The Committee asked individual members of the NRC Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate (BASC) and the Committee on the Human Dimensions of Global Change (CHDGC) to examine the draft Plan and offer input to the Committee orally or in writing. What follows is a collection of their comments. The viewpoints compiled below should not be construed as the consensus views of BASC/CHDGC, the Committee to Advise the U.S. Global Change Research Program, or the National Research Council.
Comments from Individual BASC members
1) Observations: A major concern revolves around the treatment of observations within the document and includes the following talking points:
a. There is a serious conceptual omission in the document regarding the purpose of climate observations. The key point that is currently not covered is that observations are essential for research that expands our knowledge of processes and mechanisms in the climate system.
b. The document currently seems to downgrade the use of observations such that they are only of use for comparison to models.
c. Observations are in fact needed to directly learn about the climate system. Only then can it be modeled with any acuity.
d. Given that both space-based and in situ measurement programs are in dire circumstances at the moment, and indeed are on completely unsustainable trajectories going forward, there is an urgent need to address how these programs might be maintained and sustained.
e. By not confronting this fundamental dilemma, the USGCRP has left a serious omission in the document. The Strategic Plan could be dramatically improved by providing the framework to support these crucial observation systems into the foreseeable future.
2) USGCRP Assessment: As written, the document appears to be setting up an entirely new program. Given that the USGCRP already has a good track record spanning multiple decades, it is thought that the Strategic Plan could be improved by providing an assessment to help justify the current expenditures. To our knowledge, the last time this was done was in 1995. This could include:
a. A work up of the major research findings and the subsequent policy and decision-making influence that the USGCRP and its constituent agencies have been responsible for over the past 20 years.
b. A frank and full assessment of not only accomplishments, but remaining challenges.
c. An integration of the lessons learned, and how the past experience of the program provides a strong backbone for the USGCRP going forward.
3) Disciplinary Expertise: Fostering an interdisciplinary program addresses an important need, but the importance of disciplinary expertise is being unrealistically minimized. Some specific concerns include:
a. Though clearly the need exists for more interchange at the cross roads of various disciplines, a community made up solely of generalists will never develop new parameterizations that are necessary for skillful Earth Systems models.
b. Focusing solely on breadth in disciplinary training leads us to well integrated, but ultimately faulty attempts to fully understand the Earth System.
c. A logical improvement might be for the USGCRP to provide a postdoctoral program to help train a new generation of young researchers from science, technology, and social science to carry out the disciplinary integration which is a stated goal.
1) Sustained Assessments, while admirably conceived, might take more in human and financial resources than are necessary. Rather than full length Synthesis and Assessment Products (SAPs), perhaps a short report every three or four years is more practical with a full report every third period. This keeps the sustained assessment cycle, but limits the large report to a scale that is more appropriate for that kind of in-depth review.
2) There seems to be an assumption that every geographic area is equally important in the USGCRP Strategic Plan. As 90% of the population lives in urban areas that represent less than 3% of the land area, perhaps an acknowledgement of targeted systems (urban, agricultural, etc.) should be included in all four goals.
3) The document is highly repetitive, and as result, probably ~30% too long. There are many instances of repetition and overlap across sections. This is probably the result of the multiple authorships of various chapters, but the entire document could use a single editing in this regard.
4) There are a number of factual and semantical errors in this document. Some will be listed below, but a rigorous proof read is in order.
5) The section on implementation seems much too brief and reads like a placeholder for a chapter that has yet to be written.
6) How are the boundaries between research and operational activities to be discerned from this plan?
7) By having four goals with equal weight, a reader could interpret that they are equal with regards to urgency, importance, and fraction of the allocated budget. Is there a subtle way to prioritize these without minimizing the importance of the other goals?
8) There are repeated references to high frequency and extreme events, but the word weather is not used at all.
9) Given the current political climate in D.C., it might be useful to substitute “climate services” with “climate information” everywhere in the document. There is a lot of confusion about what climate services are or should be, but climate information is more straightforward and carries none of the current negative connotations.
10) The phrase “use-inspired research” implies there is “useless research” that should be cut in favor of “use-inspired research”. Is any scientist going to say he/she is doing useless research? Program managers shouldn’t be funding useless research in the first place.
1) The document starts out by outlining four specific goals, each with a set of concise objectives, summarized in Box 1. On P. 12 the goals are stated in the text. Then the next two sections (“Unifying ideas” and “Cross-linking activities”) appear out of nowhere, are vague, disjointed, don’t fit in the flow of the presentation. All the items listed in these two sections are discussed in a more relevant fashion under the various objectives later. Recommend deleting these sections in their entirety (i.e. from P. 12, line 384 through the end of P. 15).
2) Table 1 – this seems to be an integration of research that falls under both objectives 1.1 and 1.2. This table should be split into two to mesh better with the two objectives. That is, Table 1 should have all the boxes except the one in the middle at right, and Table 2 should be just the box from the middle right of Table 1. Splitting into 2 tables to correspond to the two objectives makes the presentation more clear.
4) Line 586 – change “understanding of key of aspects…” to “understanding of key aspects…”
5) Line 639 – change “integrating of the social…” to “integrating the social…”
6) Lines 685-686 – A paleoclimate expert like John Kutzbach should be consulted, but it seems counter-intuitive that the glacial-interglacial cycle could transition “over periods as short as a decade”. This is not much time to build or melt a massive land ice sheet.
7) Box 4, Line 713 – There is nothing close to sufficient evidence that “Currently, ocean acidification is affecting the growth and lifespan of carbonate shell-forming organisms such as many plankton, mollusks, crustaceans, and urchins.” Studies in laboratories in isolation suggest that OA will affect these organisms, but these studies do not deal with natural oceanic systems. The effects observed have been summarized in Kroeker et al. 2010.
8) Box 5, Line 767 – “We know from scientific measurements that sea level has been rising steadily over the past few decades (see Figure B5.2.). This rise is due primarily to expansion of the ocean as it warms and melting of land ice (glaciers and ice sheets), with each of these factors making a roughly equal contribution to the current rate of sea level rise.” The current estimate of the relative contribution of warming to the global sea-level rise rate shown in B5.2 is about 30%, not 50%. The 50% estimate was biased high due to XBT fall errors (Wijffels et al. 2008). The 30% estimate is based on Levitus et al 2009, Ishii and Kimoto 2009, and Church et al 2011.
9) Line 1354 – Delete “entirely”. It is incorrect to state that decadal prediction depends “entirely” on data assimilation. There are many more factors, like model fidelity, systematic errors, and so on.
10) Text Box 6
a. Line 1392 – the “Antarctic ozone hole is starting to recover” is probably correct, though this year was the 9th largest on record. It is not expected to return to 1978 levels until 2070, so recovery is expected to be slow with interannual variation.
b. Line 1393 – change “then decreased following the 1987 Montreal Protocol” to “then decreased following the 1987 Montreal Protocol and additional amendments agreed upon between 1990 and 1999.”
11) Box 9, Line 1314 – the credit is wrong. It should be “…and Aqua and its Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer for EOS.” Although the background of figure B9.2 is MODIS, the sea ice observations are from Nimbus 7/SMMR (left) and Aqua/AMSR-E (right).
12) Text Box 7, Line 1582 – decadal climate predictability. This box doesn’t address two additional issues related to decadal climate variability:
a. The characteristics of this variability may interact with changes brought about by underlying global change.
b. Decadal variability may at times act to either amplify, or damp, the underlying anthropogenically forced climate changes. This point has implications for our ability to estimate accurately the underlying global changes during particular decades and introduces uncertainly that needs to be resolved.
Comments from Individual CHDGC Members
Objective 2.3 “Enhancing climate services”
This section defines “climate services” as the “provision of information products” (line 2173), which is an overly narrow formulation (see NRC, 2009 [Informing Decisions] for a more comprehensive discussion of climate-related decision support). A key to decision support is the role of climate communication networks, and an appropriate Objective 2.3 for the Program might be called “Enhancing Climate Communication Networks”.
Climate information is being generated and communicated to research, resource managers, decision makers, and the public through various organizations and various forms. Climate information needs to be translated and delivered in ways which the end-user community has defined as most suitable for their use. However, in delivering these products care must be exercised in maintaining the integrity of the climate information and insuring that the best available information and technologies are used in providing this information to the user communities. The delivery system and development of the translational expertise need to be jointly evolved to insure user satisfaction and product integrity.
To meet the legislative mandate of Program, it will need to engage with agencies that are not now part of the program, and particularly with centers of social science expertise in government. These can be found in the Departments of Housing and Urban Development, Education, Homeland Security, Treasury, Labor, etc.
Earth System Understanding
The Plan proposes to include efforts to advance fundamental understanding of the human components of the Earth system. Including the human components in Earth system science presents something of a “grand challenge” to the Program that requires more than incremental changes. For example, the need for process research, observations, modeling, and assessment applies to socio-economic and social-ecological systems, as well as the physical systems that have been the core of the Program in the past—and to the total Earth system of which all of these are components.
Instead of the thorough rethinking of the Program that seems likely for meeting the challenge, the Plan indicates incremental changes and in some cases does not specify even these in detail. There is a general reference to “the significant role that human activities play in global climate change” (lines 623-624), but no further detail. In this area, the Plan might additionally reference the need to understand the social-ecological interactions related to consumption choices, governance and institutional structures, and valuation of natural resources that intersect with earth system dynamics and change. It needs to recognize the need for fundamental research by the social science community and for integrating social, biological, and physical sciences in advancing Earth system science and global change research. These needs exist across scales, and such research is essential to understanding the nature and determination of critical thresholds and cascading interacting processes.
The Plan also needs to recognize the need for research support for further study of valuation of ecosystem services relative to societal factors, attention to “slow variables” associated with social-ecological systems (e.g., education, social networks, and ecosystem supporting services). Integrating adaptation and mitigation research will also be needed during the period when the social-ecological system will be changing due to global changes in the physical Earth system. A concerted research effort in the coming decade will be necessary to frame institutional and educational responses for coming century regarding such evolving changes as Arctic Ocean opening, sea level rise, increasing environmental migration, invasive species expansions, ocean acidification, loss of biodiversity on land and the oceans, changes in international trade and cultural values, etc.
“Social system dynamics” are mentioned here, but there is no elaboration. Recent events associated with the global recession, “Arab spring”, and La Niña-drought connections in SW United States provide apt examples of the global teleconnections operating of social-ecological systems across the world today. Compared with the 20th Century, the 21st Century presents a much more interconnected Earth system sometimes called the anthropocene era. The research enterprise needs to reflect this transition of Earth system dynamics and thresholds. The ability to transition without global collapse is dependent on how our integrative research approach guides the adaptation and mitigation decision landscape and public awareness.
The connections and integration of the CCTP and the USGCRP research and implementation strategies deserves careful attention in the Plan. It may require a task force under a Presidential Executive Order to develop an appropriate strategy.
Box 8 contains no reference to the 2011 Carbon Cycle Science Plan.
It would be useful to further clarify the goals of more sophisticated Earth system, models and to distinguish what is meant by an Earth system model from integrated assessment models and other model types. The usage in some places suggests models more of type used in current GCM’s rather than integrated assessment models or other Earth system models that more explicitly incorporate the social aspects of the earth system dynamic. Research at the interface between sub-components of the Earth system as well as improved process representation of the subcomponents, will need particular attention to advance the integrated system modeling. The use of simplified “toy models” can provide a framework to develop an integrated modeling system more rapidly than building more complex versions of fully resolved models.