NCCS-Hosted Simulations Show Health Benefits from Accelerating Carbon Dioxide Emissions Reductions

When making policy decisions about reducing carbon dioxide and other emissions, governments weigh short-term, localized costs against long-term, global benefits. Reducing emissions also typically reduces air pollution, which yields short-term, localized health benefits.
To explore this area in detail, Duke University and NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) researchers examined the human health benefits of increasing 21st century carbon dioxide reductions by 180 gigatons of carbon (GtC). NASA Center for Climate Simulation (NCCS) Discover supercomputer and mass storage resources were instrumental to their modeling and data analysis study.
The researchers ran GISS E-2 model simulations under four scenarios, three limiting 21st century warming to 2 degrees Celsius (2°C) and one to 1.5°C:
  1. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Representative Concentration Pathway 2.6 (RCP2.6)
  2. RCP2.6 with no negative emissions
  3. 2°C due to slightly higher near-term emissions
  4. 1.5°C due to more accelerated reductions
GISS E-2 was enhanced with high-resolution emissions data and a new method of simulating particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5) at much finer spatial scales than the model’s 2° x 2.5° resolution.
A GISS E-2 simulation of the years 1880–2100 provided initial conditions for 21 simulations of 2-year slices from the decades 2010–2100. Each simulation used 88 Discover cores and completed in 15–20 hours.
Discover also hosted scores of health impact calculations designed from health literature and performed using shell scripts, Fortran, and Python.
Discover’s nobackup disk and Dirac mass storage housed the input emissions data and 1.6 terabytes of output data.


As calculated at the NCCS, reduction in annual premature deaths due to particulate matter (PM2.5) and ozone over the period 2020–2100 from co-emissions accompanying accelerated carbon dioxide emissions reductions. Reprinted by permission from Springer Customer Service Centre GmbH: Springer Nature, Nature Climate Change, Quantified, Localized Health Benefits of Accelerated Carbon Dioxide Emissions Reductions, Shindell et al., 2018.

Overall, the calculations show that the decreased air pollution leads to 153±43 million fewer premature deaths globally, with many Asian and African metropolitan areas seeing >1 million early deaths prevented.
“The NASA supercomputers are vital to the entire effort to continually improve, evaluate, and utilize the GISS climate model,” said Drew Shindell, Nicholas Professor of Earth Sciences at Duke University. “We could otherwise not maintain a state-of-the-art model and participate in community efforts such as the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project’s 5th phase (CMIP5). Our new research was an extension of CMIP5 simulations to explore health implications.”
Jarrett Cohen, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
More Information
Cutting Carbon Emissions Sooner Could Save 153 Million Lives
Shindell, D., G. Faluvegi, K. Seltzer, and C. Shindell, 2018: Quantified, Localized Health Benefits of Accelerated Carbon Dioxide Emissions Reductions. Nature Clim. Change, 8, 291–295, doi:10.1038/s41558-018-0108-y.