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Research and Networks for Decision Support: In the NOAA Sectoral Applications Research Program
and the global community empowered with the science-based knowledge to manage the risks and opportunities of change in the climate and related environmental systems” (U.S. Climate Change Science Program and Subcommittee on Global Change Research, 2003:3). Appropriately organized, science-based knowledge can benefit a wide variety of decision makers at various geographic and political scales and over various time horizons who could make more effective choices if they integrated the best available understanding of climate dynamics and of related biogeochemical and socioeconomic systems. This understanding includes processes operating at the global level, their functioning over time, links among processes occurring at different spatial and temporal scales, and understanding of the limits and uncertainties of available knowledge.
Climate-related science is more likely to be useful if the efforts of science producers are informed by the actual needs and practices of consumers. This is use-inspired science. For example, consider the challenge to western water managers responsible for controlling stream flow in the Columbia and other rivers. As already noted, recent improvements in the ability to make skillful seasonal forecasts on the basis of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) phenomenon has provided a new source of information. To make this information useful, managers would need to know how climate variability will affect outcomes of importance to them, such as snow pack, expected water levels at reference locations on the river, and their potential impacts on flooding, water availability, and salmon migrations. If available in time for critical decisions, this knowledge could affect conservation plans, plans for water releases from reservoirs, and coordination among managers. Some of the needed knowledge could come from “downscaling” seasonal-to-interannual climate forecasts to meet needs defined by regional managers and, if more refined downscaling can be done, local managers. Such downscaling is, in fact, one goal of the NOAA Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessment Applications (RISA) Program.
Decision makers can benefit similarly from use-inspired social science. Managers whose responsibilities may be affected by climate variability and change need detailed understanding of relevant social, economic, organizational, and behavioral systems. In the case of water and coastal managers, this may include understanding of (1) the demographic and economic factors that shape demand for water, roads, and land conversion for residential and commercial development; (2) the factors that shape the possibilities for individuals and organizations to respond to anticipated environmental changes; (3) the social systems that provide, or fail to provide, resilience in the face of natural disasters related to climate; and (4) the organizational and individual processes that determine