Applications and Human Dimensions
One of the fundamental objectives of GOALS is to assist in the development of an integrated climate prediction system for a broad range of applications on seasonal-to-interannual time scales. To reach that goal, the panel recommends that GOALS should encourage research activities in applications and human dimensions. The applications and human dimensions component of GOALS represents those activities that need to be undertaken to assess the implications of seasonal-to-interannual climate variability for human and natural systems. Human activities encompass, for instance, social, industrial, agricultural, hydrological, fishery, commodity, and various other economic activities. Importantly, as prediction skill improves as expected through the implementation of GOALS, it is crucial that the predictive information provided be in a form that is useful for practical applications in social, economic, industrial, and other resource management activities. In the past, the physical scientific community has grappled with this problem, albeit with some lack of success on account of the rather substantial gaps between the needs of the user for information and the products generated by forecast models. Often, there has been a significant deficiency in the lead time provided by forecast guidance and in forecast accuracy. These shortcomings will, hopefully, be bridged through the implementation of GOALS.
The activities envisaged under this component of GOALS will, by definition, be multidisciplinary and cross-sectoral. The GOALS Panel recognizes that the interfaces between the various communities involved in research and applications (particularly human dimensions) have not been explored before under any other physical sciences research program. As such, this aspect of GOALS poses new challenges to the organization of the implementation of the program, hence
the reason for the panel to highlight this element as a specific objective of GOALS.
Close collaboration and coordination will be needed between physical scientists, and their colleagues in the biological sciences, social science, economics, hydrology, public policy, and others who participate in programs pertaining to the human dimensions of global change. This involves, for example, the applications community (those interested in variations in rainfall and temperature as they affect agriculture, fisheries, and water resources), the social science community (those interested in understanding impacts on human systems and institutional issues associated with the use of forecast information), and the physical sciences community (those involved in producing climate information and the development of forecast models and operational climate predictions). For example, for economists to determine the economic value of increased forecast skill in a particular region, the physical science community should identify appropriate regional climate variables, choose appropriate forecast representations related to those variables, and characterize the skill level and limitations associated with the probabilistic forecasts generated, typically, by models. Conversely, for physical scientists to develop predictive information products tailored for specific regions or sectors, the social science and economics research communities need to provide insights into the information necessary to assess the impacts on various sectors, the nature of potential users, and their specific forecast product needs.
A two-pronged approach that is well coordinated is considered necessary with a range of activities to be undertaken by the two communities. At this stage, it is felt premature to specify, with any great precision, the exact types of projects that should be considered. There are several issues involved in the interaction between the different scientific communities, including rather vast differences in terminology and importantly the specification of requirements for observations and model output products. These clarifications should be developed via an ongoing dialogue between the communities under this component of GOALS. Generally, two classes of efforts appear to be needed: (1) research into human dimensions and other applications such as those supported by the USGCRP and the International Human Dimensions of Global Change Programme (IHDP) with a focus on the seasonal-to-interannual time scale and (2) a specific effort by the physical science community to provide practical applications of physical science research that take into account needs identified by the human dimensions community.
The GOALS Panel has deliberated carefully on how to proceed in this somewhat unexplored area. In the past, the research and applications products developed were primarily of interest only to the physical science community. Other applications sectors had to interpret these products the best they could. Moreover, the requirements of the applications and human dimensions sectors were not integrated into the planning of research experiments in climate prediction.
The panel feels strongly that this situation needs to be rectified in order that maximum benefit is obtained from improvements in studies on climate variability and seasonal-to-interannual prediction. The panel further recognizes that this objective of GOALS cannot be realized without the direct participation of and interaction with these other communities.
The proposed interaction between physical sciences and the user communities is illustrated in Figure 4-1.
Determining Vulnerability and Characterizing Impacts
A considerable effort is needed for information to be gathered and analyses to be performed by applications researchers to determine the economic sectors within a region considered to be most vulnerable to climate variability and climate change. A further dimension in complexity is introduced when attempts are made to quantify and characterize the impacts of climate variability. Good examples of the problems associated with determining vulnerability and the characterization of social and economic impacts are the periodic assessments produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) under the auspices of the United Nations (IPCC, 1990, 1996a). While the time scale of interest to the IPCC is long-term climate change, and that specifically induced by anthropogenic activity, the broad subject of applications and impact assessments contains the very same ingredients that will need to be addressed by applications in the seasonal-to-interannual time scale. To an extent, the shorter time scale injects a more serious challenge because of its relatively rapid verifiability. In fact, the credibility and accuracy of the forecast products, and the manner in which they are put to use, is likely to determine their acceptance by the broader applications communities where decisions are made on a daily basis that have a direct impact on finances and resource allocations.
The activities recommended by the panel to be carried out to investigate vulnerability and impacts of seasonal-to-interannual variability include determination of the following:
- economic sectors in a given region most susceptible to seasonal-to-interannual climate variability;
- manner in which societies and social institutions have adapted or responded to climate variability in the past, as well as identification of the insights that historical experience can provide for new forecasting systems;
- sectors of society that could most benefit from improved forecasts;
- impact of seasonal-to-interannual variability on water resources and the implications of this variability for flood control and conservation decisions;
- impacts of different crop productions associated with seasonal-to-interannual climate variability on other commodities and trade;
- impacts of climate variations on agricultural productivity and on the national economies of various countries;
- human health impacts of ENSO and monsoon as well as their impact on, for example, natural resource management and socioeconomic activity;
- impacts of ENSO and monsoon variability and other predictable elements of the climate system on precipitation, wind, storm tracks, hurricanes, floods, and so forth in key regions of the globe; and
- impacts of other predictable modes of seasonal-to-interannual climate variations on crop production, forestry resources, fisheries, water resources, and others.
The need for ''regional specificity'' presents a particular challenge for GOALS. Both the applications and the social science communities require regional information that is as detailed as possible. Yet predictability inherently becomes less accurate when applied to smaller scales where the natural variability is larger. To address this issue, the panel recommends that the GOALS community should:
- make special efforts to enhance regional forecasts where predictability has been or can be demonstrated and develop prediction products tailored for specific regions and sectors;
- develop techniques to characterize the uncertainties associated with those regions where large variability is unrelated or only partially related to predictable large-scale forcing;
- undertake investigations into the limits of regional predictability; and
- develop predictive capabilities of the environmental quantities most useful for applications in a particular region.
Characterization of Information Needs
The panel recognizes that there are several important issues currently inhibiting the interaction between the physical science community and the applications communities to whom forecast products are made available. Some result from a lack of understanding of the needs of various applications sectors or due to limitations in current forecasting skill, while others stem from difficulties in transforming the typical probabilistic forecasts into informed decision making. One major problem, namely the lack of lead time provided in forecasts, should be substantially alleviated by the implementation of GOALS, given its primary focus is the improvement of climate predictions in the seasonal-to-interannual time scale. Nevertheless, improved and more specific requirements for information are required. To this end, the GOALS Panel recommends that the applications sector and social scientists include the following in their activities:
- an assessment of decision-making frameworks and mechanisms currently in place and how they can be adjusted to utilize forecast information more effectively;
- the evaluation of the value of improved forecasts and the cost impact of forecast failures in various applications sectors; and
- an assessment of the role of institutional responses to the impacts of climate variability and climate change and the options available for adjustments or adaptation.
Similarly, the panel recommends that the physical science community undertake the following activities:
- review the information and climate prediction products that can be provided in the seasonal-to-interannual time scale today, and suggest steps that can be taken to address currently unmet requirements; and
- work with the applications community to determine those variables that, when predicted, will have optimal impact.
Assessment Techniques and Communications
In the past, environmental assessments have been conducted primarily within individual sectors, and usually when confronted with a specific problem or issue. Often, they are retrospective and provide little guidance on how management decisions are to be made in the future, particularly in those regions susceptible to seasonal-to-interannual climate variability. The panel feels that this is an area that requires serious attention as a part of the implementation of GOALS. Even today, there are several examples of where seasonal-to-interannual prediction information can be used to help decision making in agriculture, water resource management, the distribution of fuels for energy, and the mitigation or prevention of vector-borne disease outbreaks. Most of these examples derive from the currently understood patterns of ENSO impact on global and regional temperature and precipitation distributions.
The expanded scope of the research that will be conducted under GOALS should improve significantly the accuracy and lead time of climate predictions, and their potential impact on various applications sectors. The panel also feels that a much broader multi-sectoral and multi-disciplinary approach is needed to develop techniques in integrated assessments. Furthermore, there is a need to facilitate the communication of information and products to and between the different scientific and user communities.
To pursue the above, the panel recommends that the applications and social science communities include the following activities in their programs under GOALS:
- an assessment of how probabilistic forecasts of climate variations could be incorporated in resource management decision making (i.e., decision making relative to the uncertainty of the forecast); and
- the development and refinement of improved assessment techniques that characterize and integrate the implications of seasonal-to-interannual climate variability.
Corresponding to the above, the physical science community should investigate how prediction information, albeit with uncertainty, can be presented in terms most useful for decision makers.
The execution of the applications and human dimensions aspect of GOALS will need institutional mechanisms involving national and international programs directed at transforming and using the results of scientific research. The panel recommends that close and formal links be established with existing and future institutional structures involved in such activities. The IRI, the Inter-American Institute, the WMO Climate Information and Prediction System (CLIPS), the IHDP, and the SCPP are highlighted as important initial programs for this activity. There will most likely be others as GOALS is implemented.
To facilitate the above activities, close coordination is recommended between the GOALS Panel, and its working groups, and the NRC's recently formed Committee on the Human Dimensions of Global Change.