Land Cover V16) replaced the default database (USGS). WRF meteorological forecasting was improved by using the high resolution digital elevation data base from NASA at 90m.

Regarding emissions, HERMESv2 was updated to use the revised European inventory based on 2011. In order to increase the confidence on the emission model, HERMESv2.0 was intercompared with the TNO-MACC-II emission dataset which is a widely used inventory in Europe. Both emission datasets were implemented inside the CALIOPE system, and intercompared in terms of air quality concentrations over Spain and compared with ground-based observations. The exercise showed significant advantages of the HERMESv2.0 because it uses local information from Spain, meanwhile TNO-MACC-II uses less accurate European databases.

The chemical transport model CMAQ was updated to version 5.0.2 which is more efficient in terms of computational time. To improve predictions of high polluted plumes coming from power plants and refineries, the hourly plume rise calculations over Spain in terms of vertical emission allocations and modelled air quality concentrations for point source were implemented.

CALIOPE was used in many in different studies, including assessment of the dynamic of air pollution in the Iberian Peninsula as a function of representative climatic synoptic circulations, as a management tool to study air quality impact of urban management strategies such as the implementation of electric vehicle fleet in the urban areas of Barcelona and Madrid, and to assess air pollution effects on health in Spain.

Climate Modelling

Figure 2

In the framework of the IS-ENES2 project, the 2nd European Earth System and Climate Modelling Summer School ( was jointly organised in Barcelona in summer 2014 by the German Max Plank Institute for Meteorology (MPI-M), the English National Centre for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), and the Earth Sciences Department of BSC-CNS. It trained 30 international students during two weeks, including theoretical and practical assignments, which were developed both in MareNostrum III and the MPI-M computational facilities. Invited speakers from different institutions shared their expertise in atmospheric, ocean, chemistry, biogeochemistry and land processes and its implementation within Earth System Models. The Earth Sciences Department acted as the summer school host, contributing to the selection of candidates, the definition of the program, the selection of experts to be appointed to the different talks and support activities, the preparation of the practical exercises, and the assessment of the outcomes. BSC-CNS staff also provided technical and scientific support.

Regional climate activities during 2014 focused on dynamic downscaling of global projections for the Mediterranean area and its analysis. The results of the ESCAT project, which aims to provide high resolution climate projections for Catalonia, were further exploited. Two scientific articles were published on this analysis, one focusing on mean climatic trends (Gonçalves et al., 2014) and the other on extreme events (Barrera-Escoda et al., 2014) for temperature and precipitation. These work results were also presented in multiple international and national conferences on the geosciences field. Additionally, ESCAT wind projections were analysed to assess the capabilities of regional climate models (RCMs) for providing relevant information for final users (in this case, the wind energy industry). RCMs are able to define wind patterns and as such, they could be used to study the suitability of the preferential areas for the location of wind farms over a region when applied at high resolution. The group also participated in networking activities at the Catalan level, such as the Climate Change Experts Group of Catalonia (GECCC) annual meeting.

The group was also involved in COordinated Regional Downscaling EXperiment (CORDEX) of the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP). Our goal was to contribute to the ensemble that was being generated for the Mediterranean area (MedCORDEX) with a new member: the NMMB/BSC-CTM model. First steps included an assessment of the NMMB/BSC-CTM capabilities to perform long-term climate runs at high resolution, in which an evaluation performed using ERA-Interim reanalysis as a driver was tested. Preliminary results regarding the computational time and the model assessment against observations are promising, however a deeper analysis and ongoing work on this subject are required.

Atmospheric Modelling

Figure 3

The research group continued the developments of its main modelling tool, the NMMB/BSC-Chemical Transport Model (NMMB/BSC-CTM). During 2014, the system was enhanced with a computationally efficient complete aerosol chemical mechanism. State-of-the-art parametrisations for secondary organic aerosols and inorganic chemistry are now included in the system. Aerosols affect the radiative transfer across the atmosphere by scattering and absorbing solar radiation. An explicit treatment of the scattering and absorption of aerosols was implemented in NMMB/BSC-CTM to address the impact of the direct effect of aerosols on meteorology.

In the framework of the Severo-Ochoa project, the Group continued collaboration with the Computer Sciences Department to improve and extend the computing performance of the NMMB/BSC-CTM system. The model was prepared to use the OmpSs programming model. Performance improvements of specific parts of the model were achieved using tasks provided by OmpSs. Three study cases were adressed; improving computation routines, overlapping communication with computation, and combining tasks with computation and communication. Moreover, the use of multithread MPI was investigated in order to improve a specific code that had been identified as having strong potential for executing MPI calls at the same moment from different threads. The NMMB/BSC-CTM was ported and tested to the MontBlanc prototype hosted by BSC-CNS.

Collaboration with the Geophysical Flows group was established to implement the ash aerosol module of the model Fall-3D within the NMMB/BSC-CTM model. The main objective of the work is to study the effects of ash dispersal and sulphate formation from volcanic eruptions on the radiative budget and meteorology.

An additional development of the Group's chemical transport model was in the field of data assimilation, a statistical framework for combining model simulations and observations to estimate the optimal state of the atmosphere (also known as analysis). Following what is the state-of-art in the field, the dust module of the NMMB/BSC-CTM was coupled with an ensemble-based data assimilation scheme called Local Ensemble Transform Kalman Filter (LETKF). The LETKF scheme requires an ensemble of model runs whose spread around the mean represents the model background uncertainty and is a technique particularly suited for high-performance computing applications: the execution of an ensemble of independent model integrations is highly parallel, while the analysis calculations are explicitly parallelised in the code (the analysis can be performed locally in the model grid). As uncertainty in the emission term is particularly high for mineral dust, an ensemble was chosen according to perturbations in the model’s dust emission. The system was tested on the assimilation of Aerosol Optical Depth (AOD) retrievals from the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) MODIS product and from the MODIS Deep Blue product. The MODIS Deep Blue product provides information over dust source regions which is unique in the family of aerosol satellite retrievals. Observations were carefully preprocessed for dust with the use of other satellite products and underwent quality control during the assimilation process according to their departures from the model background. The assimilation of satellite retrievals showed a relevant impact on the characterisation of the atmospheric dust load by the NMMB/BSC-CTM model (see Figure 3).

Mineral Dust Modelling

Figure 4

The Mineral Dust Group provides daily operational forecasts of mineral dust for North Africa, Middle East, Europe and East Asia based on the updated version of BSC-DREAM8b. The model is participating in the Sand and Dust Storm Warning and Assessment and Advisory System (SDS-WAS) Regional Centre for Northern Africa, Middle East and Europe. Also BSC-DREAM8b is offline coupled to the CALIOPE air quality forecasting system, thereby enabling CALIOPE to offer a unique operational forecasting air quality system over Europe including the contribution of Saharan dust on an hourly basis.

In 2014 the Group continued development of the NMMB/BSC-Dust model. This is the mineral dust module of the NMMB/BSC-Chemical Transport Model (NMMB/BSC-CTM) which is on-line coupled to the new generation unified atmospheric model NMMB of the National Centres for Environmental Prediction (NCEP). The new modelling system is intended to be a powerful tool for research and to provide efficient global and regional chemical weather forecasts at sub-synoptic and mesoscale resolutions on MareNostrum in the framework of the NMMB/BSC-CTM project. NMM/BSC-Dust includes a physically-based dust emission scheme taking into account the effects of saltation and sandblasting, soil moisture and viscous diffusion close to the ground. In this period, the NMMB/BSC-Dust model is in operational status and provides operational dust forecasts over North Africa-Middle East-Europe and global regions. The dust forecasts are published daily and evaluated (against ground-based and satellite observations) in the website of the model ( The NMMB/BSC-Dust model provides operational dust forecasts to the first WMO Regional Meteorological Centre Specialized on Atmospheric Sand and Dust Forecast and the Barcelona Dust Forecast Centre (BDFC; The Centre operationally generates and distributes predictions for the NAMEE region. Moreover, the NMMB/BSC-Dust model is participating in the International Cooperative on Aerosol Prediction (ICAP) model inter-comparison initiative ( as well as in SDS WAS Regional Centre for Northern Africa, Middle East and Europe.

The dust forecasts of both the BSC-DREAM8b and NMMB/BSC-Dust models are accessible from the new new graphical interface implemented in the BSC-CNS website (

In 2014, the MDRAF project started with the objective to describe the 3D structure of Mediterranean desert dust outbreaks and study their effects on radiation and atmospheric dynamics by means of numerical modelling (NMMB/BSC-CTM). The study region covers the broader Mediterranean basin and the analysis extends over the period of 2002-2012.

WMO SDS-WAS NAMEE Regional Center

Figure 5

Activities in the framework of World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Sand and Dust Storm Warning and Assessment and Advisory System (SDS-WAS) Regional Centre for Northern Africa, Middle East and Europe (NA-ME-E), hosted by AEMET and BSC-CNS, were also undertaken. The web portal of the NA-ME-E Regional Centre ( provides National Meteorological and Hydrological Services with the necessary information to issue operational predictions and warning advisories related to the dust content in the atmosphere. During 2014, 2 new operational systems were added to the list of 9 already existing operational dust forecast systems (BSC-DREAM8b, DREAM8-NMME-MACC, MACC, NMMB/BSC-Dust, MetUM, GEOS-5, NGAC, EMA RegCM and DREAMABOL) and were also included in the daily activities of NA-ME-E Regional Centre. In addition to AERONET observations, the dust forecast evaluation was expanded to include MODIS aerosol product (Figure 5).

In 2014, the Regional Centre organised, coordinated and participated in:

  • Cours sur l’utilisation des produits satellitaires aux applications agrometeorologiques held in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, 5-9 May 2014.
  • The 4th Training course on WMO SDS-WAS products held in Casablanca, Morocco, 17-20 November 2014.
  • World Health Organisation (WHO) Regional Consultation on Air Quality and Health held in Amman, Jordan, 10-11 December 2014.

The experience acquired by the management in coordination with Spanish Weather Agency (AEMET) of the WMO SDS-WAS NA-ME-E Regional Centre and the demand of many national meteorological services led to the deployment of operational dust forecast services to the creation of the first WMO Regional Meteorological Centre specialized on Atmospheric Sand and Dust Forecast, the Barcelona Dust Forecast Centre (BDFC;, which was publicly presented in June 2014. The Centre operationally generates and distributes predictions for the NAMEE region. The dust forecasts are based on the NMMB/BSC-Dust model developed at BSC-CNS.

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