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Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems (2010)

Chapter: 3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems

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Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
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3
Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems

Scientists are accustomed to focusing their work by discipline, that is, by a particular topic of deep expertise. Thus, based on the knowledge in the respective disciplines, the committee presents the metrics that it considers to offer significant potential for giving advance warning of climate-related changes in the Earth system most likely to affect the domains of human vulnerabilities identified in Chapter 2. The eight panels worked from the assumption that the fundamental science of climate processes and the associated impacts on the natural world serve as the focus of an already existing and extensive set of observing systems. The panels did not attempt to re-create the efforts of programs such as the Global Climate Observing System (GCOS) and the Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS).

The panels sought to be as specific as possible with respect to the underlying component measurements and observations needed to construct a given metric. They also sought to identify illustrative locations where measurements would be most useful. Some metrics are indicators of clearly measurable change; others are more exploratory but offer new perspectives. Some metrics cannot be observed from space, but require instrumentation in situ. Some metrics are clearly quantifiable and others are more general but conceptually useful. The tables, of necessity, will be revisited as scientific data accumulate.

The introduction to each table describes the particular process and criteria used by the panel when categorizing and/or coarsely prioritizing the metrics. Given the diverse nature of metrics, a uniform process for categorizing and prioritizing the metrics presented in this report is not possible. However, certain characteristics tend to make a metric particularly useful, including:

  • Direct (e.g., loss of mass of an ice sheet leads to rising sea level)

  • Significant (i.e., represents a large change in one or more resources including water, energy, shelter, health, or food)

  • Dominant (i.e., outweighs other factors and processes)

  • Measureable (i.e., capable of being quantified)

  • Historical (i.e., provides foundation of understanding and measurement)

  • Well documented (i.e., data are complete and consistent)

Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
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OCEANOGRAPHY

The two panels initially charged with identifying ocean metrics (physical/chemical and biological) worked together to develop a single table covering physical, chemical, and biological processes. This integration recognizes that the fluid dynamics of the ocean underlie its chemistry and biology and that the three cannot be considered in isolation.

The panels focused on climate metrics that are highly integrated with the impacts of climate change (Table 3-1). For example, the panels proposed a metric for the health of fisheries, which depends in part on the primary productivity of the ocean. In contrast, the GCOS equivalent focuses on ocean productivity as a fundamental indicator.

The panels gave higher priority to metrics that either integrate human impacts (e.g., fisheries) or could have significant impacts on the ecosystem services that provide value to society (e.g., the impacts of harmful algal blooms). Therefore, the ocean metrics are strongly weighted toward the human dimension of ocean processes, not simply the fundamental processes of climate change. The panels then further refined the metrics toward those for which there is significant potential for risk and vulnerability. For example, the panels considered the impacts of climate change (i.e., rising sea level) on the infrastructures of ports and harbors, which are crucial to global trade, but not on coastal recreation.

Many of the proposed indicators focus on emerging issues, as well as on new management and development strategies. In other words, they do not simply recapitulate ongoing indicators. For example, new approaches to management, such as of marine protected areas, should be studied now in order to assess their effectiveness as well as their impacts on ocean ecosystems.

Finally, the ocean panels recognized that many of their metrics are “process based” rather than “place based.” For example, because the location and intensity of fisheries shift over time, we cannot define a set of key places to monitor. Rather, we must ensure that there is ongoing feedback between the systems being observed and the systems observing them. Thus, the ocean indicators are often iterative in nature and should be refined as knowledge improves.

The panels relied on the six criteria to prioritize the metrics. It became clear that metrics could be distinguished based on the strength of their connection to climate processes and to environmental sustainability. As a result, the panels identified three priority levels: (1) high climate, high environmental sustainability; (2) low climate, high environmental sustainability; and (3) low climate, moderate environmental sustainability. The panels chose to not include metrics that have high climate, low environmental sustainability because the special emphasis of the report is on the environmental sustainability connection. As noted earlier, many other reports have addressed traditional climate change indicators.

Two examples will highlight this process. Sea level rise has a direct link to the climate system, and it is significant, dominant, measurable, historical, and well documented. Therefore, it was placed in the high climate, high environmental sustainability category. In comparison, fisheries health is significant, measurable (with varying quality), historical, and well documented, but climate change is not the only (or

Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
×

most significant) pressure on fisheries, so it was placed in the low climate, high environmental sustainability category.

The panels considered the following two metrics to be important, but not correlated strongly enough at this time with climate change and environmental sustainability to warrant inclusion in the table: (1) location and extent of offshore energy production and supply including onshore infrastructure, and (2) location and extent of desalination facilities in coastal zones.

The location and extent of offshore energy production and supply could be measured by ocean productivity, high-resolution imagery of energy production infrastructure, seafloor morphology, and habitat imagery of the coastal zone and shoreline. Areas where it would be useful to apply this metric are those that are expected see increased development in the next 5- to 10 years, such as Denmark, the Gulf Coast, and France. Although offshore energy development may not have a strong connection to environmental sustainability and climate change at this time, it may become important in the future as sources of energy that do not depend on fossil fuel are developed. Many of these new sources will likely be located in coastal oceans and may impact ocean ecosystems.

The location and extent of desalination facilities in coastal zones also do not currently have strong ties to environmental sustainability and climate change but may in the future. The Global Desalination Report and Global Water Intelligence (UK) maintain a detailed and comprehensive data set of every desalination plant in the world by name, location, capacity, technology, form, and cost. This data set will be important in monitoring the effects and impacts of these plants in the future. There are many reasons to build such facilities, but climate change will increase the pressure to do so. As the population grows and climate change affects rainfall in some areas, there will be more demands for freshwater. Traditional sources will become increasingly scarce, and the possible proliferation of desalination plants to fill the gap could have a significant impact on near-shore ecosystems. It would be important to focus measurements in places such as Oman, the Gulf States, and California

Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
×

TABLE 3-1 Key Metrics: Oceans

Oceans Metric

Measurements

Illustrative Locations for Measurements

Why This Metric Is an Indicator of Environmental Sustainability

High climate, high environmental sustainability

Sea level rise (see Hydrology, Cryosphere, and Natural Disasters tables)

Global sea level height

Glacial (ice) measurements

High-resolution maps of terrestrial features

Advanced circulation models of inundation

Sea floor morphology (depth and substrate)

Low-lying oceanic island groups and Arctic coasts (e.g., Maldives, Micronesian Islands)

Deltaic coasts (e.g., Bangladesh)

Large coastal ports (e.g., New Orleans, Columbia River, Houston, Los Angeles)

Coastal urban centers (e.g., Venice, New York)

Temporal and spatial patterns of changes in sea level will be an indicator of future risks to coastal populations and infrastructure.

Higher sea level amplifies coastal erosion, storm damage, permanent flooding, and land inundation.

Acidification

pH

Dissolved oxygen

Ocean productivity

Acoustic data

Places with varying levels of human pressure and predicted impacts on ecosystems as a result of acidification (e.g., Virgin Islands, Great Barrier Reef, Pacific Islands, Fiji, Philippines, Indonesia, Maldives, Georges Bank, northwest and southwest coasts of United States, Atlantic Bight south of Boston, New York City, Bering Sea)

The ocean is a long-term sink for atmospheric CO2, and pH will continue to drop for centuries. Trends in space and time of this metric will help predict its impact on coastal ecosystems and ecosystem services.

Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
×

Oceans Metric

Measurements

Illustrative Locations for Measurements

Why This Metric Is an Indicator of Environmental Sustainability

Changes and redistribution of heat (stability of global ocean circulation patterns)

Velocity

Temperature

Changes and redistribution of heat

Salinity

High-resolution maps of sea level

North Atlantic Ocean, Arctic Ocean, Antarctic Ocean, Greenland, Gulf Stream transport, Labrador, Antarctic peninsula

Monitoring this metric provides an indication of abrupt change, shifts in atmospheric circulation (storms), impacts on continental ice sheets and shelves (Antarctica and Greenland) and sea ice.

Ocean heat content

Surface and subsurface ocean temperatures

Air-sea fluxes

Temperate and high latitudes

Hawaii

Coral reef ecosystems

Polar areas

This metric is an indicator of vulnerability, sea level rise (thermal expansion) as well as impacts on ecosystems (shifts in species boundaries).

Changes in extent and composition of shorelines and wetlands due to sea level rise, erosion, and human activities (e.g., infrastructure construction)

Ground surface topography (via digital elevation models and high-resolution satellite imagery)

Underwater depth of ocean floors (via bathymetric mapping; including substrate)

Habitat mapping

Coast of Gulf of Mexico, Southern California, Barrow, Carolina Barrier Islands, Netherlands, North Japan, Venice

Monitoring this metric provides an indication of significant impacts on terrestrial ecosystems at the land/ocean interface as a result of growing human populations and activities (urbanization, transformation of natural wetlands into managed environments).

This is an indicator of increased vulnerability to coastal inundation as well as impacts on coastal ecosystem services. Monitoring this metric will help project future impacts to continuing sea level rise.

Low climate, high environmental sustainability

Health of wild and managed fisheries (including aquaculture)

Fishing intensity (spatial and temporal patterns)

Ocean productivity

Coastal land use

Extent of aquaculture

Statistics on aquaculture

Nations with significant fishing and aquaculture activities (e.g., Norway, Iceland, Chile, Ecuador, Indonesia, Thailand, China, Japan, Korea)

Fish is the main food interface with the ocean, conversion of wetlands to aquaculture, impacts of open-ocean aquaculture. Spatial and temporal changes in this metric will provide an indication of long-term ecosystem health and environmental sustainability.

Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
×

Oceans Metric

Measurements

Illustrative Locations for Measurements

Why This Metric Is an Indicator of Environmental Sustainability

Extent and depth of hypoxia

Temperature

Salinity

Oxygen

Dissolved CO2

Ocean productivity

Seafloor morphology (depth and substrate)

Mississippi River Delta, Gulf of Mexico, Oregon and Washington coasts, west coast of India, eastern tropical Pacific and Arabian Sea, Baltic Sea Wadden Sea, Chesapeake Bay

Although most of the present hypoxic zones in the ocean are the result of terrestrial runoff of nutrients (which stimulate primary productivity), warming of the surface ocean and increasing CO2 concentrations may greatly expand the extent of hypoxia at depth (Brewer and Peltzer, 2009). The increased use of fertilizers and particularly nitrogen with increasing CO2 and growing demand for food from larger populations may make this directly dependent upon climate change.

Mapping of hypoxic zones will provide an indication of changes in ocean chemistry and possible impacts on ecosystems. It will likely have a large and differential impact on fisheries (varies depending on location).

Occurrence and extent of harmful algal blooms

Nutrient levels

Phytoplankton abundance

Toxins

Phytoplankton species

Ocean productivity

Gulf of Maine, west coast of Florida, Puget Sound, Southeast Asia, Gulf of Oman, Arabian Gulf

Changes in ocean circulation and temperature as well as terrestrial runoff are increasing the frequency and extent of harmful algal blooms. This is at the intersection of climate change and environmental sustainability.

Low climate, moderate environmental sustainability

Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
×

Oceans Metric

Measurements

Illustrative Locations for Measurements

Why This Metric Is an Indicator of Environmental Sustainability

Effectiveness of marine protected areas (MPAs)

Ocean productivity

Ecological indicators such as biodiversity and fish reproductive potential

Seafloor mapping

Locations of extensive marine reserves and protected areas (e.g., New Zealand)

Channel Islands off California, northwest part of Hawaiian archipelago

Belize

MPAs were initially conceived as a management tool for the long-term sustainability of fisheries and their associated ecosystems. In addition MPAs provide refugia for commercially harvested fish species, and communities that are under pressure from climate change (e.g., warming temperatures, acidification)

MPAs can also increase ecosystem resilience in the face of climate change by reducing other humancaused environmental stresses such as fishing and resource extraction. Tracking this metric over time can gauge its effectiveness as a means to sustain ecosystem services and resilience in the face of climate change.

Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
×

LAND-SURFACE AND TERRESTRIAL ECOSYSTEMS

The Land-Surface Panel recognized that the terrestrial surface is intrinsically heterogeneous at multiple scales. Unlike atmospheric and oceanic systems, which have the equations of motion as a unifying concept, change in terrestrial systems tends to be local or regional in its context. There is a long-standing tradition in ecological science of associating observed patterns with underlying processes, but understanding which processes are manifested at what scales of patterns is, and will likely continue to be, a research work in progress. One of the consequences of this aspect of the state of the science, and of the nature of the systems themselves, is a need to observe change extensively and synoptically to obtain indications of global-scale pattern changes.


The panel considered three broad classes of metrics:

  1. Metrics of change that focus on synchronous change in similar, dispersed ecological systems. Such metrics gain interpretive importance when the underlying causes of these changes can be related directly to overarching drivers, which in turn are being modified by global environmental change. This class of metrics is very small and takes advantage of locations where so-called “natural experiments” are occurring. Such situations are at locations in space (or occurrences in time), that can be compared if the important environmental driving variables are known across a large set of globally distributed locations. One example would be a high-mountain, plant-growth or -vigor monitoring system that focuses on the ecosystems within which plant growth is increasing because of the positive effects of CO2 on productivity or water-use efficiency. Because the partial pressure of CO2 in the atmosphere is lowest in the highest altitude vegetation, the direct response of vegetation to elevated levels of CO2 might be detected earlier in high-elevation locations than elsewhere.

  2. Metrics that capture the ecological and environmental state under conditions that either allow control (in a statistical sense) or correction (using existing models of ecosystem processes) to reduce the uncertainty and variability in large area evaluations. Such applications might involve overlaying base maps of controlling factors across a regional monitoring system to control for environmental conditions. Examples of variables would include water resource levels, soil moisture, or soil nutrient status. In practice one would stratify the observations according to conditions and then use the data structures to look for “signatures” of different kinds of changes. As examples, an altered climatic condition might produce increased plant growth in nutrient-rich sites but not nutrient-poor sites, or droughts might affect south-facing slopes differently than north-facing slopes.

  3. Metrics that quantify the state of ecosystems. These would include measurements of ecosystem attributes such as diversity, the nature of land cover, species composition, and the indicator species. Abrupt changes in these attributes of ecological systems would warn of an alteration of the ecosystem performance. This class of metrics challenges our ability to ascribe the cause

Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
×

of the changes in an unequivocal way. For example, in subtropical and warm-temperate grasslands there has been a global increase in “woody weeds”—increased woody plants and decreased grasses. This is an expected result for the direct effects of increased CO2 on plant processes, which should favor C3-pathway trees over C4-pathway warm-season grasses. However, it might also be a consequence of increased cattle grazing or changes in fire regimes.

Many of the panel’s metrics were intended to be applied over a sampling of the planetary surface, but there was an attempt to reduce the open-endedness of the implied monitoring by focusing on systems for which the observation of change would likely have more power to ascribe “cause” to the observed patterns. For this reason several of the metrics are place-based and thought of as being applied in particular locations or by environmental condition. The selection of these place-based metrics obviously derives from the current perception of important issues (e.g., direct effects of CO2 on plant processes, climate change effects at transition zones of vegetation, changes in patterns of land use, loss of biotic diversity and change in diversity hot-spots, moisture conditions, crop productivity, livestock populations, and locations with potentially large changes in albedo). Clearly these priorities for monitoring may change with increased knowledge of terrestrial ecosystem functions and as new types of change are observed from the more global reconnaissance that is discussed in Table 3-2.

Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
×

TABLE 3-2 Key Metrics: Land-Surface and Terrestrial Ecosystems

Land-Surface Metric

Measurements

Illustrative Locations for Measurements

Why This Metric Is an Indicator of Environmental Sustainability

Metrics of change that focus on synchronous change in similar, dispersed ecological systems

Increased vegetation vigor in response to CO2 direct effects

Time series of fine-scale changes in LAI (leaf area index)

Compositional changes in life forms

Tall tropical and subtropical mountains (vegetation in lowest natural CO2 partial pressures)

Vegetation changes in locations with naturally elevated CO2

This would likely result in increased amount of vegetation and a shifting of vegetation zones to harsher conditions.

This is one example of monitoring “natural experiments” on CO2 direct effects. Unfortunately, as is the case with most natural experiments there is no contemporaneous control for global change. Many locations should be monitored for synchronous change.

Latitudinal and altitudinal shifts in species distributions

Geographical locations for representative species

Population density and size for representative species

Altitudinal transects that have historical data (many of these are archived in the Swiss-based Mountain Climate Network and have worldwide distribution)

Latitudinal transects

Species that experience range shifts are more sustainable in relation to global warming, but only to a point. If they meet impassable barriers that impede them, or reach the tops of mountains, they may be trapped and become unsustainable. Individual members of communities may have different abilities to change geographic ranges, so communities might become disrupted.

Cloud base height on tropical mountains

Measurements of cloud basal height

Cloud cover

Eastern Andes and Ecuador

Costa Rica

Guatemala margins of Amazonian Basin

Cloud forests are important centers of diversity for taxa such as amphibians, insects, and plants, and changes in cloud lines can lead to great losses of biodiversity. Montane cloud forests are evolutionary hot spots that can serve as “species pumps” for adjacent lowlands.

Metrics that capture the ecological and environmental state under conditions that either allow control (in a statistical sense) or correction (using existing models of ecosystem processes) to reduce the uncertainty and variability in large area evaluations

Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
×

Land-Surface Metric

Measurements

Illustrative Locations for Measurements

Why This Metric Is an Indicator of Environmental Sustainability

Soil moisture change (see Hydrology table)

Soil moisture

Plant productivity

Decomposition rate

Soil formation rate

Agricultural regions worldwide

Severe weather regions

Areas where monitoring recharge is important (developing nations and places where surface water resources are contaminated or in decline)

Agricultural regions where groundwater mining is active (e.g., Sahel region of Africa, Ganges-Brahmaputra plain, Yellow River)

Soil moisture is a major controlling variable for large-scale patterns in vegetation.

Soil moisture dynamics are critical variables for many of the ecological models used for global carbon budgets and other global ecological processes.

Positive feedback between terrestrial surface change and climate change

Albedo

Species composition

Boreal Forest in Eastern Siberian Larch zone

As a case example of other similar interactions, changes that involve positive feedbacks can amplify the consequences of change, promote system change, and destabilize the system.

Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
×

Land-Surface Metric

Measurements

Illustrative Locations for Measurements

Why This Metric Is an Indicator of Environmental Sustainability

Change in subtropical zones

Changes in vegetation (leaf area, numbers of plants, ratios of trees to shrubs to grasses) along significant and well-studied moisture-driven natural gradients of vegetation

Change in the spatial arrangement of vegetation elements

Measurements of vegetation, crops and other land use (via “enriched,” sub-pixel civilian satellite archive)

Trends of changes in leaf area and deaths of plants

Arid zone transects (e.g., Northern Australia transect, Sahel, Kalahari transect)

Vegetation transects tend to isolate the moisture component of change. They also represent land areas held by some of the poorest and most climate vulnerable nations.

Water resource levels (see Hydrology table)

Depth to water tables through time

Water volume in upland glaciers (extent and thickness of glaciers)

Developing nations and places where surface water resources are contaminated or in decline

Punjab, Himalayan glaciers

Alpine glaciers in South America that are receding (e.g., Chacaltaya Glacier in Bolivia, Antizana Glacier in Ecuador)

Monitoring this metric provides an indication of how much water will be available in the future. Water is critical to human survival and food production.

Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
×

Land-Surface Metric

Measurements

Illustrative Locations for Measurements

Why This Metric Is an Indicator of Environmental Sustainability

Productivity of cropland

Yields of irrigated crops and dryland crops (parsed out separately) through time

Water, fertilizer, pesticide, and labor inputs through time

Globally, but with focus on major agricultural regions (e.g., North India, East China, South Africa, United States)

This metric provides an indication of how much and how fast yields can continue to be improved. High yields are needed to feed populations without major expansion of croplands.

Livestock populations

Density of livestock (animal heads per square km)

Counts of different types of livestock (cattle, sheep, goats)

Sub-Saharan Africa

South America

Livestock is a critical source of food and livelihoods, especially as a way to manage risk and utilize relatively unproductive lands in poor regions.

In the regions (e.g., Sub-Saharan Africa, South America) indicated, the populations of livestock are indicators of the condition of the rangeland. The rangelands in these cases are neither irrigated nor fertilized and are strongly coupled to the weather conditions. Because herds build slowly but can drop abruptly and because the populace is often financially strapped, drops in cattle numbers is potentially catastrophic.

Metrics that quantify the state of ecosystems

Biodiversity change related to temperature

Physiology of animals in relation to biophysical models and associated indicators

Components of the Penman-Monteith equation (daily mean temperature, wind speed, relative humidity, and solar radiation to predict net evapotranspiration)

Tropical lowlands

As plantations such as for bananas are abandoned, secondary forests are expanding. Will these form refuges for organisms displaced by conversion of primary forests, thus sustaining biodiversity?

Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
×

Land-Surface Metric

Measurements

Illustrative Locations for Measurements

Why This Metric Is an Indicator of Environmental Sustainability

Shifting agricultural practices

Time of crop planting and harvest

Presence/absence of crop residues on soils after harvest

Number of crop harvests per year

Type of crop being grown

Globally, but with focus on major agricultural regions (e.g., North India, East China, South Africa, United States, Southeast Asia)

Changes in planting date and residue management are two of the main proposed adaptation strategies for agriculture. Adoption of no-till is one of the key proposed areas to mitigate climate change impacts via agriculture, by storing more carbon in soil.

Ecosystem health/habitat degradation

Ecosystem mortality

Temporal trends in leaf area, water stress, and mortality of plants

Measurements of vegetation, crops and other land use (via “enriched,” sub-pixel civilian satellite archive)

Global coverage implied

Focus on areas of population growth and urban expansion

Human well-being and biodiversity depend on ecosystems services (MEA, 2005).

Land cover and land use (focus on change into and out of agriculture)

Change in land cover type

Measurements of vegetation, crops and other land use (via “enriched,” sub-pixel civilian satellite archive)

Global coverage implied

Identification of “Hot Spots” or specific areas could be identified (e.g., South Asia urbanization, South America forest conversion)

Societies depend on goods and services derived from various land uses.

Shifting agricultural practices are important to monitor because of the emphasis on local sustainability and the strong traditional basis for the practice. The changes in these cropping systems under stress (either from increased populations or environmentally induced shortfalls) could potentially serve as a barometer for the more complex, technologically dynamic agricultural systems.

Separating climatic influences from other societal trends is an issue. This should be helped by the global nature of the measurement.

Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
×

CRYOSPHERE

The Cryosphere Panel emphasized indicators that are highly integrated in regard to the human dimension of climate change in contrast to the sparse populations present within the cryosphere (Table 3-3). For example, the panel proposed the extent of terrestrial permafrost and the overlying active layer as a metric. Changes in permafrost have implications for flora and fauna, as well as for human populations. Permafrost dictates the character of flora and fauna. Roots cannot penetrate beyond the active layer, but as thawing has become more widespread, cases of “drunken forests” (wherein trees whose roots had been supported by the rigidity of the underlying soils fall over in haphazard disarray) and northward migration of deeper rooted plants have become more common. Likewise, a deeper active layer allows burrowing animals to migrate northward. Thawing also results in the degradation of human infrastructure, for example, creeping of railroad beds and collapse of habitable buildings.

The panel also sought to provide metrics that capture the forcings and feedbacks among components of the climate system, for example, sea ice volume. Absorbed solar radiation over bright ice versus dark ocean varies a full order of magnitude, driving one of the most powerful positive feedback effects of Earth’s climate. Loss of sea ice exposes darker radiation-absorbing surfaces, which tends to warm the ocean surface layers further, leading to more ice loss, exposure of more dark ocean, and so forth. This loss of sea ice will adversely affect the polar societies that are strongly dependent on marine ecosystems for food and livelihood. Furthermore, a reduction in sea ice will impact surface shipping routes, which will have economic, political, and environmental ramifications, both favorable and unfavorable.

The panel recognized that there is some overlap with the other panels’ metrics. These important metrics shed light on linkages within the human-environment system. For example, the Ocean Panel proposed an ice shelf metric and the Cryosphere Panel proposed a continental ice volume metric. It has been suggested that the loss of ice shelves because of excessive heat content in ocean currents lead to more rapid decay of continental ice and consequent increases in sea level.

The panel was cognizant of the observational capabilities of the report’s primary audience, which led it to deemphasize those metrics that, although very important in global climate interactions, require comprehensive observations on a very large scale. These types of metrics are published along with a more complete description of measurement parameters in the Integrated Global Observing Strategy-Cryosphere Theme Report.12

The cryosphere metrics listed in the following table are coarsely prioritized with primary consideration given to their relevance to direct human impacts and their suitability to quantification by the report’s primary audience. Secondary consideration was given to characteristics of record longevity and significance to global climate interactions.

Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
×

TABLE 3-3 Key Metrics: Cryosphere

Cryosphere Metric

Measurements

Illustrative Locations for Measurements

Why This Metric Is an Indicator of Environmental Sustainability

Condition and extent of terrestrial and sub-aqueous permafrost, including the overlying active layer

Active layer depth

Vertical temperature profile of permafrost

Ice volume fraction

Surface snow cover, vegetation, and temperature

Surface elevation change

Ground morphology and vegetation type

Ground creep

Continuation of existing permafrost monitoring sites (see Circumpolar Active Layer Monitoring [CALM] website and map at http://www.udel.edu/Geography/calm/about/map.html)

Possible new set of North-South transects (5-6 sites per transect) at 4 longitudinal locations (e.g., Alaska, Siberia, Scandinavia, Canada)

These locations might be able to draw on either traditional knowledge or local governments for sites where change most strongly affect environmental sustainability factors.

Change causes destruction of infrastructure or directly affects environmental sustainability factors, such as water availability (through altered drainage patterns) or water quality (through release of organics and pollutants). Large investment in altered infrastructure may become necessary, including oil and gas engineering and migration of northern populations.

Release of greenhouse gases from thawing permafrost contributes to climate change.

Mass of small, high-altitude glaciers

Glacier extent in summer and winter

Surface elevation in summer and winter

Selected high-altitude glaciers (smaller is better)

Those with longest records contained within the World Glacier Monitoring Service, especially in Asia and South America, where glacier runoff is a critical water resource

Loss of these glaciers would remove a critical water source (especially in summer) for many high-elevation populations.

Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
×

Cryosphere Metric

Measurements

Illustrative Locations for Measurements

Why This Metric Is an Indicator of Environmental Sustainability

Land ice dynamics

Changes in velocity of outlet glaciers (with InSAR, GPS geodesy, or optical imagery)

Meltwater lake coverage and drainage in ablation zones

Extent, magnitude, and timing of surface ablation

Subglacial hydrology (storage and transfer) and basal boundary condition (wet vs. frozen, permittivity)

Grounding line location

Major outlet glaciers and ablation zones of the ice sheets (especially areas of known large changes)

Selected smaller glaciers and ice cap outlets (e.g., Greenland: Jackobshavns, Helheim, Peterman, Kangerlussuag; Antarctica: Pine Island, Thwaites, Smith, Kohler, Mertz, Totten, Jutelstraumen, Lambert Glaciers and Foundation, Whillans and Kamb Ice Streams)

Higher sea level amplifies coastal erosion, storm damage, permanent flooding, and land inundation.

Rising sea level leads to significant property loss, leading to costly mitigation/adaptation, migration of human and animal populations, and consequent potential for conflicts.

Reliable forecasting of sea level rise and assessment of impacts can significantly mitigate adverse impacts.

Temporal viability of sea ice

Melt pond extent and size distribution

Albedo

Surface relief

(all tracked through the melt season)

Selected areas (10 km × 10 km, minimum) in the perennial and seasonal ice zone (e.g., the locations of the 6 fiducial sites in the Arctic Fram, Canada, E. Siberian, Chukchi, Beaufort, and Barrow [NRC, 2009a])

Current technical limits on spatial resolution vs. coverage prevent comprehensive coverage

Lower albedo leads to increased solar radiation absorption, thinner sea ice through increased melt, warmer upper ocean, decreased viability of sea ice in subsequent years, reinforcing regional and global climate warming.

Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
×

Cryosphere Metric

Measurements

Illustrative Locations for Measurements

Why This Metric Is an Indicator of Environmental Sustainability

Seasonal snow cover and snow water equivalent, and their seasonal progression (see Hydrology table)

Fractional snow-covered area (the fraction of each grid cell covered by snow; heterogeneity and pattern)

Snow wetness (liquid water in the snowpack)Rain-snow transition during storms

Runoff and its timing relative to demand

Snow albedo, subdivided into visible vs. near-infrared wavelengths, to estimate change by grain growth and absorbing impurities

Snow water equivalent (can remotely sense in lowlands with passive microwave, but cannot remotely sense in the mountains)

Continental scale (e.g., Arctic Canada, Arctic Eurasia, Tibetan Plateau)

Mountain scale (e.g., western North America, Andes, Greater Himalaya, including Karakorum, Hindu Kush, and High Asia Alps)

About one-sixth of Earth’s population depends on end-of-season snowpack.

Snow also affects ecosystems.

The measurements provided here would tease out effects of precipitation, temperature, and albedo, helping to validate and improve regional climate models.

Snow is a significant component of available water supply and a critical factor in regional and local water management (e.g., U.S. west).

Surface transportation (especially rail and truck) is sensitive to the presence and evolution of snow.

Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
×

Cryosphere Metric

Measurements

Illustrative Locations for Measurements

Why This Metric Is an Indicator of Environmental Sustainability

Lake, river, and reservoir ice cover (see Hydrology table)

Freeze-up and breakup dates of lake and river ice

Extent and thickness of ice

Continue sites with longest records (e.g., Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab, http://www.glerl.noaa.gov/data/pgs/ice.html)

Possibly a few north-south transects (on different continents)

Sample moderate-size lakes in north temperate and tropical region

Presence of lake and river ice affects transportation industry and population mobility.

Timing and intensity of spring melt/breakup is factored into flood plain management.

Lake ice duration is strongly connected to regional warming

Lake ice controls suitability of lakes for cold and cool water fishes; eutrophication causes anoxic bottomwaters and fish kills.

Lake ice duration is strongly connected to water quality for human health because chlorination of high dissolved organic carbon water creates harmful byproducts, which are regulated in the United States and Europe.

Images showing patterns of lake ice formation and breakup will be useful in developing predictive linking of ice-cover duration to climate models.

Sea ice volume (thickness and extent)

Sea ice extent and ice type

Freeboard height

Snow thickness

Ice motion

Entire Arctic and southern oceans

Polar societies are strongly dependent on marine ecosystems for food and livelihood; shrinking sea ice will adversely affect these subsistence societies.

Surface shipping routes (e.g., through northeast and northwest passages) will be revised with reduction in Arctic ice pack, with economic, political, and environmental ramifications.

Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
×

Cryosphere Metric

Measurements

Illustrative Locations for Measurements

Why This Metric Is an Indicator of Environmental Sustainability

Land ice mass balance (see Hydrology, Oceans, and Natural Disasters tables)

Surface elevation change (via altimetry)

Mass change (via satellite gravity)

Ice speed at grounding line (ice sheet)

Surface accumulation

Melt extent, intensity, timing (including equilibrium line position) and surface temperature

Glacier area change

Post-glacial rebound

Entire Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets

Glaciers with longest observational records (see World Glacier Monitoring Service)

Higher sea level amplifies coastal erosion, storm damage, permanent flooding, and land inundation.

Rising sea level leads to significant property loss, leading to costly mitigation/adaptation, migration of human and animal populations, and consequent potential for conflicts.

Reliable forecasting of sea level rise and assessment of impacts can significantly mitigate adverse impacts.

Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
×

ATMOSPHERE

The Atmosphere Panel divided metrics of global climate change and environmental sustainability into three categories: (1) climatic trends (rates of change) for parameters that measure climate sensitivity, characterize global climate state, and define major drivers for climate change; (2) measurements of state changes that represent key feedbacks with current high uncertainty and possible high impact on future climate; and (3) trends with direct implications for vulnerability or sustainability of ecosystems, human systems, and health (Table 3-4). There is overlap among these categories. For example, the monitoring of major urban/industrial regions for energy use and greenhouse gas emissions cannot be separated from the monitoring of local emission of atmospheric toxics. Also, changes in clouds and aerosols are often coupled, and therefore their measurement should be coupled.

The panel’s choice of metrics is meant to span the range from cause to impact, effectively integrating the causality chain from humans through the physical climate and back to societal impacts. For example, the requirement to monitor the column and boundary layer abundances of the long-lived greenhouse gases is for attribution (i.e., sources of emissions) as well as for climate impacts. The measurements of urban heat and aerosol and effective ozone emissions, however, also relate to impacts. Obviously, some of these atmospheric metrics need to be linked with the land-surface or ocean in order to address changes in ecosystems, agriculture, and human health.

Given the rapid and often chaotic variability of the atmosphere, measurements should be made with the goal of defining a scenario, describing environmental conditions, or establishing a statistical base for climate change. The panel did not delve into the requirements to achieve these specific goals, because that would require much greater detail than the panel could provide about the timing, location, and precision of the measurements. Thus, the atmosphere metrics will need to be re-examined and tailored over the long-term to the specific capabilities of the instruments that will be used for measurement, in the context of the overall observing system.

Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
×

TABLE 3-4 Key Metrics: Atmosphere

Atmosphere Metric

Measurements

Illustrative Locations for Measurements

Why This Metric Is an Indicator of Environmental Sustainability

Climatic trends (rates of change) for parameters that measure climate sensitivity and characterize global climate state, and that define major drivers for climate change

Changes in the frequency and intensity of precipitation, increased height of the freezing level

Precipitation amount (surface)

Hydrometer size and phase

Lightning flash rate

Changes in snowpack

Monsoon regions

Mediterranean regions

Mountain ranges that supply major rivers (e.g., Himalaya, Andes, Sierra)

Highly populated river basins and coastal zones subject to flooding

Changes in the manner of precipitation and not just the total amount are expected with climate change.

Regional adaptation plans must be able to anticipate such shifts in order to plan for public safety and welfare, including water supply, irrigation of farmland, and ecosystem shifts.

Temperature climate normals

Surface temperature statistics (surface and satellite)

Changes from the past 30-year statistics for seasonal duration and for extreme events such as heat waves and cold spells

Major agricultural and natural ecosystems (e.g., boreal) to detect shifts in phenology

Metropolitan areas for heat stress

Ice sheets and mountain glaciers (measures altitude of <T>=0)

Shifts are predicted as part of a warming world. The changes of temperature normals coupled with seasons, heat waves, and ice sheet melt are clear measures of regional climate change in a warming world with direct connections to health, agriculture, and water resources policies.

Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions

Abundances of individual gases: CO2, CH4, N2O, CFCs, SF6, NF3 (total column and planetary boundary layer)

Major industrial, urban, and fossil-fuel producing regions (e.g., Beijing, Tokyo, New York City, Hamburg)

Permafrost areas (e.g., Siberia and Alaska)

Wetlands (e.g., Southeast Asia)

Biomass burning (e.g., Boreal Canada, Sub-Saharan Africa)

Agricultural regions

Monitoring this metric could indicate compliance with mitigation targets (e.g., see NRC, 2010b).

Measurements of state of changes that represent key feedbacks with current high uncertainty and possible high impact on future climate

Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
×

Atmosphere Metric

Measurements

Illustrative Locations for Measurements

Why This Metric Is an Indicator of Environmental Sustainability

Upper tropospheric water vapor

Relative humidity

Specific humidity

Global with cirrus cloud data measured by satellites

Increases in water vapor and in cirrus are a potential large positive natural feedback in a warming world, and associated uncertainties are a major factor in the climate debate. Cirrus enhancement by aviation, a possible climate forcing, is an environmental sustainability issue.

Atmospheric stability, lapse rate, and convective available potential energy (CAPE)

Temperature profiles

Specific humidity

Tropical convergence regions (e.g., western Pacific, Amazonia)

Mid-latitude storm tracks

Tornado alley in the United States

The potential for climate change to intensify regions of strong storms is a risk that is very uncertain and can best be tracked by monitoring the potential energy that drives such events.

Marine stratus clouds

Cloud extent

Liquid water path

Mean radius

Marine stratus decks in key regions (e.g., Chile, California, Africa)

Marine stratus clouds are a major uncertainty in climate feedbacks and would be a key indicator of climate response and magnitude. Coastal climates are directly affected.

Aerosols (dust outbreaks; smoke; deposition onto snow/ice; industrial/agricultural aerosol; volcanic aerosols)

Optical properties (visibility, optical depth, albedo, cloud condensation nuclei)

Speciation: dust, sulfate (volcanic, biogenic, anthropogenic), nitrates, organic carbon, soot

Asian (e.g., Gobi desert) and Sahara dust-forming regions

Tropical forest-burning areas (e.g., Amazon)

Glaciers and ice sheets (e.g., Greenland)

China/India areas of industrialization (e.g., Himalaya, North Indian Ocean)

Super-metropolitan (e.g., Japan, Southern California, Mexico City, Sao Paulo, South China, India industrial centers)

Aerosol effects are another major uncertainty in climate projections, affecting surface climate and regional precipitation, as well as human health.

Changes in desertification, industrial activity, wildfire occurrence, and direct and indirect aerosol radiative forcing are all potentially important drivers for which the indicator data will directly inform public policy and the fields that study climate change.

Urban heat island effects and flooding (e.g., in Sao Paulo) are directly linked to environmental sustainability.

Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
×

Atmosphere Metric

Measurements

Illustrative Locations for Measurements

Why This Metric Is an Indicator of Environmental Sustainability

Radiative flux and frequency (clouds)

Liquid/ice water content and distribution

Shortwave and longwave

Global satellite data

Marine stratus decks such as coastal Chile

Cirrus clouds, especially over subtropical oceans

Areas prone to severe weather

Cloud radiative forcing and feedbacks are the greatest uncertainty in the climate change field. This indicator establishes what trends, if any, are taking place.

Trends with direct implications for vulnerability or sustainability of ecosystems, human systems, and health

Statistics of tropical and extra-tropical cyclones (see Natural Disasters table)

Lifecycle of the very strong cyclones, integrating energy and potential damage quotients (wind, storm surge)

The tropical cyclone basins (e.g., Gulf of Mexico, Pacific cyclone regions) and the severe storm tracks in winter

The question of whether a warming world generates more frequent cyclones is not resolved. Such measurements may discern a trend that is needed for adaptation in major populated regions, island nations, etc.

Aerosol affects on regional climate and human health: smoke, deposition onto farmland and forests near cities, and industrial/agricultural aerosol (see Human Health and Dimensions table)

Optical properties (visibility, optical depth, albedo, cloud condensation nuclei)

Speciation: dust, nitrates, organic carbon, soot

Areas of industrialization (e.g., Himalaya and north Indian Ocean)

Super-metropolitan areas (e.g., Japan, United Kingdom, Southern California, Dhaka Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Beijing, India industrial centers)

Aerosols are important drivers for human health effects of fossil fuel use and for the urban heat island. Aerosols in major cities (e.g., Sao Paulo) may engender flooding and are therefore directly linked to environmental sustainability.

Emissions and power/energy use in major metropolitan areas

Column abundance of major individual GHGs and air-quality emissions

Heat output

Electrical power use

Regional climate patterns

Select optimal targets from developing and developed world (e.g., Los Angeles, New York City, Mumbai, Lagos, Sao Paulo)

This is an indicator of the impact of major population centers on GHGs, air quality, and energy use. Monitoring this metric could indicate compliance with mitigation targets (NRC, 2010b).

Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
×

Atmosphere Metric

Measurements

Illustrative Locations for Measurements

Why This Metric Is an Indicator of Environmental Sustainability

Emissions and stress factors in major agricultural areas

Column abundance of CO2, CH4, N2O

Flux of smoke aerosols, water vapor, and volatile organic compounds

Key growing season parameters (e.g., heat stress, albedo, precipitation, and soil moisture)

Select optimal targets, primarily from developing world (vulnerability) and developed world (GHGs): Sub-Saharan Africa, Eastern Europe, Midwest United States

This metric could be used as an indicator of food crop loss in developing countries.

This is also a measure of the agricultural sector on GHGs and air quality.

Air quality and toxics (see Human Health and Dimensions table)

Boundary layer abundances of ozone and aerosols upwind, downwind, and within major population areas

Characterization of stagnation events that combine heat and pollution

Areas of industrialization (e.g., Himalaya and north Indian Ocean)

Super-metropolitan areas (e.g., Japan, United Kingdom, Southern California, Dhaka Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Beijing, India industrial centers)

East Asian Outflow (Japan)

Monitoring this metric could help identify roles of climate change vs. global pollution vs. local emissions in controlling peak pollution episodes.

Human health depends on air quality.

Levels of respiratory disease affect population resilience and viability and the ability of a society to respond to climate and other stressors.

Respiratory diseases are related to air quality, which will change along with changes in temperatures, hydrology, atmospheric chemistry, and rates of pollution/industrialization/development.

Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
×

HYDROLOGY

Water is essential for human sustenance and Earth-surface processes. It changes Earth’s surface and shapes where and how we live. Water and its components change and are changed by chemical, biological, and physical processes (Dozier et al., 2009). Furthermore, humans add engineered and social systems to control, manage, utilize, and alter our water environment for a variety of uses and through a variety of organizational and individual decisions. Humans use water in many ways: consumption and washing, agriculture, industrial processes, transportation, and recreation. The stresses resulting from a lack of water, poor quality water, or too much water in a short time can make societies potentially unsustainable. In the long term, the major land-surface water fluxes—rainfall and snowfall, snowmelt, runoff, evapotranspiration, and groundwater recharge and withdrawal—must be in balance. However, this balance can change over time, and changes in any of the terms may indicate changes in the water cycle that affect the coupled human-environment system.

The Hydrology Panel’s metrics are highly integrated with the human dimension of climate change (Table 3-5). One can view the water cycle as a system of reservoirs and fluxes (NRC, 1991), and the metric of highest priority—the amounts of water stored in parts of the terrestrial system—addresses the need to better know where and how much water is stored. Precipitation, both rain and snow, is the main driver of the land-surface water cycle, and our ability to measure snowfall and snowmelt remains primitive, even though more than 1 billion people depend on snowmelt for their water resources (Barnett et al., 2005). Therefore the seasonal progression of snow water equivalent is second in priority. The third-priority metric addresses fluxes between the places where water is stored. Streamflow is the residual of two large fluxes—precipitation and changes in evaporation of precipitation amplify changes in streamflow. Streamflow is therefore an obvious indicator of alteration to the land-surface water cycle (which can occur due to climate change, land-cover change, or changes in water management). Sustainability of surface water resources is often a direct reflection of changes in streamflow. Consider the Aral Sea, where changes in its volume and extent are a direct consequence of reduction in the major inflow of the Syr Darya River because of irrigation diversions.

Terrestrial water storage also plays a critical role in the global water balance. Land and ocean systems exchange water mass through the precipitation, evaporation, and discharge components of the global hydrologic cycle. The annual amplitude of the land and ocean mass variations may well be a metric of water cycle acceleration. Moreover, water management practices that affect terrestrial water storage, particularly groundwater withdrawal, likely contribute to current rates of sea level rise. Local sea level rise can result from local depression of the land-surface caused by subsidence owing to groundwater withdrawal.

Finally, the panel proposes metrics that emphasize water quality and its relation to environmental sustainability. As The Economist (2010) notes in a recent special issue about water, “Enough is not enough. It must also be clean.”

Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
×

TABLE 3-5 Key Metrics: Hydrology

Hydrology Metric

Measurements

Illustrative Locations for Measurements

Why This Metric Is an Indicator of Environmental Sustainability

Volume (or mass) of water stored in parts of the terrestrial system

Groundwater balance (recharge, pumping, irrigation)

Developing nations and places where surface water resources are contaminated or in decline

Agricultural regions where groundwater mining is active (e.g., Sahel region of Africa, Ganges-Brahmaputra plain, Yellow River)

Recharge vs. withdrawal is a key indicator of sustainable use, but data about withdrawal are hard to find.

Provides an indication of how much water will be available in the future. Water is critical to human survival and food production

Tracking groundwater (possible via gravity measurements) would provide information about large regions.

Lake and reservoir heights, volumes, and surface area

Volume-area relationships (via altimetry and in situ)

World’s major reservoirs and lakes (e.g., Lake Mead, Lake Powell)

High latitudes where lakes may be disappearing (e.g., Siberia)

Reservoir sizes and changes in volume indicate resilience of water systems.

Some basins have reservoirs equivalent to several years’ runoff, whereas others have limited storage that can provide water only through a year of drought.

Soil moisture (via in situ and microwave remote sensing)

Plant productivity

Decomposition rate

Soil formation rate

(see Land-Surface table)

Agricultural regions worldwide

Severe weather regions

Areas where monitoring recharge is important (see above)

Soil moisture is driven by precipitation and climate and feedbacks to atmosphere.

Changes in soil moisture will impact groundwater recharge, agriculture, floods, and drought.

This metric has important links to ecology and biogeochemistry.

Extent of mid- and low-latitude glaciers

Greater Himalaya, including Karakorum and Hindu Kush

Andes

Cascades

Glaciers respond to multiple stressors and are important sources of water availability and streamflow for humans and ecosystems. Regional climate feedbacks and loss of the glaciers contribute to sea level rise.

Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
×

Hydrology Metric

Measurements

Illustrative Locations for Measurements

Why This Metric Is an Indicator of Environmental Sustainability

 

Inundated area and dates of inundation of wetlands

Elevation of water surface in flooded areas

Low-elevation basins of large rivers, especially Amazon, Indus, Ganges-Brahmaputra, and north-flowing Eurasian rivers

Wetland loss directly impacts biodiversity and key water related to ecosystem services. Shallow anoxic water bodies contribute to atmospheric methane.

Seasonal snow cover and snow water equivalent, and their seasonal progression (see Cryosphere table)

Fractional snow-covered area (the fraction of each grid cell covered by snow; heterogeneity and pattern)

Snow wetness (liquid water in the snowpack)

Rain-snow transition during storms

Runoff and its timing relative to demand

Snow albedo, subdivided into visible vs. near-infrared wavelengths, to estimate change by grain growth and absorbing impurities

Snow water equivalent (can remotely sense in lowlands with passive microwave, but cannot remotely sense in the mountains)

Continental scale (e.g., Arctic Canada, Arctic Eurasia, Tibetan Platea)

Mountain scale (e.g., western North America, Andes, Greater Himalaya, including Karakorum, Hindu Kush, and High Asia Alps)

About one-sixth of Earth’s population depends on end-of-season snowpack.

Snow also affects ecosystems.

The measurements provided here would tease out effects of precipitation, temperature, and albedo, helping to validate and improve regional climate models.

Snow is a significant component of available water supply and a critical factor in regional and local water management (e.g., U.S. west).

Surface transportation (especially rail and truck) is sensitive to the presence and evolution of snow.

Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
×

Hydrology Metric

Measurements

Illustrative Locations for Measurements

Why This Metric Is an Indicator of Environmental Sustainability

Fluxes of water through the landwater system

Precipitation

Runoff (streamflow)

Evapotranspiration

Withdrawals and inter-basin transfer

Information about water usage (industrial, residential, agricultural)

For streamflow: start with mouths of major rivers globally and work upstream (e.g., Indus, Ganges-Brahmaputra, Salween, Mekong, Yangzte, Yellow River, Niger, Nile)

For precipitation: measure globally, with attention to particular complications of (a) orographic effects and (b) difficulties in measuring solid vs. liquid precipitation.

Streamflow is the most obvious indicator of alteration of the land-surface water cycle (which can occur due either to climate change, land cover change, or water management).

Sustainability of surface water resources is generally a direct reflection of changes in streamflow.

Information about usage of water indicates which sections of the society are most vulnerable.

Water quality

Water color (proxy for dissolved organic carbon concentrations) of lakes, reservoirs, rivers, and streams

Large lakes (e.g., Lake Baikal, Lake Superior)

Major rivers

Reservoirs, location to be determined based on inventory of existing fine-resolution imagery

Lakes and rivers that drain into wetlands in tropical regions

Dissolved organic carbon (DOC) has second order feedbacks on carbon cycle because of large CO2 and CH4 fluxes from lakes and streams

DOC has major environmental sustainability consequences for water quality for human use and for promoting harmful algal blooms in coastal regions.

Temperature of lakes, reservoirs, rivers, and streams

Regions with water supply constraints mainly in southwestern United States and Africa

Mountain streams and lakes influenced by earlier snowmelt (e.g., North America, Appalachia, and Andes)

Lake and stream temperatures are directly connected to climate drivers and integrate second order effects on hydrology.

Temperatures are relevant to sustainability of freshwater ecosystem goods and services.

Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
×

Hydrology Metric

Measurements

Illustrative Locations for Measurements

Why This Metric Is an Indicator of Environmental Sustainability

 

Seasonal changes in chlorophyll content and nutrient concentration in lakes, reservoirs, rivers, and streams

Temperate lakes in lake districts

Small representative reservoirs for water supply

Large lakes (e.g., Lake Baikal, Lake Victoria)

Major rivers draining into coastal systems

Rivers draining wetlands in arctic and tropical regions

This metric integrates across changes in climate and human-environmental systems.

Water quality strongly influences sustainability of water resources and aquatic habitats.

Groundwater quality (pathogens, nutrients, pollutants)

Areas where groundwater quality is affected by wastewater, agriculture, and industry

Much of humanity depends on groundwater of uncertain quality.

Lake, river, and reservoir ice cover (see Cryosphere table)

Freeze-up and breakup dates of lake and river ice

Extent and thickness of ice

Continue sites with longest records (e.g., Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab, http://www.glerl.noaa.gov/data/pgs/ice.html)

Possibly a few north-south transects (on different continents)

Sample moderate-size lakes in north temperate and tropical region

Presence of lake and river ice affects the transportation industry and population mobility.

Timing and intensity of spring melt/break-up is factored into flood plain management.

Lake ice duration is strongly connected to regional warming.

Lake ice controls suitability of lakes for cold and cool water fishes; eutrophication causes anoxic bottomwaters and fish kills.

Lake ice duration is strongly connected to water quality for human health because chlorination of high dissolved organic carbon water creates harmful byproducts, which are regulated in the United States and Europe.

Images showing pattern of lake ice formation and break-up will be useful in developing predictive linking of ice cover duration to climate models.

Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
×

Hydrology Metric

Measurements

Illustrative Locations for Measurements

Why This Metric Is an Indicator of Environmental Sustainability

Contribution to sea level rise from land water storage (see Cryosphere, Hydrology, and Natural Disasters tables)

Changes in storage of water in the forms that are susceptible to change, including:

Glaciers

Groundwater

Reservoirs

Lakes

Wetlands

Soil moisture (especially in irrigated areas)

Combination of measurements and locations higher in table:

Glacier extent and volume in Greater Himalaya

Groundwater volume and recharge/withdrawal (e.g., Sahel, Ganges-Brahmaputra plain, Yellow River)

Surface area and height of reservoirs, lakes, and wetlands

Changes in sea level will impact coastal processes, including inundation and sea water intrusion into coastal aquifers.

Sea level rise represents a key indicator of global water balance (when ocean storage increases, land storage decreases).

Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
×

NATURAL DISASTERS

When extreme events such as hurricanes, coastal storms, floods, and droughts occur, the consequences of gradual, scarcely perceptible global change can become evident. Hurricane storm surge events, for example, may penetrate inland to greater distances than previously measured because of a rise in sea level. When extreme events occur at the interface between Earth and human systems, they can wreak disaster on elements that are vulnerable to these events.

The ability of populations and Earth systems to sustain themselves in locations prone to extreme weather- and climate-related events (e.g., hurricanes, floods, droughts) may be one of the most visible and most easily measured of all environmental sustainability indicators. Monitoring the ability of such populations to rebuild and maintain municipal services and quality of life, or for such Earth systems to maintain diversity, health, and areal extent, despite repeatedly being affected by weather- and climate-related natural disasters should provide graphic indication and warning of the changing, possibly increasing impacts of climate change. As climate change progresses, weather- and climate-related extremes may increase in their strength, intensity, and destructive impact and may change in their frequency or geographic pattern of occurrence.13

After some future natural disaster or a succession of these events, especially in places where environmental sustainability is marginal, the cost, time, and effort to restore or rebuild public services and facilities will exceed the available financial resources and technical abilities. As this “point of no return” approaches, an increasing number of residents will leave and not return, key facilities will not be restored, etc. The near loss of New Orleans, Louisiana a U.S. Gulf Coast city that successfully weathered centuries of hurricanes, to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 has already prompted concern, for example, that intensifying hurricane activity in the Atlantic will make many U.S. Gulf Coast communities unsustainable. On August 29, 2005, the center of Hurricane Katrina passed just east of the city of New Orleans. The levee network protecting the city failed during the storm; by August 31, 80 percent of New Orleans was flooded, with some parts under 4.5 m of water. Following the disaster a debate began regarding whether to rebuild and restore the city. The debate about whether to rebuild in areas so vulnerable to future storms is ongoing. Similar changes may be seen in Earth systems that are becoming increasingly affected by extreme natural events: the number and diversity of inhabiting species will decrease; the overall health of the system will degrade; and the areal extent of the system will decrease. The barrier islands of Louisiana, for example, are eroding at

13

Climate change, for example, is expected to affect tropical cyclone intensity by increasing sea surface temperatures, a key factor that influences cyclone formation and behavior (Emanuel, 2005). Tropical sea surface temperatures increased by approximately 0.5ºC between 1970 and 2004 (Agudelo and Curry, 2004). There is observational evidence for a sustained increase during the same 30 years in the proportion of category 4 and 5 hurricanes worldwide (Webster et al., 2005). There is a statistically significant increase in the frequency and duration of hurricanes in the North Atlantic since 1970, but in other ocean basins the trend is not statistically different from zero.

Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
×

an extreme rate, primarily during hurricane events.14 Many communities on the western coast of Louisiana were destroyed by Hurricane Rita in 2005. The 140 km of shoreline that was affected sustained −23.3 ± 30.1 m of erosion on average. The affected coastline was completely inundated by the hurricane’s storm surge, which locally reached 3.5 m (Sallenger et al., 2009). Although there is little habitation on these islands, their erosion may have a severe impact on the environment landward of the barriers. The vast system of sheltered wetlands along Louisiana’s delta plain is becoming increasingly exposed to open Gulf conditions as the barrier islands continue to disintegrate. This disintegration of barrier islands is a result of increasing wave attack, salinity intrusion, storm surge, tidal range, and sediment transport, which may significantly accelerate the damage to wetlands that have already experienced the greatest areal losses in the United States (USGS, 2004).

The tables that follow address climate change and environmental sustainability in two ways. Table 3-6, Environmental Sustainability Indicators for Natural Disaster-Prone Populations and Earth Systems, addresses the ability of populations and Earth systems to sustain themselves in locations prone to climate-related disasters. Table 3-7, Weather-and Climate-Related Natural Disaster Agents, addresses the climate-related natural processes that can cause natural disasters, processes that are impacted and changed (e.g., frequency of occurrence, intensity, areal extent) by climate change. The sustainability table (Table 3-6) is ordered by the ability to observe a given metric, with the easiest to observe appearing first. The weather and climate table (Table 3-7) is ordered in a very coarse approximation of human consequences, with the metrics that lead to the greatest human consequences appearing first.

14

With the establishment of a levee system along the lower Mississippi River in the 1800s, sediment deposition by the river’s meandering delta, ended. Longshore sediment redistribution, primarily in hurricane storm events, is catastrophically eroding the Louisiana coastline. Historical maps (Williams et al., 1992), for example, indicate that the shoreline at Bayou Lafourche, Louisiana, has eroded back about 3 km since 1887.

Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
×

TABLE 3-6 Key Metrics: Environmental Sustainability Indicators for Natural Disaster-Prone Populations and Earth Systems

Natural Disasters Metric

Measurements

Illustrative Locations for Measurements

Why This Metric Is an Indicator of Environmental Sustainability

Population change in response to extreme weather- and climate-related natural disasters

Changes in population in urban and rural areas correlated with local weather- and climate-related extreme events (hurricanes, severe storms)

Population density (remote sensing of housing and development; Earth’s city lights, urbanization—people per road mile; available road transport)

Migration (related to natural disasters; incursion onto and from coastlines; e.g., see Bhaduri et al., 2002)

Areas attractive to population growth that are at risk for extreme events:

  1. Coastlines prone to recurring severe tropical storm landfall: Gulf of Mexico (e.g., New Orleans, Galveston, Tampa); eastern Atlantic (e.g., Miami, Charleston)

  2. River systems prone to recurring flooding: Mississippi, Chang Jiang (Yangtze), Huang Ho (Yellow), Ganges-Brahmaputra Rivers

Populations may begin to permanently leave disaster-prone areas as the cost/benefit of remaining changes adversely.

Disaster loss vs. cost to rebuild

Actual total loss caused by a weather- and climate-related natural disaster (determined from insurance estimates, federal, state, and local emergency offices)

Cost to rebuild (determined from insurance adjustors, contractors, federal, state, and local offices)

When the cost to rebuild exceeds actual disaster loss, the “tipping point” of disaster financial sustainability is exceeded. Further financial investment becomes unrecoverable.

Communities facing costs to rebuild that exceed actual disaster losses may be able to sustain themselves by using special sources provided by insurance policies, special appropriations, etc. When the costs to rebuild exceed even these special sources, the communities can no longer be maintained.

Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
×

Natural Disasters Metric

Measurements

Illustrative Locations for Measurements

Why This Metric Is an Indicator of Environmental Sustainability

Change in Earth system diversity in response to extreme weather- and climate-related events

Species types and number (determined from surveys made annually by federal agencies), correlated with local climate-related extreme events

Areas at risk to recurring weather- and climate-related natural disasters:

  1. Coastlines prone to recurring severe tropical storm landfall: Gulf of Mexico, eastern Atlantic

  2. River systems prone to recurring flooding: Mississippi, Chang Jiang (Yangtze), Huang Ho (Yellow)

Earth systems that become unsustainable in the face or recurring natural-disaster attack will display changes in species health (e.g., disease, mortality, pests), reductions in historic environmental system diversity, and changes in the geographic size of habitats.

There may also be replacement of species with others that are being displaced geographically.

Change in Earth system health

Plant and animal health (mortality change compared with extreme event occurrence, changes in types and extent of pests and diseases, changes in species distribution)

Geographic extent (habitat geographic size in response to extreme events)

Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
×

TABLE 3-7 Key Metrics: Weather- and Climate-related Natural Disaster Agents

Natural Disasters Metric

Measurements

Illustrative Locations for Measurements

Why This Metric Is an Indicator of Environmental Sustainability

Shorter duration events

Severe storms (see Atmosphere table)

Tropical storms:

NOAA Accumulated Cyclone Energy Index (based on maximum wind speeds measured at 6-hr intervals); annual tropical storm number; maximum wind speed; maximum storm-surge height; geographic storm tracks; precipitation; frequency

Tropical oceans (e.g., Atlantic, Pacific, Indian)

Changes in severe storm intensity and occurrence may be indicators of global climate change.

Non-tropical storms (continental):

Lightning: Schumann Resonances (extremely low frequency incidence of global lightning activity)

Annual storm number

Maximum wind speeds (straight-line)

Hail events (number, hail size)

Tornadoes (number, maximum wind speed)

Geographic storm tracks

Precipitation

Flash floods

Global extremely low frequency lightning activity—measurable equally anywhere on Earth

Other severe storm parameters would be measured in continental interiors (e.g., Americas, Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia)

Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
×

Natural Disasters Metric

Measurements

Illustrative Locations for Measurements

Why This Metric Is an Indicator of Environmental Sustainability

Landscape and biomass fires

Fire incidence, fire apparent radiated thermal energy (kW/sr), fire temperature, area burned (via satellite)

Fire incidence, acres burned, biomass burned, fire emissions (CO, CO2) (via in situ)

Global land masses (all areas without ice)

Southeast Asia, Amazon, Sub-Saharan Africa, western United States, and Canada

Global climate change may increase fire incidence, severity, and geographic pattern.

Fire greenhouse gas emissions (CO, CO2), smoke, and soot may, in reverse, contribute directly to climate change through greenhouse warming, increases in atmospheric albedo, etc.

Large volcanic eruptions

USGS Volcanic Explosivity Index (volume of volcanic products, eruption cloud height, etc.)

Aerosol, dust measurements

Airborne gas sampling (particulates, aerosols SO4, etc.)

Post-eruption changes in atmosphere, agriculture, landcover

The Earth’s recently-active volcanoes. (Large volcanic eruptions occur infrequently, at different locations on the Earth.)

Large volcanic eruptions have global atmospheric impacts (some volcanic eruptions can propel large volumes of volcanic ash and aerosols to great heights in the atmosphere, circling the Earth for weeks to months before they precipitate).

Volcanic ash and aerosols in atmosphere can reduce global temperature by increasing atmospheric albedo. (The albedo of an aerosol layer is dependent on its optical depth. Increases in the planetary albedo decrease the amount of radiation absorbed, which results in decreasing the Earth’s temperature (Sigurdsson et al. 2000).

Longer duration events

Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
×

Natural Disasters Metric

Measurements

Illustrative Locations for Measurements

Why This Metric Is an Indicator of Environmental Sustainability

Global sea level (see Oceans, Cryosphere, and Hydrology tables)

Persistent changes in sea level measured at sites not affected by tectonic movement

Associated changes in near-shore groundwater-table height, salinity, other water chemistry

Secondary changes in river gradients caused by sea level rise

Low-lying oceanic island groups and Arctic coasts (e.g., Maldives)

Micronesian Islands

Deltaic coasts (e.g., Bangladesh)

Large coastal ports (e.g., New Orleans, Columbia River, Houston, Los Angeles)

Coastal urban centers (e.g., Venice, New York)

Sea level rise is a consequence of oceanic volume increase. Global melting of alpine and continental glaciers and ice sheets, together with warming of sea water is producing a global rise in sea level.

Higher sea level amplifies coastal erosion, storm damage, permanent flooding, and land inundation.

Riverine floods

Annual country-wide numbers of flood events, their extent, depth, duration

Causal storm extent, intensity (rainfall)

Resulting landcover, land-use changes (deforestation, levees, dams), and changes in water quality

Major river systems of the world (e.g., Nile, Amazon, Mississippi, Yangtze, Ob, Yellow, Yenisei, Paraná, Irtish, Congo)

Changes in flood frequency, severity, and occurrence may be indictors of global climate change.

Drought

U.S. Drought Monitor: integrates drought-severity and percent of U.S. lands under each drought category

Long-term decreases in precipitation; surface-water changes (e.g., rivers, lakes)—depth, areal extent, volume, quality

Groundwater depth and groundwater quality in drought areas; associated changes in landcover, land use.

Arid areas of the world (e.g., Africa Sahel, Australia, western United States)

Changes in flood frequency, severity and occurrence may be indictors of global climate change.

Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
×

Natural Disasters Metric

Measurements

Illustrative Locations for Measurements

Why This Metric Is an Indicator of Environmental Sustainability

Epidemic disease (see Human Health and Dimensions table)

Number of epidemics

Type

Impacts (number hospitalized, casualties, fatalities)

Historic recurrence

Area affected

Worldwide, with emphasis on areas where epidemics may be related to environmental vectors such as Bay of Bengal

Global changes in wind patterns, sea level rise, etc., can transport disease vectors.

Epidemics and pandemics affect population resilience and viability and the ability of a society to respond to climate and other stressors

Outbreaks of these pathogens are often linked with climatic variability and thus can be indicative of changes in the climate system.

Insect infestations

Number of insect infestations, insect type, landcover, and crop impacts (area, species affected)

Historic recurrence

Worldwide, with emphasis on areas where insect infestations may be related to environmental vectors such as African Sahel

Global changes in wind patterns and sea level rise can provoke insect population changes and catastrophic increases in insect number; environmental vectors can transport insects great distances into areas traditionally not impacted by the pests.

Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
×

HUMAN HEALTH AND OTHER DIMENSIONS

Some climate changes that manifest initially as a physical impact will eventually have a human impact when viewed through the lens of environmental sustainability. Human health and dimensions metrics differ from other more traditional metrics (oceans, cryosphere, land-surface, atmosphere, and hydrology) because they deal primarily with the human consequences of climate change.

Human metrics, as presented in Table 3-8, represent measurements of environmental threat with respect to vulnerability. For example, an earthquake itself represents a serious threat but it is the population density, building code and structures built according to that code, and other such factors that are the indicators for the human dimension. Such measurements must be made over time if both trends and variability are to be determined. Thus, the metrics taken alone cannot represent the overall effect but can do so in the aggregate, with regional differences taken into account.

Many of the human health metrics and measurements are drawn from English et al., 2009. As the Human Health Panel developed examples of locations around the globe that are suitable for gathering the underlying observations, the panel also selected candidate sentinel cities/regions (in bold, italic text in Table 3-8). These sentinel sites would be important for monitoring the metrics listed in the table, providing a cross-section of human health and dimensions indicators for a representative set of cities/regions. The cities/regions provide a coarse listing, which can be refined to a more specific scheme in the future, and individual metrics can be included at additional locations.

The table comprises three general categories: Human Health, Other Human Dimensions, and Climate Change, with human health metrics being more specific than the other human dimensions metrics. For example, climate change impact on human diseases such as malaria, dengue, and viral encephalitis can be highly specific in terms of rate, intensity, geographical distribution, and timeline of an outbreak or epidemic. Thus, measurements of human health are typically more specific, and impacts on health outcomes can often be defined in greater detail. Where climate conditions can be evidenced more severely, such as flooding in Bangladesh, the human health impact can be dramatic and devastating. Underlying problems of malnutrition, along with vulnerability to natural disaster, such as an earthquake zone, will compound the human impact. Human dimensions include many sectors such as crime and violence, and their metrics, therefore, are intentionally broad. These metrics do not capture correlation or causation; rather, they are a set of observables describing outcomes relative to human systems and health. Overall, each of the climate change metrics can be interpreted as having implications for both human health and other human dimensions.

Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
×

TABLE 3-8 Key Metrics: Human Health and Dimensions

Human Metric

Measurements

Illustrative Locations for Measurements

Why This Metric Is an Indicator of Environmental Sustainability

Human Health

Epidemics/Pandemics

  1. Disease transmission—climate sensitive

  2. Climate stress related (see Natural Disasters table)

Morbidity and mortality data (including Department of Defense records)

Disability-adjusted life years (e.g., childhood mortality, maternal mortality)

Human cases of environmental infectious disease/positive test results in reservoirs/sentinels/vectors

Records of legal and illegal transport of domestic and feral animals; animal husbandry/factory farm practices (use of antibiotics, types of feedstocks/offal, housing conditions); consumption of bush meat

United States and where military records are available

Human health is the ultimate integrator of environmental and resource conditions. Human health depends on disease ecology and transmission dynamics.

Epidemics and pandemics affect population resilience and viability and the ability of a society to respond to climate and other stressors.

Outbreaks of these pathogens are often linked with climatic variability and thus can be indicative of changes in the climate system.

Global with emphasis on areas where epidemics may be related to environmental vectors

Bogota, Shanghai, Mexico City, Athens, Lagos, Tokyo, Jakarta, New Orleans, South Asia (India/Bangladesh), Luanda Arabian Peninsula, Cairo, Delhi, Asmara, Eritrea, Hyderabad

Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
×

Human Metric

Measurements

Illustrative Locations for Measurements

Why This Metric Is an Indicator of Environmental Sustainability

Incidence of respiratory disease (see Atmosphere table)

Air pollutants (particulates, ozone)

Air pollutant origins (local vs. remote, e.g.., 44 pm ozone in Los Angeles vs. advection of the Asian brown cloud across the Pacific)

Respiratory/allergic disease and mortality related to increased air pollution and pollens

General morbidity and mortality data (including Department of Defense records)

Disability-adjusted life years (childhood mortality, maternal mortality)

Frequency of temperature inversions, blocking highs (i.e., weather patterns conducive to trapping of pollutants near surface)

Deforestation

Levels of exercise and fitness in urban environment (including rates of bicycle usage, public transport, car)

Cancer rates

Areas of industrialization (e.g., Himalaya and North Indian Ocean)

Human health depends on air quality.

Levels of respiratory disease affect population resilience and viability and the ability of a society to respond to climate and other stressors.

Respiratory diseases are related to air quality, which will change with change in temperature, hydrology, atmospheric chemistry, and rate of pollution, industrialization, and development.

Super-metropolitan areas (e.g., Japan, United Kingdom, Southern California, Dhaka Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Beijing, India industrial centers)

Bogota, Shanghai, Mexico City, Athens, Lagos, Tokyo, Jakarta, New Orleans, South Asia (India/Bangladesh), Luanda Arabian Peninsula, Cairo, Delhi, Asmara, Eritrea, Hyderabad

Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
×

Human Metric

Measurements

Illustrative Locations for Measurements

Why This Metric Is an Indicator of Environmental Sustainability

Waterborne diseases

Surface and ground water amounts and distribution (i.e., drought index estimates, surface water levels, precipitation and evaporation rates, soil moisture, and hydrology model estimates)

Water- use practices after disasters (e.g., floods, earthquakes) including changes in access to potable water and wastewater management infrastructure and their utilization. Surface water measures of enteric pathogens and other markers of human and animal waste both before and after a disaster.

Frequency and amount of extreme rainfall, wastewater/sewer system overflow

Population migration (e.g., see Bhaduri et al.., 2002), population distribution and density in urban, peri-urban, and rural regions

Municipal water treatment practices (e.g. available waste treatment processes, and percentages of households and industries using each process), and community water supply system functional integrity, distribution and amount of water impervious surfaces (paved), urban/peri-urban runoff control

Medical and Public Health Infrastructure (determinants of preparedness and vulnerability such as per capita hospital beds, doctors, nurses, triage centers, air conditioned safe havens; blood, water, food, and drug stocks; municipal warning systems)

Middle East

Asia

Human health depends on water quality and infrastructure (see Hydrology table).

The rate of waterborne disease affects the ability of a society to respond to stressors, and it in part is affected by temperature and hydrologic changes.

Bogota, Shanghai, Mexico City, Athens, Lagos, Tokyo, Jakarta, New Orleans, South Asia (India/Bangladesh), Luanda Arabian Peninsula, Cairo, Delhi, Asmara, Eritrea, Hyderabad

Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
×

Human Metric

Measurements

Illustrative Locations for Measurements

Why This Metric Is an Indicator of Environmental Sustainability

Environmental health

Greenhouse gas emissions (e.g., see EPA, 2009)

Droughts: Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI), Surface Water Supply Index (SWSI)

Maximum and minimum temperatures, heat index

Stagnation air mass events

O3 estimates due to climate change

Increase in heat alerts/warnings

Pollen counts, ragweed presence

Frequency, severity, distribution, and duration of wildfires

Harmful Algal Blooms (HAB): human shellfish poisonings, HAB outbreak monitoring in freshwater and ocean waters (see Hydrology and Oceans tables)

Bogota, Shanghai, Mexico City, Athens, Lagos, Tokyo, Jakarta, New Orleans, South Asia (India/Bangladesh), Luanda Arabian Peninsula, Cairo, Delhi, Asmara, Eritrea, Hyderabad

Measurements of events in the extreme are useful metrics of human resilience.

Other Human Dimensions

Resource demands

Measures of resource size and imputed demand, including rate of consumption

Balance of water, timber, and other resource withdrawals relative to renewals

Ratio of national debt to gross domestic product

Unemployment rate

Percentage of homeless as a result of flooding, wildfires, etc.

Trends in gross domestic product per capita

Trends in labor productivity (product divided by employment)

Inflation level and rate of change

Percentage of population below poverty level (e.g., see NRC, 1999)

Global

Africa

This metric measures the fragility of a society and its vulnerability to additional stress from climate change and variability.

Changes in resource demands may reflect responses to the changing climate.

Water is vital and is an example of a resource that is climate-sensitive (see Hydrology table).

Bogota, Shanghai, Mexico City, Athens, Lagos, Tokyo, Jakarta, New Orleans, South Asia (India/Bangladesh), Luanda Arabian Peninsula, Cairo, Delhi, Asmara, Eritrea, Hyderabad

Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
×

Human Metric

Measurements

Illustrative Locations for Measurements

Why This Metric Is an Indicator of Environmental Sustainability

Population distribution and vulnerabilities (see Natural Disasters table)

Population density (remote sensing of housing and development; Earth’s city lights, urbanization—people per road mile; available road transport)

Population living in vulnerable areas: sea level rise and flooding

Migration (related to natural disasters; incursion onto and from coastlines; e.g., see Bhaduri et al., 2002)

Elderly living alone, poverty status, children, infants, and individuals with disabilities

Infant mortality

Travel time to cities greater than 50,000 people

Gross domestic product

Global

Outer Banks, Congo, densely populated Asian megadeltas, polar regions, U.S. Gulf Coast, southeastern United States

Monitoring this metric provides an indication of where people are impacting the environment and how they are responding to that environment.

It is important to look at populations that are in areas that are vulnerable to sea level rise and other natural disasters to gauge their level of resilience.

Bogota, Shanghai, Mexico City, Athens, Lagos, Tokyo, Jakarta, New Orleans, South Asia (India/Bangladesh), Luanda Arabian Peninsula, Cairo, Delhi, Asmara, Eritrea, Hyderabad

Food security and agriculture

Land-use trends (satellite Imaps, land fertilization rates, deforestation, rate of conversion of croplands to other uses)

Agriculture practices (crop type, crop rotation systems, number of plantings per year)

Irrigation (type, ratio of renewable water supply to withdrawals, aquifer load/reserve, fraction of agricultural land irrigated, river diversions, damming practices); and monitor tradeoffs of irrigation (change in the incidence of vectorborne diseases linked to irrigation)

Precipitation, snowpack, snowmelt, river discharge rates, soil moisture

Soil erosion rates

Percentage of population chronically underfed

Temperature

Global

Southeast Asia (Tibetan Plateau, Indus, Ganges, Brahmaputra, Salween, Mekong, Yangzte, Yellow Rivers)

Africa

North China Plain

Food/agriculture is vital and is an example of a resource that is climate-sensitive. To measure environmental sustainability that reflects economic, political, social, and environmental drivers, one must consider supply and demand of a given resource.

Bogota, Shanghai, Mexico City, Athens, Lagos, Tokyo, Jakarta, New Orleans, South Asia (India/Bangladesh), Luanda Arabian Peninsula, Cairo, Delhi, Asmara, Eritrea, Hyderabad

Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
×

Human Metric

Measurements

Illustrative Locations for Measurements

Why This Metric Is an Indicator of Environmental Sustainability

State/Societal stability

Regime type (democracy, autocracy, etc.), infant mortality, conflict in neighboring states, and political/economical discrimination (e.g., see Goldstone et al., 2010)

Incidence of violence

Governance (changes through time to rule of law, constitutions, type of governance, territorial extent of government control, and anti-government groups)

Crime rates

Illegal deforestations and other land uses

Population migration (e.g., see Bhaduri et al., 2002)

Aspects of urban design (risk of urban heat island effect and/or stormwater runoff)

Global

Africa

Middle East

Political stability affects population vulnerability.

Bogota, Shanghai, Mexico City, Athens, Lagos, Tokyo, Jakarta, New Orleans, South Asia (India/Bangladesh), Luanda Arabian Peninsula, Cairo, Delhi, Asmara, Eritrea, Hyderabad

Climate Change

Climate change mitigation

Greenhouse gas emissions by nations, especially compared with voluntary commitments in support of international policy agreements

Levels and trends in energy and carbon prices

Trends in the use of non carbon-emitting energy technologies

Effects on disadvantaged populations of mitigation policies

Bogota, Shanghai, Mexico City, Athens, Lagos, Tokyo, Jakarta, New Orleans, South Asia (India/Bangladesh), Luanda Arabian Peninsula, Cairo, Delhi, Asmara, Eritrea, Hyderabad

Climate change policies related to energy efficiency and renewable energy are often economically beneficial, improve energy security, and reduce local pollutant emissions.

Other energy supply mitigation

Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
×

Human Metric

Measurements

Illustrative Locations for Measurements

Why This Metric Is an Indicator of Environmental Sustainability

 

Implications for human health (as one illustrative sector):

Health co-benefits of carbon emission reduction, notably from improved air quality and greater opportunities for “active transport,” and thus improved fitness

Changes in land use with health implications

Changes in occupational mixes with health implications (reductions in coal mining)

 

options can be designed to achieve sustainable development benefits such as avoiding displacement of local populations, job creation, and health benefits.

Climate change adaptation

Number of adaptation projects receiving assistance from international adaptation funds

Changes in infrastructure and settlement patterns in especially vulnerable areas

Number of climate change vulnerability assessments completed for regions and localities

Number of climate change adaptation plans developed and implemented by governments and private-sector parties at all scales

Number of national and international agreements, policies, and regulations that include climate change adaptation objectives

Bogota, Shanghai, Mexico City, Athens, Lagos, Tokyo, Jakarta, New Orleans, South Asia (India/Bangladesh), Luanda Arabian Peninsula, Cairo, Delhi, Asmara, Eritrea, Hyderabad

Many of the health effects of climate change are those that we are already dealing with and therefore already have existing tools for prevention.

Implications for human health (as one illustrative sector):

Access to cooling centers

Number of heat wave early warning systems

Number of municipal heat island mitigation plans

Number of health surveillance systems related to climate change

Public health workforce available/trained in climate change research/surveillance/adaptation

Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
×

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Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
×
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Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
×
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Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
×
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Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
×
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Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
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Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
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Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
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Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
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Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
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Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
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Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
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Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
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Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
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Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
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Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
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Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
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Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
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Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
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Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
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Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
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Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
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Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
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Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
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Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
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Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
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Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
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Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
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Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
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Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
×
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Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
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Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
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Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
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Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
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Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
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Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
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Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
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Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
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Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
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Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
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Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
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Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
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Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
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Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
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Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
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Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
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Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
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Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
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Suggested Citation:"3 Climate Change Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems." National Research Council. 2010. Monitoring Climate Change Impacts: Metrics at the Intersection of the Human and Earth Systems. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/12965.
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The stresses associated with climate change are expected to be felt keenly as human population grows to a projected 9 billion by the middle of this century, increasing the demand for resources and supporting infrastructure. Therefore, information to assess vulnerabilities to climate change is needed to support policies and investments designed to increase resilience in human and Earth systems.

There are currently many observing systems that capture elements of how climate is changing, for example, direct measurements of atmospheric and ocean temperature. Although those measurements are essential for understanding the scale and nature of climate change, they do not necessarily provide information about the impacts of climate change on humans that are especially relevant for political and economic planning and decision making.

Monitoring Climate Change Impacts tackles the challenge of developing an illustrative suite of indicators, measurements (and the locations around the globe where the measurements can be applied), and metrics that are important for understanding global climate change and providing insight into environmental sustainability. Eight panels provided input on: cryosphere, land-surface and terrestrial ecosystems, hydrology and water resources, atmosphere, human health and other dimensions, oceans (both physical and biological/chemical), and natural disasters. The book also provides an illustrative set of metrics that are likely to be affected by climate change over the next 20-25 years and, when taken together, can potentially give advance warning of climate-related changes to the human and environment systems.

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