Page 5

focus primarily on whether the process is likely to become less representative in the future because of the growing voluntary time commitment required to participate as a lead or coordinating author and the potential that the scientific process will be viewed as being too heavily influenced by governments which have specific postures with regard to treaties, emission controls, and other policy instruments. The United States should promote actions that improve the IPCC process while also ensuring that its strengths are maintained.

What are the specific areas of science that need to be studied further, in order of priority, to advance our understanding of climate change?

Making progress in reducing the large uncertainties in projections of future climate will require addressing a number of fundamental scientific questions relating to the buildup of greenhouses gases in the atmosphere and the behavior of the climate system. Issues that need to be addressed include (a) the future usage of fossil fuels, (b) the future emissions of methane, (c) the fraction of the future fossil-fuel carbon that will remain in the atmosphere and provide radiative forcing versus exchange with the oceans or net exchange with the land biosphere, (d) the feedbacks in the climate system that determine both the magnitude of the change and the rate of energy uptake by the oceans, which together determine the magnitude and time history of the temperature increases for a given radiative forcing, (e) details of the regional and local climate change consequent to an overall level of global climate change, (f) the nature and causes of the natural variability of climate and its interactions with forced changes, and (g) the direct and indirect effects of the changing distributions of aerosols. Maintaining a vigorous, ongoing program of basic research, funded and managed independently of the climate assessment activity, will be crucial for narrowing these uncertainties.

In addition, the research enterprise dealing with environmental change and the interactions of human society with the environment must be enhanced. This includes support of (a) interdisciplinary research that couples physical, chemical, biological, and human systems, (b) an improved capability of integrating scientific knowledge, including its uncertainty, into effective decision support systems, and (c) an ability to conduct research at the regional or sectoral level that promotes analysis of the response of human and natural systems to multiple stresses.

An effective strategy for advancing the understanding of climate change also will require (1) a global observing system in support of long-term climate monitoring and prediction, (2) concentration on large-scale modeling through increased, dedicated supercomputing and human resources, and (3) efforts to ensure that climate research is supported and managed to ensure innovation, effectiveness, and efficiency.

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement