Climate1 is an increasingly important element of public and private decision making in fields as varied as emergency management planning for increased threats of hurricanes or severe storms and energy-production requirements for the coming season. Advances in capabilities to monitor and predict variations in climate, coupled with growing concern over the potential for climate change and its impact, are yielding an increased awareness of the importance of climate information for enhancing economic vitality, maintaining environmental quality, and limiting threats to life and property (Changnon 2000).
Historically, climate services have revolved around the statistical analysis of existing weather records. Today, however, the science and understanding of global and regional climate have gone well beyond a statistical analysis of historical records. Research efforts of the last two decades have produced substantial improvements in understanding short-term climatic fluctuations such as El Niño and La Niña (NRC 1996). A number of groups around the world now regularly forecast aspects of the El Niño/Southern Oscillation phenomenon
and its associated impacts. Increasingly, climate model projections are also being used by decision makers to assess long-term global change issues of importance to the nation. After reviewing the various meanings used in the past, the National Research Council’s Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate (BASC) took a broad view and defined climate services as the timely production and delivery of useful climate data, information, and knowledge to decision makers.
A climate service must focus on very different types of activities in order to address all the major categories of variability and change. Climate services and products include observations, forecasts, and projections and their uncertainties that address both seasonal to interannual variability and decadalto century-scale change and variability, including human-induced global change. Each is associated with different types of users or decision makers and with different types of needs and products, as is evident by the current use of climate information.
The value of climate information to society depends on many factors, including the strength and nature of the linkages between climate, weather, and human endeavors; the nature of the uncertainties associated with climate forecasts; the accessibility of credible and useful climate information to decision makers; the ability of users2 and providers to identify each other’s needs and limitations; and the ability of users to respond to useful information. Increasing realization of the importance of climate is stimulating user demand for improved information, which in turn is substantially broadening the scope of climate services. Because of these factors, the subject of climate services was an agenda item at the fall 1999 BASC meeting, held jointly with the Federal Committee for Meteorological Services and Supporting Research (FCMSSR). Subsequent to the meeting, the federal agencies, through FCMSSR, asked BASC to review the status of climate services and to recommend direction for the future provision of climate services to the nation. In particular, BASC was asked to address the following items outlined in the statement of task:
Define climate services.
Describe potential audiences and providers of climate services.
Describe the types of products that should be provided through a climate service.
Outline the roles of the public, private, and academic sectors in a climate service.
Describe fundamental principles that should be followed in the provision of climate services.
This report summarizes BASC’s response to the task statement. BASC reviewed the subject at its spring 2000 meeting, at which it planned the details of a workshop that was held August 8–12, 2000, in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Following the workshop, BASC dedicated a full day of its fall 2000 meeting to final deliberations and report preparation.
BASC assessed the current climate service activities in the United States and compared the state of climate services with the development of weather services to identify the following five guiding principles for climate services:
The activities and elements of a climate service should be user-centric.
If a climate service function is to improve and succeed, it should be supported by active research.
Advanced information (including predictions) on a variety of space and time scales, in the context of historical experience, is required to serve national needs.
The climate services knowledge base requires active stewardship.
Climate services require active and well-defined participation by government, business, and academe.
The goals of the following recommendations are to enhance the capabilities of existing institutions and agencies and to build a stronger climate service function within this context. Therefore, these recommendations constitute the “first steps” that can be taken immediately to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of U.S. climate services rather than to reorganize existing activities. These first steps are designed to develop and provide climate services that are user-centric, that reflect the value of both historical and predictive knowledge, and that promote active stewardship of climate information. Taking
these steps will pay large dividends at relatively modest cost3 because several of the elements that are needed for climate services already exist. Furthermore, such recent advances in technologies as the Internet, data storage, and computing make possible economies that could not have been realized even a few years ago.
1. PROMOTE MORE EFFECTIVE USE OF THE NATION’S WEATHER AND CLIMATE OBSERVATION SYSTEMS.
Recommendation 1.1: Inventory existing observing systems and data holdings. Each agency should identify its climate-related observing systems and data holdings. For each observing system, the agency should identify (1) what purpose each set of observations and data serves for the provision of climate services, (2) how each observing system addresses user needs, (3) how each system is managed, and (4) what considerations govern decisions regarding the observing systems. The Office of the Federal Coordinator for Meteorology (OFCM) should be considered as an agent for this recommendation.
Recommendation 1.2: Promote efficiency by seeking out opportunities to combine the efforts of existing observation networks to serve multiple purposes in a more cost-effective manner. Strong interagency leadership is essential for creating a cost-efficient and cost-effective observing system. Again, this seems to be an appropriate activity for the OFCM.
Recommendation 1.3: Create user-centric functions within agencies. A truly useful climate service depends on having mechanisms that support and enable user-centric design and improvement. These include effective means for encouraging dialogue with users, the willingness to adapt existing data types and formats to meet specific user needs, and the availability of expertise in the operations of the various major user groups being supported within the climate service organization.
Recommendation 1.4: Perform user-oriented experiments. A partnership of providers and users should be empowered to propose and execute experiments designed to promote and assess the use of climate information.
Recommendation 1.5: Create incentives to develop and promote observation systems that serve the nation. Currently across the nation there is a wide disparity in efforts to establish local-level weather and climate networks that augment stations run by federal agencies and are established to aid local and state decision-making.
2. IMPROVE THE CAPABILITY TO SERVE THE CLIMATE INFORMATION NEEDS OF THE NATION.
Recommendation 2.1: Ensure a strong and healthy transition of U.S. research accomplishments into predictive capabilities that serve the nation. The United States has a strong atmospheric and oceanic research community. However, there is a need to enhance the delivery of products useful to society that stem from this investment in research.
Recommendation 2.2: Expand the breadth and quality of climate products through the development of new instrumentation and technology. New instrumentation and technology should be viewed in terms of the expected expansion of the forecasting/prediction family into the areas of air quality, hydrology, and human health. To support new modeling and analysis capabilities and to support and improve the existing climate database, it is necessary to continue to improve upon existing sensors and their instrumentation and to develop new ones.
Recommendation 2.3: Address climate service product needs derived from long-term projections through an increase in the nation’s modeling and analysis capabilities. There is a need to support a stronger role by the nation’s modeling and analysis centers in the climate services related to long-term prediction. In particular, the centers should play a role in the development of the capabilities required to provide long-term simulations, analyses of limitations and uncertainties, and specialized products for impact studies.
Recommendation 2.4: Develop better climate service products based on ensemble climate simulations. There is a need for ensemble
seasonal to interannual forecasts and climate simulations based on multiple emission scenarios that can be devoted to studies of climate impacts, vulnerabilities, and responses. This will require dedicated resources for developing ensemble climate scenarios, high-resolution models, and multiple emission scenarios for impact studies.
3. INTERDISCIPLINARY STUDIES AND CAPABILITIES ARE NEEDED TO ADDRESS SOCIETAL NEEDS.
Recommendation 3.1: Develop regional enterprises designed to expand the nature and scope of climate services. The nation should develop a program of regional entities (laboratories or centers) that emphasize region-specific observation, integrated understanding, and predictive capability to provide useful information that will drive the development of a regional focus on addressing societal needs.
Recommendation 3.2: Increase support for interdisciplinary climate studies, applications, and education. It is essential to provide support to foster both the capacity for making and the ability to beneficially use climate products that are based on data, information, and knowledge from many disciplines (e.g., combining physical, chemical, biological, and societal stressors4 to yield products that explore climatological variability and societal impacts).
Recommendation 3.3: Foster climate policy education. Universities should initiate majors and minors in climate policy to enable informed planning and management of climate services. These programs should include education in the basics of climate science, identification of the needs of various user communities, and the creation and dissemination of climate information in forms that will be most useful to those users.
Recommendation 3.4: Enhance the understanding of climate through public education. Climate is increasingly important in decisions made by individuals, corporations, cities, states, and the nation as a whole. Critical to the successful application of climate information is an educated user.
BASC did not explicitly explore a formal climate services organizational structure within a specific federal, state, or local agency. Several such proposals internal to the government have been made in the past. One of note is the NOAA Climate Services Plan (Changnon et al. 1990), which offers several suggestions for consolidating the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration climate organizations, the Climate Prediction Center and the National Climatic Data Center, with the regional climate centers (RCCs) to form a unified climate service.
The existing network of state climatologists, RCCs, national agencies, and private sector organizations has provided services in the past and provides increasingly competent services today. BASC believes that the principles discussed in this report represent the best practices of the various activities and that if applied across all levels of service—local, state, regional, and national— would improve the overall climate services to the nation. The recommendations contained in this report offer concrete first steps toward a better integrated national system.