Chapter 3. Integrating Activities And Perspectives

To provide the basis for continuing advancement in scientific understanding and to fulfill the U.S. commitment to international leadership in global change research, the USGCRP supports a number of integrative and cooperative efforts, which contribute in varying degrees to all of the priority environmental science issues discussed in Chapter 2:

Observing and Monitoring Global Change

Observations of the global environment are critical for documenting global change and for providing the basis for how and why changes are occurring. To advance our understanding of the Earth system and our ability to predict how it will change in the future requires detailed knowledge of the behavior and state of the atmosphere, the land and its vegetative cover, the oceans, and the polar regions.

Systematic monitoring and observation on scales from regional to global requires not only satellite-based observations, but also a wealth of diverse, detailed observations from in situ (on site) measurements. A strong infrastructure of surface observation sites is essential for research and for resource management and planning.

Only with information from this full range of observational efforts will a capability be developed to document and understand global change, to determine and understand its consequences for humans and ecosystems, and to plan and evaluate measures to aid in adaptation to and mitigation of change.

Moving Toward an Integrated Global Observing and Monitoring System

The goal of the USGCRP observation and monitoring program is to ensure the availability of a long-term, high-quality observational record of the state of the Earth system, its natural variability, and changes that are occurring over extended time scales.

Current Developments

Global Observing System

Over the past year, the USGCRP has intensified planning activities in support of international efforts to design and implement a global observing system. This system will build upon the present system of meteorological satellites and surface networks. Existing meteorological satellite and surface systems, with some adjustments in procedures and instruments, can provide much of the information that is needed. USGCRP efforts are focused on determining how best to augment available observation capabilities, on developing the tools for cost-effectively making new measurements, and on assembling and processing observations taken in the past for use in global change studies.

Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission

NASA is on schedule for a 1997 launch of the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM), a cooperative program with Japan, to get the first direct measurements of rainfall in regions of the world where convective precipitation is most frequent and intense.

Landsat and the Earth Observing System

The Landsat and Earth Observing System (EOS) satellite programs are also moving along on schedule, with important launches scheduled for 1998. EOS will provide data sets of global measurements related to the atmosphere, solar radiation, the land surface, the oceans, and the cryosphere. The table below summarizes the EOS contributions to USGCRP research goals. The table lists the various sets of measurements to be taken by the EOS series of satellites and their applicability to research on key global change environmental science issues.

NASA Scatterometer

The NASA Scatterometer (NSCAT) was successfully launched on the Japanese Advanced Earth Observing Satellite (ADEOS) in August 1996. The six NSCAT antennas scan two 600-km bands of the ocean, providing data on surface wind speed and direction at 25-km resolution under both clear and cloudy conditions. Winds drive ocean current, which transports the heat stored in the ocean. By redistributing the heat in both atmosphere and ocean, winds play a crucial role in moderating the world's climate. With its repeated global coverage, NSCAT is the only means of measuring ocean surface winds at the temporal and spatial scales adequate for the study of global change, while also providing spatial resolution adequate for investigation of hurricanes and storms.

With two more NASA Scatterometers to be launched on ADEOS-II and ADEOS-III in 1999 and 2002, continuous global wind measurements will be realized for at least a decade. This will allow studies linking seasonal, interannual, and decadal variabilities, and enhance understanding of how long-term and global changes are manifested in local and short-term weather and natural hazards.

See Figure 6

Tropical Ocean Array

NOAA support for the Tropical Ocean Array (TOA) of ocean buoys in the mid-Pacific, deployed and maintained in cooperation with other nations of the Pacific Rim, is ensuring real-time observations of surface and upper ocean temperatures and ocean surface conditions. These data are needed in order to "initialize" the models that are being used to predict upcoming fluctuations of the seasonal climate, including droughts and flooding rains in regions of the United States.

Observations of Changing Atmospheric Composition

NOAA observations of atmospheric composition are providing several interesting findings. The atmospheric concentrations of key chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) are now starting to drop, which should lead to the start of the recovery of the stratospheric ozone layer over the next decade. The annual increase in the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, which dropped following the Mount Pinatubo volcanic eruption, is again at significant levels. Studies of changes in the isotopic ratios of CO2 suggest that the changes in climate resulting from the eruption (i.e., cooling and shifted precipitation patterns) may have had an influence in slowing the rate of rise in its concentration. Understanding these changes may help in estimating future biogeochemical feedbacks involving carbon stored in the soils and vegetation.

Global Positioning System/Meteorology (GPSMet)

NSF, NOAA, NASA, and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) combined with industrial partners Orbital Sciences Corporation and Allen Osborne Associates to support the 1995 launch of a proof-of-concept version of a GPSMet satellite, which is able to provide about 500 measurements daily of the temperature profile of the atmosphere. Initial results compare well with measurements by weather balloons from 40 km down to ~5 km above the surface, thereby potentially extending the information provided by the balloon measurements well up into the stratosphere and out over the world's oceans.

The expanded record from this satellite and follow-ons being planned will provide much more consistent and extensive global coverage to much higher altitudes than is currently available. This will lead to improved forecasts of the weather and seasonal climate fluctuations.

Extending Accurate Records into the Past

NOAA and NASA are also making significant progress in assembling and reprocessing observations over the past 30 years into completely self-consistent data sets of lower and upper atmospheric behavior. These reanalyses of past data are extending accurate records back into the past using the best analysis techniques and understanding now available. Since there have been some quite significant climate fluctuations and changes over the past several decades, these data sets will be essential in testing computer models of the atmosphere.

Global Change Data, Products, and Information Services

Data and information on global change are needed by users for a wide range of purposes, including:

Data and information to meet these needs cover the physical, chemical, biological, and social sciences. Important basic data and derived data products include everything from temperature and pressure in the atmosphere, to current and salinity in the oceans, to vegetation and population on land. The spatial scales range from local observations to globally integrated patterns. The temporal scales range from instantaneous observations to multi-century trends, both past and future. The spectrum of data sources includes:

Meeting User Needs for Full and Open Access to Useful Products and Services

The goal of the data, products, and information services element of the USGCRP is to provide to all users ready and affordable access to the full spectrum of global change data, products, and information in useful forms.

Global Change Data and Information System (GCDIS)

The USGCRP has endorsed the concept of a distributed (decentralized) database. The Federal agencies involved in the USGCRP have cooperated to establish the Global Change Data and Information System. GCDIS builds upon the mission resources and responsibilities of each agency and links the data and information services of the agencies to each other and to users. In addition to GCDIS, an associated Global Change Research Information Office (GCRIO) was established in 1993, to provide a USGCRP information resource service both nationally and internationally.

Policy Statements on Data Management for Global Change Research were issued in 1991, by the President's Office of Science and Technology Policy. Detailed GCDIS plans were published in Program and Implementation Plans (in 1992 and 1994, respectively), which were endorsed by the President's Science and Technology Adviser. GCDIS now includes more than 70 data center, library, and information service nodes in seven Federal agencies. Both GCDIS and GCRIO can be accessed on the Internet by web browsers and gopher as well as by phone, fax, e-mail, and postal mail (see Appendix E for contact information).

New Challenges

New challenges facing the Global Change Data and Information System include:

Policy Statements on Data Management for Global Change Research

  • The U.S. Global Change Research Program requires an early and continuing commitment to the establishment, maintenance, validation, description, accessibility, and distribution of high-quality, long-term data sets.

  • Full and open sharing of the full suite of global data sets for all global change researchers is a fundamental objective.

  • Preservation of all data needed for long-term global change research is required. For each and every global change data parameter, there should be at least one explicitly designated archive. Procedures and criteria for setting priorities for data acquisition, retention, and purging should be developed by participating agencies, both nationally and internationally. A clearinghouse process should be established to prevent the purging and loss of important data sets.

  • Data archives must include easily accessible information about the data holdings, including quality assessments, supporting ancillary information, and guidance and aids for locating and obtaining the data.

  • National and international standards should be used to the greatest extent possible for media and for processing and communication of global data sets.

  • Data should be provided at the lowest possible cost to global change researchers in the interest of full and open access to data. This cost should, as a first principle, be no more than the marginal cost of filling a specific user request. Agencies should act to streamline administrative arrangements for exchanging data among researchers.

  • For those programs in which selected principal investigators have initial periods of exclusive data use, data should be made openly available as soon as they become widely useful. In each case, the funding agency should explicitly define the duration of any exclusive-use period.

Earth System Science

Global environmental changes are the result of a complex interplay among a number of natural and human systems. The totality of those systems has come to be called the Earth system. From its inception, the USGCRP has been driven by the philosophy that a holistic view of the Earth system is essential to develop answers to fundamentally important questions about environmental change and its impacts and consequences.

Earth System Science  refers to the many linkages and relationships among the Earth's air, water, land, ice, plants, and animals, including humans. Of necessity, Earth system science requires a broad range of studies that involve observations, analyses, theory, modeling, and assessment. The scope of these studies ranges from regional to global and encompasses phenomena and processes within the atmosphere, land, oceans, and biosphere.

Earth system science is a paradigm for integrating diverse sets of knowledge developed within the elements of the USGCRP, to derive a view of the Earth's environment as a whole. The integration, testing, and application of existing and new knowledge produced by the full suite of USGCRP programs is proceeding by means of fully coupled and interactive Earth system models.

Toward a Predictive Understanding of Variations and Changes in the Earth System

The goal of the Earth system science component of the USGCRP is to support the long-term, integrated, and exploratory research needed to gain a predictive understanding of the interactions among the physical, chemical, geological, biological, and solar processes that determine the functioning of the Earth system and its trends and fluctuations on global and regional scales.

Human Contributions and Responses to Global Change

From its inception, the USGCRP has considered people to be an integral component of the integrated Earth system. As a result, USGCRP agencies have developed a complementary set of programs designed to improve knowledge of the ways that humans contribute and respond to global change.

Human contributions and responses research within the USGCRP focuses on three major forms of interaction:

Toward an Understanding of the Human Dimensions

The goal of this component of the USGCRP is to identify, understand, and analyze how human activities contribute to changes in natural systems, how the consequences of natural and human-induced change affect the health and well-being of humans and their institutions, and how humans could potentially respond to problems associated with environmental change.

Human Contributions to Global Change

This line of research focuses on the ways that human activities contribute to changes in other components of the Earth system. Research on human contributions is critical for understanding the complex dynamics that result in longer term climate change, changes in atmospheric chemistry, and changes in land cover and ecosystems.

USGCRP research examining the dynamics of land-use change in tropical forests, for example, has highlighted the complex interplay among factors as diverse as soil quality, the presence of roadways, fluctuations in world markets for various commodities, and legal systems that influence land ownership. Given the presence of these and other variables, predicting future rates of deforestation and reforestation cannot be done through simple extrapolation of past trends.

Responses to the Consequences of Global Change

A second major line of research focuses on the consequences of natural and human-induced change for the health and well-being of humans and their institutions. As climate fluctuates and changes, as the composition of gases in the atmosphere is altered, and as land cover and ecosystems are transformed, the impacts of changing environmental conditions on humans can be dramatic and diverse.

Research examining the ways that humans respond to environmental change has shown that farmers have adapted practices to a diversity of climates around the globe and to considerable short- and medium-term climate variability. The record of adaptation in farming suggests considerable potential to adapt to long-term climate change through changes in crops and cultivars raised, through altered tillage, irrigation, and harvesting practices, and through changes in planting schedules. Successful adaptations by farmers could well offset much of the deleterious impacts on global food production associated with a doubling of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. However, the opportunities for and costs and effectiveness of adaptation strategies vary by location, with the implication that the consequences for agriculture will be highly variable across areas.

Successful adaptation is facilitated by the ability to accurately anticipate or predict future changes at regional or local scales, an ability that is currently weak with regard to long-term climate change. For shorter term fluctuations, such as weather patterns associated with the El Niño Southern Oscillation, USGCRP research has shown that advances in the ability to predict these events can significantly enhance the ability of farmers, forest managers, fishers, and others to adapt successfully to variable climatic conditions. An important question to investigate is whether and how long-term climate change may affect the ability to predict short-term fluctuations and the ability to adapt successfully to these fluctuations.

See Figure 7

Proactive Strategies for Dealing with Global Change

The third major line of research also focuses on responses; but, rather than identifying the ways that humans react to change already underway, it concentrates on the proactive ways that people and institutions anticipate and develop strategies for dealing with different facets of global change. Among the kinds of USGCRP research related to this theme are projects that analyze the strategies that resource managers employ to deal with changing environmental conditions.

For example, research on water management approaches involves modeling and analysis of regional hydrology, water markets, and ecosystem dynamics. One computer-assisted management system that will be tested in California soon is aimed at increasing the flexibility of water managers to deal with changing water quality, supply, and demand.

Integrated Assessment Methods and Models

In addition to examining these separate dimensions of human and environmental interaction, researchers focusing on human contributions and responses to global change also have recognized the need for improving models and other representations of the complex feedbacks among human and natural systems over time. Progress has been made, for example, in the development and refinement of methods for integrated assessment.

As a demonstration of this progress, various types of climate models have been linked with models that replicate economic activity and the propensity of different populations to favor various strategies for dealing with environmental problems. Through integration and refinement of these types of models, decisionmakers and citizens can:

International Research Cooperation

The United States -- through its scientists, scientific research institutions, and Federal agencies -- strongly supports and participates in international efforts that bring research scientists and their institutions and programs together in internationally coordinated research programs through multilateral organizations and bilateral arrangements. Only through such coordinated efforts can the critical mass of scientists, scientific and financial resources, and management support be aggregated to achieve the objectives of global change research and assessment.

The U.S. Commitment to Leadership and Coordination

The goal of the international research cooperation component of the USGCRP is to support and assist the program and its participating scientists and their interactions with related international research, observing, and assessment activities and in the full and open international sharing of data and research findings.

The Major International Science Programs

The core of the international efforts in this area are the three major international programs developed by the research community to address scientific questions related to global change:

These programs and a wide range of bilateral and multilateral research activities have identified many of the key scientific problems that need to be addressed on the global scale; have developed the scientific rationale and plans to resolve these questions; and provide an international framework within which national research programs such as the USGCRP can both address national research objectives and work with other nations to gain knowledge from coordinated programs that are seeking to resolve global- and regional-scale scientific questions.

See Figure 8

Support for International Scientific Assessments of Global Change

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

The United States has joined with other nations in supporting the IPCC as the vehicle for organizing state-of-the-science climate change assessments. The IPCC was jointly established by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme in 1988, in order to: 1) Assess available scientific information on climate change; 2) assess the environmental and socio-economic impacts of climate change; and 3) formulate response strategies.

The IPCC's comprehensive Second Assessment Report was published in 1996. A number of U.S. scientists served as lead authors for chapters of the Second Assessment Report and many U.S. scientists served as co-authors, contributors, and reviewers.

A Third Assessment Report is being planned by the IPCC for publication in 2001. The United States continues to co-chair IPCC Working Group II and the USGCRP supports the Working Group II Technical Support Unit. The new IPCC chair-elect is also from the United States. The Working Group II co-chairs and Technical Support Unit oversaw the preparation of the IPCC Technical Paper on Technologies, Policies and Measures for Mitigating Climate Change, which was published in November 1996.

The IPCC is currently preparing four special reports in response to requests from the Conference of Parties (COP) to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change:

In addition, the IPCC is convening a number of workshops at the request of the COP.

International Ozone Assessment

The United States served as a leader in the preparation of the 1994 international Scientific Assessment of Ozone Depletion, which continued an international series started in the 1980s. The ozone assessments have provided crucial scientific information for the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer and its subsequent amendments and adjustments. As a follow-up to the overall assessment, a special assessment on the atmospheric effects of aircraft is currently underway under the leadership of NASA. It is expected that a report on subsonic aircraft will be completed in 1997, and that the final planned assessment of the impacts of supersonic aircraft will be completed in 1998.

Regional Efforts in Global Change Research and Related Capacity-Building

Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research (IAI)

The IAI was established under an agreement between the United States and 16 Western Hemisphere nations to promote optimal use of available resources for global change research and to augment the scientific capacity of the region. The IAI Directorate, located in Brazil, was opened in 1996. The IAI has issued two calls for scientific proposals, and grants are currently being awarded. The results of these awarded proposals will serve as the first examples of IAI-fostered regional cooperation. Additional calls for scientific proposals will be announced in early and mid-1997. Scientific data and information provided by IAI researchers will be managed as a common resource for the region and should provide baseline information for use in regional planning.

The Global Change System for Analysis, Research, and Training (START)

The United States continues to provide leadership and funding support for the joint IGBP/IHDP/WCRP START program, which reflects the U.S. commitment to build capacities for global change research in the developing world. START regional research networks promote focused research and training on regional issues of global relevance, integrate and synthesize results, and provide input to decisionmakers at national and regional levels.

START networks in Asia and Africa have initiated studies on land-use and land-cover change, climate variability and agriculture, and regional modeling of climate and biospheric changes. START regional centers have been established in Beijing, Bangkok, New Delhi, and Nairobi.

U.S. Country Studies Program (USCSP)

The United States initiated the Country Studies Program (USCSP) in 1992 to help developing countries meet their commitments under the Framework Convention on Climate Change, and to contribute to meeting the obligation of the industrialized countries under the Climate Convention to provide additional resources for technical assistance.

This program, a joint initiative of 10 Federal agencies, is making USGCRP research and related capabilities available to other nations to enable them to improve their understanding of climate change, strengthen their participation in the IPCC process, and assist in the development of their national communications as called for under the Climate Convention. The USCSP has assisted 55 developing countries and countries with economies in transition around the world, providing training and analytical support to more than 1,000 analysts in these countries.

Global Change Education and Communication

Global change education and communication seeks to provide useful information on the results of scientific research. In addition, it is an effort to help lay the foundation for the understanding that is needed in order to interpret and apply scientific findings. The application of knowledge from research and assessments to the challenges faced by society calls for a broad-based public understanding of global change.

Encouraging Global Change Science Literacy

The goal of the education and communication component of the USGCRP is to increase public awareness of the Earth system and how it is changing and to promote global change education.

Highlights of Current Developments

Global Change Educational Materials

A number of new global change educational resources have been released recently or will be available later in 1997:

Global Change Research Information Office (GCRIO)

The U.S. Global Change Research Information Office (GCRIO) World Wide Web site provides access to a number of on-line environmental educational resources ( ):

USGCRP Seminar Series

The USGCRP Seminar Series is continuing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, in 1997. Each month's session offers a presentation and discussion of a topic drawn from the latest scientific studies of the global environment and its interaction with societal activities and the economy. The format is designed to encourage consideration of important research findings in the context of the issues facing decisionmakers. The topics and speakers are selected for their potential interest to a wide audience, both governmental and nongovernmental.

Thus far in FY97, seminar topics have included:

For information on this series, contact the USGCRP Coordination Office (see Appendix E for contact information).

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