FIRST STEPS TOWARD AN EFFECTIVE CLIMATE SERVICE
The scope and importance of climate services in the United States is growing. That growth is a logical result of increased capabilities to monitor, understand, and predict climate variations; increased concern about the potential for future climate change; and increased awareness of the value of climate information. Climate information is and will be used in many diverse ways to support decision making, and a climate service should reflect this diversity. Its scope, therefore, should be defined by the temporal and spatial scales that make climate information useful.
The value of weather information is in its timeliness, so its value decreases quickly with age. In contrast, a substantial number of the climate-related user requests described in this report are based on the analysis of time series of variables to estimate trends, departures from average conditions, and extreme conditions (low-probability events). Climate services have a product orientation that extends from weekly to centennial time scales. Therefore, the value of climate observations tends to increase with accuracy, consistency, and continuity over time. However, the sampling interval must be short (e.g., to capture diurnal variability) to create an accurate statistical basis for analysis of both short-term extremes and long-term trends. Accurate knowledge of weather-scale variability is essential for producing climate products. Historical records add context to the understanding of variability. The scope of the supporting modeling endeavors should be equally comprehensive. Models become in-
creasingly valuable if they add value to the observational base, correctly anticipate departures from the norm a season or a year in advance, or help to define either risk or opportunity tied to longer-term trends. Therefore, the scope of the modeling efforts should include the use of model-data hybrids to create long-term climatologies of variables that are not directly observed, a combination of statistical and dynamical models to assess conditions a season to a year in advance, and coupled earth-system models designed to incorporate changes in the factors (e.g., greenhouse gases, aerosols, solar variations, and land-cover change) that force long-term changes to the climate system (NRC 1998b, 1999b).
The range of spatial scales is equally diverse. Climate variability can have small spatial scales, and many climate products will be place-based (specific to one site). Hence, high resolution becomes a critical need in data used in creating site-specific products and in developing gridded products to guide decisions. Where inputs and products cannot be portrayed on common high-resolution grids, the ability to use models to downscale information is required to provide the requisite high-resolution products. Although many problems are site specific, the generation of climate products will rely on data not only across disciplines and time but also across space to points distant from the place of interest. For example, a regional seasonal forecast of precipitation and temperature in the United States will rely on ocean observations and surface marine observations, as well as on soil moisture, to initialize the global coupled ocean—atmosphere—land model used to produce the forecast. At the same time, downscaling of the forecast requires local climatologies, statistics, topography, land-use data, and other local or regional information.
As the decisions vary over space and time, climate services should at once be responsive on the local level and integrative of all the wide-ranging and diverse influences on that place. Fundamental to the development of climate information that serves the needs of the nation is a commitment to a global observing system (NRC 1999b); recognition of the importance of place-based, local and regional observations; a strong service-oriented modeling capability (NRC 1999c; 2001a); and a commitment to a user-centric focus (NRC 1999a).
The observing system required for the climate services is global. At the same time, the place-based studies of climate impacts will often require a higher resolution of observations. Therefore, attention to the various national and regional networks is also required. In response to changing capabilities and needs, the infrastructure of climate services cannot be seen as static. An important aspect will be the design and optimization of the observing system. That
should be undertaken through the interplay of models and observations and requires validation of models (comparison with observations) and user feedback. Although the synthesis of observations by assimilation into models cannot replace the need for a comprehensive suite of observations, the design of the observing system should be undertaken in the context of ever-improving models. Thus, observing system simulation experiments that can guide technological advances for observations will be an important component of climate services (NRC 2000a).
It is also essential that the United States be engaged in, through its climate service, the free and open exchange of data and products and that it benefit from the participation of non-U.S. scientists (NRC 1995). Climate variability increasingly points to the interdependence and teleconnectivity of elements of the earth system on a global basis. The economic well-being of other countries is often in the strategic interest of the United States; hence, national interests to be served by a climate service should be broadly defined (NRC 2000a).
The temporal (time scale) scope of observations, forecasts, and projections mandates on the one hand that climate services be closely linked to the present activities of weather services and on the other hand that it develop a capacity to support IPCC-type assessments routinely. One important challenge of initiating a climate service involves understanding the nature of the climate assessment process, defining and institutionalizing the active role that a service should play in the process, and building in the flexible, ever-changing interfaces that should be maintained among the multiple players who will perform along the pathway from data to decision. The process of adaptive learning (or the integration of learning and action) in this enterprise should be anticipated in the institutional setting used and should be expected to continue indefinitely. Because the service will be defined in large part as a decision-support system, it is important that it be developed by focusing on a broad suite of practical problems that will illuminate the breadth and character of stakeholders. Among the products of the climate service should be those that quantify the uncertainties in climate forecasts and analyses. The service should make clear to users the sensitivity of the products to the data and methods used in preparing them. Such products, ongoing self-evaluation within the climate service, and user feedback will be important in guiding the evolution of the climate service (NRC 1999a).
The following recommendations are constructed around a strategy that is based on enhancing the capabilities of existing institutions and agencies and building a stronger climate services function within this context. Therefore, the
objective is to define the first steps that can be taken immediately to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of U.S. climate services. These first steps are designed to promote climate services that are user-centric, that reflect the value of both statistical and predictive climate knowledge, and that promote active stewardship of climate information. The Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate (BASC) did not assign explicit priorities to the recommendations, but lower-numbered recommendations generally are more important than higher-numbered recommendations in the same section. Taking these first steps will pay large dividends at relatively modest cost because several of the elements that are needed for climate services already exist. In addition, 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. The climate observing system is the backbone of any climate service. A fully integrated observing system that supports climate services, either for climate prediction or the provision of regionally tailored climate products, does not currently exist. No agency currently has responsibility for carrying out or coordinating a comprehensive program of climate observations (NRC 1998d). The National Research Council report (2001b) The Science of Regional and Global Change: Putting Knowledge to Work summarizes this key issue: “The observing ‘system’ available today is a composite of observations that do not provide the information needed nor the continuity of the data to support decisions on many critical observations.” A number of federal agencies, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Department of Agriculture (USDA), the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Department of Energy (DOE), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and the Department of the Interior (DOI), operate observing systems that could be components of a fully integrated climate observing system. A first step in such an integration is an inventory of existing observing systems, their data holdings, and their management rules. BASC could find no evidence of such a basic inventory of observations and their management. Therefore, the board recommends that each agency identify its climate-related observing systems and data holdings. The inventory should include information identifying the following: (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 National Research Council report (1998a) The Atmospheric Sciences Entering the Twenty-First Century suggests that “the Federal Coordinator for Meteorological Services and Supporting Research should lead a thorough examination of the issues that arise as the national system for providing atmospheric information becomes more distributed.” Following that statement and in consideration of the role of the federal coordinator, BASC suggests that the Office of the Federal Coordinator for Meteorology9 (OFCM) be considered as an agent for this recommendation. To the extent practicable, the OFCM should include a survey of private or publicly funded but privately operated research programs or operational climate facilities. Additionally, each should be evaluated for adherence to the ten principles of climate observations (see Box 3–1), and estimates should be made of the resources necessary to bring them into full compliance. Initiatives for acquiring the resources should be a high priority in the budget process.
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. “Full interagency leadership is needed to create a cost-effective and balanced observing system” (NRC 1998a). The current multi-agency approach creates problems with both balance and effectiveness. For example, the current observational approach creates gaps because there is no long-term framework or funding for building integrated, sustained, end-to-end capability (NRC 2001b). That problem is evident in the number of cases in which the observational approach relies on capturing opportunistic measurements from research programs. Furthermore, observations that are currently made by many agencies are often driven solely by an agency’s focused mandate, without consideration of low- or no-cost steps that could be taken to make the data more useful to a broader array of users
The Office of the Federal Coordinator for Meteorological Services and Suporting Research (also called the Office of the Federal Coordinator for Meteorology (OFCM)) was established by the Department of Commerce in 1964 in response to PL 87–843. Its mission is to coordinate operational meteorological requirements, services, and supporting research among the federal agencies. A full description can be found at <http://www.ofcm.gov>.
(NRC 2001b). The inventory of existing observing systems recommended above is the first step in creating a more efficient system.
The second step should be a deliberate effort to promote efficiency and balance. BASC recommends (1) examining the systems for redundancy and determining the merit of the redundancy, (2) examining potential synergisms between systems whereby co-location, co-management, or joint planning for future improvements would improve the knowledge base and/or save substantial costs, and (3) examining systems for gaps and weaknesses (including how data are managed) that could be addressed through more efficient operations or management. Following Recommendation 1.1, that seems to be an appropriate activity for the OFCM.
This recommendation reflects numerous examples of potential synergism between local, state, and regional networks, many of which have been set up to serve specific needs and are managed as such. For example,
The 700-station USDA SNOTEL (Snow Telemetry) network is designed to furnish hydrologic and temperature information from mountainous locations in support of water supply forecasting for the western states. It is the only extant large-scale high altitude network in the nation (or the world) and could supply valuable information on climate variability and climate change in mountainous regions (the source of most of the West’s streamflow) and greatly assist with regional reanalysis.
The 15-year-old Remote Automatic Weather Station (RAWS) network is managed by DOI’s Bureau of Land Management and USDA’s Forest Service (and other agencies). The network records hourly meteorological data from 830–930 stations (depending on the season) throughout the western states. This data set is downloaded via satellite to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, and immediately transferred for archival at the Western Regional Climate Center in Reno, Nevada. Originally oriented toward fire management, the network has increasingly important applications in natural resources management throughout the public lands of the West.
Over the past decade, the FAA has installed over 1,000 automated observing systems at airports across the country. These systems, which are designed to provide aviation weather information, could contribute to improved climatologies of wind and temperature. Suitable upgrades to achieve the ten principles listed in Box 3–1 would increase the utility of these networks to serve the climate community without requiring the establishment of a new and expensive supporting infrastructure. Similar enhancements to other networks could lead to similar results. Workshops should be convened to
examine the issues involved in making such networks more efficient and to recommend priorities for such upgrades. Participants would include managers and providers of the networks and their data sets and potential customers for such information, from both the public and private sectors. A state-by-state analysis of all observational networks should be performed to analyze the suitability of existing networks in providing useful climate data and to consider possible upgrades. Data base links to a centralized climate service should be encouraged.
This process could be used to integrate the existing observational capability and to determine the adequacy of existing networks, the potential for their augmentation, and the gaps that remain in the climate observations. An option for addressing the gaps is proposed in Recommendation 1.5.
Recommendation 1.3: Create user-centric functions within agencies. An evaluation of the performance of the federal government in the 1997–98 El Niño identified the lack of clearly delineated agency or interagency functions designed to evaluate user demand and needs continuously, to create feedback that improves climate services through the interaction of users and producers, and to create new capabilities and functionalities that serve the needs of decision makers (Changnon 2000). That is but one example of the importance of the interface between the knowledge base and the user if the objectives are the timely production and delivery of climate information relevant to the decision needs of the user. The NRC (1999a) report Making Climate Forecasts Matter provides guidance on the nature of the interface: “Participatory approaches to delivering climate information might include structured dialogues between climate scientists and forecast users to identify the climate parameters of particular importance to users and the organizations that users might rely on for climate forecast information…. They would tend to make forecast information more decision relevant, to improve mutual understanding between scientists and forecast users, and to encourage appropriate interpretation and use of forecast information.” In addition, the report argues for systematic efforts to bring scientific outputs and user needs together to increase the utility of forecasts (NRC 1999a).
The above reports, combined with the review of current and potential climate services by BASC, yielded the first guiding principle for climate services (see Chapter 3)—that is, the activities and elements of a climate service should be user-centric. Three elements, given in Chapter 3, are essential for a vigorous, cost-effective, and comprehensive intersection of knowledge and its use:
(1) mutual information exchange and feedback, (2) communication and accessibility of information; and (3) a continuing evaluation and assessment, by users and providers, of the use and effectiveness of the services. Those three essential elements are unlikely to occur if there are not user-centric functions within agencies. There must be formal mechanisms that support and enable user-centric design and improvement. BASC recognizes that this is not a simple task. There can be a strong cultural and linguistic gap between the climate researcher and the user. Effective involvement of the user community is essential.
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. The effectiveness of information depends strongly on the systems that distribute it, the channels of distribution, recipients’ modes of understanding and judgment about the information sources, and the ways in which the information is presented (NRC 1999a). The research base for examining the effectiveness of information distribution and the value of climate information and forecasts through research on actual data use is thin (NRC 1999a).
The development of a comprehensive research program to examine the benefits and dissemination of climate information is outside the scope of this report. However, BASC found considerable uncertainty associated with the types and value of products that should be provided by different agencies as part of a climate service. A first step to addressing this concern is the design of experiments that would permit a rapid assessment of users’ needs, wants, and preferences at low cost. For example, to test and demonstrate the utility and user acceptability of climate information data furnished in a real-time Web-based environment, the federal government could fund the user access charges for an already existing climate data network(s), allowing the user community free access to the data stream. That would provide the managing agencies with an almost instant statistical compilation of the user activities that include such elements as the number of users and the number and context of user accesses. Typical data sets to be considered might be the Oklahoma Climatological Survey Mesoscale Network, SNOTEL, and SCAN (Surface Condition Analyzer).
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 that are established to aid local and state decision making. A substantial new program to coordinate and manage the nation’s observing systems is probably unlikely in the near future, given the multiplicity of agencies and missions involved in collecting and disseminating information. However, initial steps that promote greater coordination; active stewardship involving quality, consistency, accessibility, and documentation of climate information; and open and free exchange of information will enhance our ability to serve the nation. After the results of implementing Recommendations 1.1 and 1.2 are assessed, additional observing capability might still be required. With this objective in mind, BASC examined best practices associated with current climate service functions. Oklahoma’s mesoscale network is an example of an extensive network that helps the state to provide its citizens with a wide array of climatological services, such as public safety in the face of severe weather, assessment of drought, recommendations for weather- and climate-related agricultural management (e.g., spraying), and fire danger assessment. Other states have less extensive networks, such as Nebraska’s Automated Weather Data Network (see <http://hpccsun.unl.edu/awdn/home.html> for a more comprehensive discussion of local networks), or no established network at all beyond the federal sites of the FAA or the National Weather Service (e.g., Pennsylvania).
A federal matching program for states and regional centers should be initiated to develop observation systems that obey the ten principles (in Box 3– 1), promote free access, and create strong partnerships with users. Part of a set of initial steps that could be taken to establish a more comprehensive national climate network is the establishment of state or regional networks. Related local climate services should also be encouraged. One possible mechanism would be for the federal government to establish a matching program for states and/or regional climate centers to develop a climate observing network. The advantages of such a program are that it would be relatively inexpensive; it would enhance the value of the observations by following basic guidelines for accuracy, consistency, metadata, etc.; and it would allow the data network to be tailored to local climate problems.
2. IMPROVE THE CAPABILITY TO SERVE THE CLIMATE INFORMATION NEEDS OF THE NATION.
The science and understanding of global and regional climate have gone well beyond a statistical analysis of historical records under the assumption of
climate stationarity. Forecasts of seasonal to interannual climate variations and long-term climate projections have become part of the breadth of climate service products. In many cases, the types and nature of the forecast or prediction products that should be provided through a climate service require additional efforts that promote a transition from research to operational efforts and new investments in modeling and modeling infrastructure. The recommendations in this section are derived from several recent National Research Council reports that outline needs for improvements in the climate observational and forecasting systems and for effective planning of the transition from research to operations. The recommendations given here use the findings of those reports as a means of emphasizing critical contributions and needs for improved climate services.
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. This investment in the pursuit of new and useful knowledge has the potential to enhance our ability to serve national climate needs. In many ways, the research effort represents a significant body of new and useful products for a variety of decision makers. However, there is a need to enhance the delivery of products useful to society that stem from this investment in research. Many of the most important aspects of this enhancement are described in the report From Research to Operations in Weather Satellites and Numerical Weather Prediction: Crossing the Valley of Death (NRC 2000a). Additional discussions of climate-related transition issues are discussed in Issues in the Integration of Research and Operational Satellite Systems for Climate Research, Parts I and II (NRC 2000b, 2000c). The key elements include implementing development, testing, and integration capabilities to incorporate observations and advances in understanding into predictive models; providing adequate staffing for operational missions; providing a continuing process for assessing technology and updating it as needed to accomplish the mission; creating stronger collaborative efforts in the development of community prediction models; and institutionalizing the transition process from research to operations. Many of those recommendations were addressed to the Environmental Modeling Center at NOAA and operational sensor/satellite development between NASA and NOAA, but the basic themes can be easily transferred to other observation and predictive modeling efforts.
Recommendation 2.2: Expand the breadth and quality of climate products through the development of new instrumentation and technology. BASC’s twenty-first century report (NRC 1998a) included two imperatives. The first was to develop a specific plan for optimizing global observations by taking into account the requirements for weather, climate, and air quality and for the information needed to improve predictive models. The second sought a commitment for developing new capabilities for observing critical variables, including water in all its phases, wind, aerosols, and chemical constituents. The twenty-first century report specifically notes the importance of a series of emerging issues (climate and health, management of water resources, and emissions of pollutants into the atmosphere) to the atmospheric sciences. A focus on those emerging topics increases the value of atmospheric information to society. Chapter 3 states that “A comprehensive service should strive to meet the needs of a user community at least as diverse and complex as the climate system itself.” To support new modeling and analysis capabilities and to support and improve the existing climate database, it is necessary to continue to improve existing sensors and their instrumentation and to develop new ones. The key is to examine the new instrumentation and technology in terms of the expected expansion of the products and services (NRC 1998a; 1999d) and to develop capabilities that address their production in service to the nation. Air quality and hydrologic products are logical first investments. The types of specialized sensors that should be developed include some for measuring (1) air pollutants in order to couple weather, climate, and air quality and (2) soil moisture, radiation, elements of land use, and boundary-layer profiles of temperature, humidity, and wind on regional and subregional scales to better predict surface hydrology and moisture conditions.
The new instruments should obey the ten principles listed in Box 3–1 for climate observations that were adopted by BASC as part of the guiding principles for climate services. New technologies should have at least the same capabilities as the old, they should not be a burden on the research enterprise, and clear transition modes to operational use should be established (NRC 2000a).
Recommendation 2.3: Address climate service product needs derived from long-term projections through an increase in the nation’s modeling and analysis capabilities. Climate modeling and analysis are the foundation for developing climate scenarios for the future. In turn, the scenarios are inputs for national and international decisions on potential adapta-
tion and mitigation efforts. The U.S. National Assessment of Climate Change Impacts on the United States calls for a stronger capability for providing such climate information. The nation’s climate modeling expertise is widely recognized as the best in the world, and this expertise is dedicated to developing state-of-the-science model capability. However, these research enterprises currently do not provide the ensembles of long-term simulations, extending from the start of the robust historical record to at least the next 100 years, that are required to serve national and international assessments. The Assessment states that “the demand for these climate services exceeds the capabilities of the research functions of the nation’s climate modeling centers.” In fact, the U.S. Assessment used Canadian and United Kingdom model products to examine the impacts of climate on the United States. Furthermore, the current U.S. National Assessment of Climate Change Impacts demonstrates a demand for a host of specialized climate products that tie future climate projections more directly to specific decisions or vulnerabilities. The assessment process requires greater access to and greater understanding of the limitations inherent in future projections to weigh the advantages and risks associated with alternative courses of action. An important requirement is the development of scenarios for the evolution of the factors that force climate (e.g., aerosols and greenhouse gases). Coupled system models, operating at substantially finer resolution, are required to link climate with the scales of human decisions. The nation’s modeling and analysis centers need to develop the capabilities to provide long-term simulations, analysis of model limitations and uncertainties, and specialized products for impact studies (NRC 1998b, 2001a).
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 that can be devoted to studies of climate impacts, vulnerabilities, and responses. The nation is scientifically capable of providing these products; however, it will require dedicated resources for developing ensemble climate scenarios, high-resolution models, and multiple emission scenarios for impact studies. Such an investment would enhance the capacity of the climate modeling community to generate and analyze model runs that are dedicated for use by impact analysts. Similarly, future assessments need to investigate a range of plausible emissions and atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Enhancing the capability to generate dedicated scenarios of emissions and
climate would dramatically improve the range of outcomes that future assessments of vulnerability could analyze (NRC 1998b, 2001a).
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. BASC’s twenty-first century report (NRC 1998a) recognized the importance of the expansion of the forecast family into the areas of water, air quality, and human health to serve national needs. Our Common Journey (NRC 1999c) argues for a framework that integrates global and local perspectives to shape a place-based understanding of the interactions between science and society with the objectives of mitigating threats to society and meeting basic human needs such as providing food and nutrition and ensuring air and water quality. It calls for more interactive linkages between those who create knowledge of the earth system, together with technology development, and those who use the knowledge to support decision making. The Science of Regional and Global Change: Putting Knowledge to Work (NRC 2001b) articulates a set of action items to ensure an “intimate connection” between research, operational activities, and the support of decision making and for regional and sectoral multiple-stress research to build decision-support capability. The overall vision of Grand Challenges in Environmental Sciences (NRC 2001c) suggests that the key to future environmental research will be to develop the capability to examine regions comprehensively to address a broad range of environmental problems and issues.
Those reports argue for transitions in the ability of science to serve society. At the core of each report is the notion that robust observation, data management systems, and forecasting and predictive capability can be expanded to serve decision makers better. Climate observations and climate forecasting and projection provide a foundation for the expansion of the observing and forecasting family, and hence the expansion of the family of services and products. Chapter 2, which describes the evolution of climate services in the United States, articulates a possible future of climate services that evolves from a weather service with an inherently short-term perspective to decision-centric climate services and eventually to environmental services that include climate information in the broader context of multiple stresses and spatial scales that range from local to global concerns. The recommendations suggest that the development of climate services in the United States should
include strategies that recognize that the future will bring a demand for services that focus on a multitude of problems rather than on specific disciplines.
A place-based imperative for environmental research stems from the importance of human activities on local and regional scales; the importance of multiple stresses, including climate, on specific environments; and the nature of the spatial and temporal linkages between physical, biological, chemical, and human systems. The strongest interaction between human activity, climate, and other environmental stresses is at the regional scale. Consequently, climate services, with a specific focus on regional problems and issues, can have their strongest intersection with decision makers. To address that need, the nation might begin to develop and fund a program of entities (laboratories or centers, either publicly, privately, or academically based) that emphasizes region-specific observation, integrated understanding, and predictive capability to produce useful information and focuses on addressing societal needs. Such laboratories or centers should be a part of the competitive, peer-reviewed research enterprise with the objectives of developing an integrated framework that will engender new avenues of research and application, catalyzing the development of useful products in service to society, bringing a demanding level of discipline to the full range of climate, and enabling investigation of a broad array of environmental issues through an enhanced capability at regional scales (NRC 1999c). These regional laboratories or centers are in many ways a regional subset of the objectives and guiding principles associated with climate services. As such, they should incorporate the elements of integrated observations, information systems, framework for supporting research, predictive products, and strong user interface described throughout this report:
Integrated observations. Current observations are often driven by different mission needs and tend to focus on the measurement of discrete variables at a specific set of locations. The observational systems are designed to serve the needs of weather forecasting, pollution monitoring, hydrologic forecasting, or other objectives. Recommendation 1.1 addresses the complex issues and challenges of creating integrated observing systems. However, a benefit of a regional focus is that the integration of complex sets of observations is manageable at this level, and the specificity of the problems and issues acts as an incentive for integration. That view is supported by current regional climate centers (RCCs) that demonstrate substantial value for a variety of users through the integration of a variety of data products. At a regional level, there is a potential to (1) link observing systems into a web of integrated sensors, building upon existing weather and hydrologic stations and remote sensing
capability, (2) formulate the agreements across a set of more limited agencies and federal, state, and local governments needed to create a structure for the observing system, (3) provide a compelling framework that encourages or demands the integration of new observations into a broader strategy, and (4) create strong linkages between research and operational observations that result in mutual benefit. The result is likely to create new efficiencies through the development of more comprehensive measurement systems that are more useful in enhancing the capabilities of RCCs.
Regional information systems. Society has amassed an enormous amount of data about the earth. Fortunately, technological innovations are allowing the capture, processing, and display of this information in a manner that is multi-resolution and four-dimensional. The major challenges involve data management; the storage, indexing, referencing, and retrieval of data; and the ability to combine, dissect, and query information. The ability to navigate this information, seeking data that satisfy the direct needs of a variety of users, is likely to spark a new “age of information” that will promote economic benefit and engender new research directions and capabilities to integrate physical, biological, chemical, and human systems. A regional focus becomes a logical test bed, enabling the participation of universities; federal, state, and local governments; and industry in the development of a regional information system that is tractable and whose immediate benefit for a state or region can be evident.
Framework for process studies. Process studies are a critical element of scientific advancement because they are designed, through focused observations and modeling, to probe uncertainties in knowledge about how the earth system functions. In many cases, a mismatch between model predictions and observations can drive targeted investigations to limit the level of error. Frequently, efforts to couple different aspects of the earth system (e.g., the atmosphere and land-surface vegetation characteristics) prompt targeted exploration because the level of understanding is still rudimentary. The objective is to use field study to address deficiencies in understanding. The benefit of these intensive studies is maximized when they can be coupled with a highly developed, integrated set of sensors, with readily accessible spatial and temporal data within a regional information system and a predictive model framework that readily enables the entrainment and testing of new information from process studies.
Predictive capability. The value of reliable advanced information is widely recognized. Prediction is an important path for the translation of
knowledge into economic benefit and societal well-being. Over the last several decades there have been substantial increases in the ability to forecast weather and project climate and climate variability into the future. Enormous potential exists if the present mesoscale models can be coupled with improved regional mesoscale observing systems. Such a capability enables a strategy and implementation capability for building tractable coupled models, initiating experimental forecasts of new variables, assessing the outcomes associated with multiple stresses, and taking advantage of the discipline of the forecasting process to create a powerful regional prediction capability. Built on the numerical framework of weather and climate models, this capability could be extended to air quality, water quantity and quality, ecosystem health, human health, agriculture, and a host of other areas. Even in areas where predictive capabilities are not yet matured, or not forthcoming, such knowledge would allow decision makers to structure their decision processes in ways that are more independent of predictive information.
User-centric functions. By creating an observation, process study, and predictive capability that addresses multiple stresses in specific regions, the opportunity can be created to develop research capabilities that are tuned to the needs of users. At this scale, it would be possible to incorporate stakeholders and their decision-making needs at the outset and create a vigorous, cost-effective, and comprehensive intersection with knowledge and its use. Education, communication, outreach, and a continuous assessment process should be key requirements for a successful regional research enterprise.
The regional vision described above is designed to address a broad range of current and future environmental issues by creating a capability based on integrated observing systems, readily accessible data, and an increasingly comprehensive predictive capability. With demonstrated success over a few large-scale regions of the United States, this strategy will likely lead to a national capability that far exceeds current capabilities and permit the creation of a broader class of environmental services.
Recommendation 3.2: Increase support for interdisciplinary climate studies, applications, and education. It is essential to provide federal 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 stressors to yield products that show climatological variability and societal impacts). That support should be developed as a direct element in support of
mission agency objectives and as a part of the objectives of independent, exploratory research agencies. The existing climate-related observing, modeling, and service and product-providing capacity in the United States is a foundation on which to build, as is the existing federal, state, and local support funding infrastructure. However, those structures also present challenges. Our Common journey (NRC 1999c) describes the need to integrate disciplinary knowledge in place-based, problem-driven research efforts and notes that this need runs counter to deeply held organizational biases in academe and government: “Thus, it is vastly easier to mount a study of the people or plants or hydrology or soils of a watershed than of their interactions.” Consequently, it is rare to encounter integration of physical, biological, social, and health sciences in any phase of climate studies and services, from basic research to observations to interaction with users. Our Common Journey calls for putting more funds into the hands of place-based institutions with a mission of promoting policy-driven knowledge and know-how. In moving forward for climate-related services, attention should be paid to developing the infrastructure and staffing needed to develop and synthesize climate products based on diverse data sets. This recommendation follows directly from the guiding principle for climate services that if a climate service function is to improve and succeed, it should be supported by active research. It also requires support for education and training, for research on developing applications across disciplines, for identifying what products to produce, and for data sharing and serving and modeling infrastructure. At the same time, the ability and appetite to use climate products that provide syntheses across disciplines should be built by outreach to and education of users. At present, proposals for multi-disciplinary climate research are difficult to fund in that they fall across too many different agencies. It is recommended that a mechanism for soliciting, reviewing, and funding such studies be put in place as soon as possible. Such a mechanism could be modeled after the National Oceanographic Partnership Program that is beginning to show progress across the public-private-academic interfaces.
Recommendation 3.3: Foster climate policy education Climate science has become increasingly interdisciplinary, involving meteorology, oceanography, terrestrial physics, and biology. Consequently, climate education should be more interdisciplinary. Climate services inherently involve inter-facing climate science with user communities in such areas as agriculture, energy, public health, and government. The evolution of climate services will
provide an increased demand for people who have training in both climate science and the social sciences. Universities should therefore initiate majors and minors in climate policy to enable informed planning and management of climate services. Such programs should include education in the basics of climate science, identifying the needs of various user communities and creating and disseminating useful climate information for them. This recommendation follows the education and outreach mission of universities under the guiding principles for climate services (see Chapter 3).
Recommendation 3.4: Enhance the understanding of climate through public education. Climate is increasingly important in the decisions made by individuals, corporations, cities, states, and the nation as a whole. Critical to the successful application of climate information is an educated consumer. The basis of predictions, understanding of uncertainties, and an ability to communicate probabilities are key elements in enhancing the benefit of climate information. Outreach and education are key elements of developing a strong climate service in the United States. The Science of Regional and Global Change (NRC 2001b) states that fundamental change will be possible only if education and outreach efforts communicate the progress of understanding: “The quality, diversity, inclusiveness, and timeliness of education and outreach efforts are probably the most important factors determining success or failure in the long run.” BASC views this recommendation as directly responsive to the guiding principle for climate services: “Greater education of the user in the meaning and significance of climate information is likely to promote greater use and more robust application of that information” (NRC 2001b).
BASC did not explicitly explore a formal climate services organizational structure within a specific federal, state, or local agency. Several proposals internal to the government have been made in the past. For example, the NOAA Climate Services Plan (Changnon et al. 1990) offers several suggestions for consolidating NOAA climate organizations, the Climate Prediction Center and the National Climatic Data Center, with the RCCs to form a unified climate service. However, an evaluation of such plans is outside the scope of this report. Instead, BASC reviewed current climate services and their potential evolution. 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 services—local, state, regional, and national—would improve the overall climate services to the nation. The recommendations contained in this report offer concrete first steps to a better integrated national system.