- Observing and monitoring global change
- Global change data, products, and information services
- Earth system science
- Human contributions and responses to global change
- International research cooperation
- Global change education and communication.
Recent advances in observing, data processing, and communications technologies have provided unprecedented opportunities for the development of an integrated global observing system. At the same time, existing key measurements must be maintained to the extent possible to minimize avoidable gaps in the data records. Such gaps reduce the ability to estimate trends and to predict and assess global change and its associated impacts.
Moving Toward an Integrated Global Observing and Monitoring SystemThe goal of the USGCRP observation and monitoring program is to ensure a long-term, high-quality record of the state of the Earth system, its natural variability, and changes that are occurring.
A New Era of Satellite Observations
A new era of satellite observations of the Earth will begin during 1998, as crucial data from the first of several Earth Observing System (EOS) missions start to become available. Significant additional steps will be taken in FY99. The EOS spacecraft are a key component of a long-term coordinated research effort to study the Earth as a global system and the effects of natural and human- induced changes on the global environment. The EOS missions will provide data that will make significant contributions to research being conducted throughout the USGCRP.
Efforts are well underway to develop an Integrated Global Observing Strategy (IGOS). IGOS is being developed to ensure that those nations that are providers of satellite-based and in situ measurements work cooperatively to meet the needs of the international research, environmental monitoring, and impact assessment communities as they investigate large-scale environmental issues, such as climate change.
The concept of IGOS arose from the realization that the integration of existing and new worldwide space-based and in situ observing capabilities into a coherent system, or family of systems, will most efficiently serve the needs of society while meeting the requirements of the scientific community. IGOS is envisioned as a mechanism to improve coordination between data users--especially those scientists working on projects under the World Climate Research Programme and the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme--and data providers in the definition and operation of global observing programs. IGOS is being developed to match observational requirements with existing and planned observing systems and to create a forum for national and international agencies to commit to providing specific needed capabilities.
As a first step to test the potential effectiveness of IGOS in ensuring the long-term availability and use of observational data, six prototype projects are being undertaken by the international Committee on Earth Observation Satellites, other data providers, and teams of researchers, working with the International Group of Funding Agencies for Global Change Research. The projects involve observations pertaining to:
The following subsections highlight major recent accomplishments and plans for FY99.
- Ocean conditions
- Upper air conditions (winds, temperature, and humidity)
- Stratospheric ozone concentrations
- Forest cover
- Biological activity in the oceans
- Disaster management.
Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission
The first mission in the EOS era, the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM), is a cooperative program with Japan. The TRMM satellite carries instruments to measure three-dimensional rainfall distribution and total rainfall, cloud distribution, the Earth's radiation balance, and lightning.
TRMM observations will be particularly important for studies of the global hydrological cycle and for testing the ability of models to simulate and predict climate accurately on a seasonal to interannual time scales, including especially El Niño events. This NASA satellite was successfully launched by Japan in November 1997.
Images from the Sea-viewing Wide Field-of-view Sensor (SeaWiFS), launched in 1997 on the SeaStar satellite, are playing a major role in understanding the behavior and consequences of the 1997-98 El Niño event and in other global change research. The SeaWiFS data, which are the first readily available ocean-color data in more than 10 years, provide scientists with a new source of information about the global biosphere.
Ocean color is largely determined by the concentration of microscopic marine plants called phytoplankton. Accurate measurements of phytoplankton concentration from this instrument are important to climate and global change research and to local and regional economic concerns (see Color Plate 6 below). Measurements being taken include observations of coastal blooms of algae, which have been associated with cholera outbreaks around the world. Early detection of these blooms, and subsequent in-water sampling, may allow actions that could significantly reduce the impact of such outbreaks. Red tides, ocean dumping of organic and chemical waste, and, conceivably, oil spills can also be tracked with SeaWiFS data.
Color Plate 6. U.S. East Coast High-Resolution Ocean Chlorophyll Image from SeaWiFS
U.S. East Coast High-Resolution Ocean Chlorophyll Image from SeaWiFS. Ocean color is largely determined by the concentration of microscopic marine plants called phytoplankton. Because different types of phytoplankton contain different concentrations of chlorophyll, they appear as different colors to sensitive satellite instruments such as the Sea-viewing Wide Field-of-View Sensor (SeaWiFS).
Images from SeaWiFS, launched in 1997 on the SeaStar satellite, are playing a major role in understanding the behavior and consequences of the 1997-98 El Niño event and in other global change research. The SeaWiFS data, which are the first readily available ocean-color data in more than 10 years, provide scientists with a new source of information about the global biosphere.
Accurate measurements of phytoplankton concentration from this instrument are important both to climate and global change research and to local and regional economic concerns. Measurements being taken include observations of coastal blooms of algae, which have been associated with cholera outbreaks around the world. Early detection of these blooms, and subsequent in-water sampling, may allow actions that could significantly reduce the impact of such outbreaks. Red tides, ocean dumping of organic and chemical waste, and, conceivably, oil spills can also be tracked with SeaWiFS data.
Provided by the SeaWiFS Project, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center.
SeaStar and SeaWiFS are private-sector enterprises that benefited from a government-industry partnership. This partnership is expected to lead to commercial data applications, such as the development of maps of the changing regions of high biological primary productivity in the oceans that are important for commercial fishing.
The EOS AM-1 satellite will carry five state-of-the-art instruments to observe the continents, oceans, and atmosphere and their interactions, including the cycling of water and nutrients in the Earth system. The satellite, scheduled for launch in June 1998, will simultaneously observe clouds, water vapor, aerosol particles, trace gases, terrestrial and oceanic properties, the Earth's radiation budget, and the interaction between these factors and their effects on the climate system.
These observations are needed particularly to study exchanges of energy and water among the atmosphere, oceans, and land--key processes for understanding global climate change and ongoing changes in ecosystems. The EOS spacecraft are the cornerstone of NASA's Earth Science Enterprise (formerly Mission to Planet Earth).
Landsat-7 will become the next in the series of U.S. Land Remote- Sensing Satellites. Scheduled for launch in July 1998, Landsat-7, through its seven-channel Enhanced Thematic Mapper Plus instrument, will add to the continuous record of land imagery of previous Landsat flights.
Landsat data provide more than 25 years of continuous data on the condition of the Earth's terrestrial surface, by far the longest calibrated global change data set from satellite remote sensing. Landsat data are crucial for addressing issues of ecosystem mapping, deforestation, and land-cover change. In addition, the data are used in many commercial and environmental monitoring applications.
The NASA Scatterometer (NSCAT) was launched successfully on Japan's ADEOS Spacecraft in August 1996. Regrettably, ADEOS was lost in June 1997 as a result of solar panel failure. During its period of operation, NSCAT successfully measured global ocean surface winds with very high precision and showed the capability to provide observations that can be used to achieve significant improvements in weather and climate monitoring and prediction. Recognizing the important contributions made by NSCAT, NASA plans to launch a new SeaWinds scatterometer in late 1998 as part of a dedicated mission named QuikSCAT.
National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System
For almost 3 decades, the military and civilian sectors have each had separate operational satellite systems. By providing long-term monitoring and continuous data sets, these systems have supported needs related to national security and weather prediction, and have provided useful data for climate and global change research.
In 1994, a process to merge the planning, development, and operations of these separate systems was begun. The resulting National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System will satisfy the meteorological needs of both the civil and national security communities.
Atmospheric Chemistry and Aerosols
In 1998, a new version of the Stratospheric Aerosol and Gas Experiment instrument (SAGE III) will be launched aboard a Russian Meteor-3 satellite. SAGE III will provide measurements of ozone, aerosols, and nitrogen dioxide. In addition, the Polar Ozone Aerosol Monitor (POAM) instrument will be launched aboard the French SPOT-4 satellite, providing additional information on atmospheric chemistry at high latitudes.
Atmospheric Radiation Measurements
The Atmospheric Radiation Measurements (ARM) program focuses on the improvement of climate prediction and climate parameters by providing data on clouds and their interactions with solar and terrestrial radiation. The effect of clouds on the Earth's radiative energy balance is a major source of uncertainty in climate models. ARM data are obtained through ground-based, airborne (crewed and uncrewed), and satellite platforms.
The ARM Cloud and Radiation Testbed (CART) facility in the U.S. Southern Great Plains became the first operational site in this DOE program in the spring of 1992. The second ARM site, in the tropical western Pacific Ocean, and the third ARM site, on the North Slope of Alaska, began phased operations in 1996 and 1997, respectively.
ENSO Observing System
The El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) Observing System is a composite system of ocean and atmosphere observations in the tropical Pacific Ocean. The system is comprised of four complementary networks: the Tropical Atmosphere/Ocean (TAO) array of deep-ocean moorings; surface drifting buoys; tide gauges; and measurements made on Volunteer Observing Ships (VOS). These measurements of oceanic and atmospheric variables are used in conjunction with remotely sensed measurements from satellites to document what is happening at and below the sea surface.
These networks provide data that form the basis for early warnings of impending ENSO events and for monitoring the events as they progress. The composite system ensures real-time observations of surface and upper ocean temperatures and currents, and of meteorological conditions over the ocean. NOAA, with several international partners, supports the ENSO Observing System.
Atlantic Observing System
The understanding of climate variability in the Atlantic Ocean is not nearly as advanced as the understanding of the ENSO phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean. NOAA and NSF, together with international partners, have begun a pilot program to expand its ocean and atmosphere observations into the Atlantic. The Atlantic Observing System is built from the same proven technologies used in the ENSO Observing System. The data from the Atlantic Observing System are used with data from the ENSO Observing System to improve the integration of global satellite- and surface-based observations. The data also are used to improve the predictive skill of climate forecast models.
The Atlantic system will help monitor ocean conditions in areas of the tropical Atlantic where hurricanes form. Better definition of existing conditions can improve predictions of storm intensity and the tracks of hurricanes approaching the East and Gulf Coasts of the United States, thus helping to reduce the costs associated with evacuations over areas larger than necessary.
Global Cooperative Air Sampling Network
Data from air sampling instruments at a network at about 50 sites around the world document how the concentrations of CO2 and CH4, two important greenhouse gases, are changing. In addition, using a global model, the data can be used to estimate the magnitude and locations of the sources and sinks of these greenhouse gases. NOAA operates this air sampling network.
A network of continuous, year-round CO2 flux measurements across North and Central America (AmeriFlux) is being created to determine the net exchanges of CO2, water, and energy between the atmosphere and representative ecosystem types. These measurements will better quantify the role of terrestrial ecosystems in the atmospheric CO2 budget- -for example, by observing whether a forest is gaining or losing carbon and providing important information about ecosystem metabolism. A companion flux measurement program has been established in Europe. In the future, data from the two networks will be combined to build a more complete database that can be used to validate global carbon cycle models and to confirm changes in the terrestrial carbon stock in different areas.
An additional network, established by USDA during FY97, continuously monitors net CO2 fluxes of grasslands at 10 sites in the central and western United States. Data from this network will be used to complement measurements being taken in forested areas.
Ground- and Balloon-Based Ozone Measurement Network
NOAA operates a 16-station, ground-based, global network to monitor changes in the ozone layer. NASA and NOAA also support the regular flights of balloon-based ozonesondes used to measure the vertical distribution of ozone. These measurements are used to determine trends in ozone concentration for the international Scientific Assessments of Stratospheric Ozone Depletion and to validate the performance of satellite instruments. NOAA also operates a network of instruments to monitor the springtime Antarctic ozone hole.
Surface UV Monitoring Network
In 1995, the agencies involved in UV monitoring finalized a plan for a comprehensive and coordinated monitoring network to measure a range of radiation variables needed in studies of human and ecosystem health and of global change. Implementation of the plans is now well-advanced and a multifaceted and coordinated interagency observation program is in place, with instruments across the United States.
Atmospheric Chemistry Measurements
Several ground-based networks make measurements of concentrations of CFCs and other ozone-depleting compounds and of greenhouse gases. These networks have documented the decrease in concentrations of several compounds regulated under the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. They also have measured increasing concentrations of compounds being used as CFC substitutes.
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.
Data Access Policies
Since 1991, the United States has had a policy of "full and open" access to data developed through global change research and monitoring (see the FY98 edition of Our Changing Planet). As a result of a series of threats to this policy, a committee of the National Research Council reviewed the policy and endorsed it in its 1997 report Bits of Power: Issues of Global Access to Scientific Data.
The report alerted the scientific community to the potential threat to full and open access to data from a proposed database protection treaty being considered by the World Intellectual Property Organization. The USGCRP agencies played a leading role in bringing the concerns of the scientific community into government discussions. As a result, the proposed treaty is being given further consideration. Maintenance of full and open access to data remains a necessity to ensure the continuing progress of the research enterprise.
Recognizing that valuable data products are developed by researchers not only under Federal contracts but under Federal grants, language was drafted for agencies to use in awarding their grants to ensure that the data that are generated are made available in a timely manner. Such grant provisions would become particularly important if databases were to become protected by law.
Data and Information Access Capabilities
The interagency Global Change Data and Information System (GCDIS) underwent major expansions in 1997. The GCDIS World Wide Web site may be accessed at http://www.gcdis.usgcrp.gov . These expansions include:
The Global Change Research Information Office (GCRIO), which is associated with GCDIS, was established in 1993 to disseminate USGCRP information nationally and internationally. In 1997, GCRIO mailed more than 40,000 copies of publications to people in the United States and 110 other countries, had 100,000 visitors to its World Wide Web site (http://www.gcrio.org/), and responded to 1,200 information requests, about half from educators.
- A question and answer capability on the Web, "Ask Dr. Global Change," for the public and others to ask global change-related questions and have access to replies from experts
- Pointers to agency educational resources
- A listing of agency funding opportunities in global change research
- A calendar of global change meetings and workshops
- Through the NASA Global Change Master Directory, a capability to search more than 5,000 data sets located at more than 700 sources worldwide
- Through the NOAA Environmental Services Directory, a search capability of more than 10,000 NOAA data set descriptions.
Examples of New Data Products
A DOC/NOAA data set has been developed giving the rainfall intensity and frequency over the United States for the past 100 years. The data show a 5-10 percent increase in the amount of rainfall during this time. Even more importantly, they show that the increase is primarily due to the increased frequency and intensity of severe rainfall events (see Figure 5). Such severe events are a major cause of floods and other damage across the United States.
Figure 5: 20th Century U.S. Precipitation Trends. The map above shows U.S. precipitation trends from 1900 to 1996 (in percent of normal annual precipitation), within state climatic divisions. The diameter of the circle centered within each climatic division reflects the magnitude of the trend. Larger circles have the greater trends. Solid circles reflect increasing precipitation; open circles reflect decreasing precipitation.The DOE Carbon Dioxide Information and Analysis Center (CDIAC) maintains records of how atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) is changing with time. CDIAC has released data products that show that global emissions of CO2 grew by about 5 percent from 1992 to 1995, and have reached the highest level ever recorded. In addition, the data set containing the Mauna Loa atmospheric CO2 measurements now includes information through 1996. This data set began in 1958, and is the world's longest continuous record of the atmospheric concentration of CO2.
The accompanying histogram shows precipitation trends (in percent per century) for various categories of precipitation amounts (in percentiles) over the contiguous United States, from 1910 to 1996.
Thomas Karl/NOAA National Climatic Data Center. See Karl, T.R. and R.W. Knight, 1996: Indices of climate change for the United States. Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., 77, 279-292.
Thomas Karl/NOAA National Climatic Data Center. See Karl, T.R. and R.W. Knight, 1998: Secular trends of precipitation amount, frequency, and intensity in the USA. Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., in press, February 1998.
The DOI U.S. Geological Survey created two major global land data sets and made them available over the Internet. These are the first global digital topography and land-cover data sets covering the Earth's entire land surface at 1-km resolution. As a result of these efforts, global change researchers now have a significantly better representation of the Earth's land surface and land cover. These data sets are expected to improve models of Earth system processes. The Global Land Cover Characterization Database was developed from a global 10-day composite of satellite data from the Advanced Very High-Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) instrument, collected in conjunction with NOAA, NASA, and many international partners. The Global 30 Arc-Second Elevation Data Set was produced in cooperation with NASA, USAID, the UN Environment Programme/Global Reseource Information Database, and other cooperators. See Color Plates 4 and 5 on pages 110 and 111.
The NASA Goddard Space Flight Center produced and is making available a multi-year global atmospheric data set for use in climate research, including tropospheric chemistry applications. The data are well-suited for climate research because they are produced by a stable assimilation system that incorporates weather ballon reports, winds measured from cloud motions, and aircraft, ship, and small rocket flight reports. The system's output data includes all atmospheric prognostic variables and a large number of diagnostic quantities, such as heating rates, precipitation, and fraction of cloud coverage. All quantities are made available for every 6 hours during 1985-1990 on a global grid (2.0 x 2.5 degrees) and at 18 pressure levels up to the stratosphere.
NASA is archiving and distributing ocean color data from the Sea- viewing Wide Field-of-view Sensor (SeaWiFS), which was launched in 1997 on the SeaStar satellite (see Color Plate 6 on page 112). Appendix E lists a more extensive, yet still only representative, set of data products first made available in 1997 by USGCRP agencies.
The coordinated international research effort that has been organized to understand the Earth system emphasizes a number of areas: the study of the Earth's history to understand the extent and character of natural changes; coordinated field campaigns and process studies to deepen understanding of how the Earth system works; and the development and application of predictive models to understand and project human-induced effects on the Earth system.
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 an 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.
Process Studies in Earth System Science
Focused field studies are used to gain a detailed understanding of Earth system processes. Such studies, undertaken around the world, are designed to measure a relatively large number of quantities for use in testing theories of how components of the Earth system interact. The comprehensive nature of these studies is critical to enhancing understanding.
To increase understanding of how the Earth system works, the nations of the world have joined to create the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP) and the International Geosphere- Biosphere Programme (IGBP). These programs, which are coordinated with each other, expand intellectual capabilities and reduce costs for each participating nation through shared contributions. Each of these major activities includes more specific sub-activities, creating an interconnected international framework that has greatly accelerated the rate of scientific progress.
There are a number of carefully designed process studies underway. For example, as part of these programs, detailed studies of atmospheric chemistry are being conducted using airborne instruments to measure simultaneously a large number of chemical compounds, aerosol properties, and meteorological quantities. The resulting data are being used to test ideas about such questions as the partitioning of chemical compounds between forms that are more and less reactive in ozone destruction. Studies of the effects of aerosol particles on atmospheric radiation, as well as aerosol and cloud particle characteristics, are being used to test representations of these processes by models. Similarly, field experiments to study the exchange of trace gases between the oceans and atmosphere are using instruments aboard ships to measure simultaneously trace gases in both the ocean surface layer and the atmosphere, as well as quantities relating to the meteorological processes that lead to air- sea exchange.
Process studies are also of great value in providing the information necessary for the interpretation and application of satellite data, because the studies can be used to relate satellite observations to direct measurements of desired quantities, thereby assisting in calibration of satellite observations. In many cases, satellites provide a much less direct measurement, so ground-, ship-, and aircraft- based measurements can be used to validate the satellite instruments, as well as to test model performance.
The satisfactory interpretation of the data from process-oriented field studies generally requires that fundamental chemical, physical, and biological properties of the underlying processes be understood quantitatively. Laboratory measurements and experiments in controlled environments are carried out to gain such understanding. Measurements in controlled studies also provide a base of information needed for analysis and interpretation of space-based measurements and serve as critical input for predictive models of the Earth system.
World Climate Research Programme
The WCRP focuses primarily on the physical aspects of the Earth system. Major WCRP research activities, and examples of USGCRP supporting activities, include:
Global Energy and Water Experiment (GEWEX), within which the USGCRP provides major support for the Continental-Scale International Project (GCIP) and the Atmospheric Measurements Program (ARM) World Ocean Circulation Experiment (WOCE), within which the USGCRP provides major support for ocean sampling and analyses Climate Variability and Predictability (CLIVAR) program, within which the USGCRP supports studies of seasonal to interannual climate variability and longer term climate change, through focused programs such as the Atlantic Climate Change Program (ACCP) and the Global Ocean-Atmosphere-Land System (GOALS) program Arctic Climate System Study (ACSYS), within which the USGCRP supports studies of the role of the Arctic in climate change through focused projects such as the Surface Heat Budget of the Arctic (SHEBA) program Stratospheric Processes and Their Role in Climate (SPARC) program, within which the USGCRP has supported extensive studies of stratospheric ozone interactions.
International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme
The IGBP focuses primarily on the chemical and biological aspects of the Earth system. Major areas of IGBP research, and examples of USGCRP supporting activities, include:
Biospheric Aspects of the Hydrologic Cycle (BAHC), within which USGCRP activities are closely tied to GEWEX Global Change and Terrestrial Ecosystems (GCTE), which includes USGCRP activities such as the Program on Ecosystem Research (PER) and the Terrestrial Carbon Processes (TCP) program International Global Atmospheric Chemistry Project (IGAC), which is coupled to SPARC and includes USGCRP activities such as the Indian Ocean Experiment (INDOEX) Joint Global Ocean Flux Study (JGOFS), which is closely coupled to WOCE and includes such USGCRP activities as the Ocean/Atmosphere Carbon Exchange Study (OACES) Global Ocean Ecosystems Dynamics (GLOBEC), within which U.S. activitities are part of the USGCRP as well as NOAA's Coastal Oceans program Land-Ocean Interactions in the Coastal Zone (LOICZ), within which U.S. activities are primarily part of NOAA's Coastal Oceans program Past Global Changes (PAGES), which covers paleoclimate research activities such as drilling of the Greenland ice core Land Use/Cover Change (LUCC), which is a joint IGBP-IHDP activity and includes, for example, research on land-cover change in the Amazon region Data and Information Systems (IGBP-DIS), which coordinates the development of data requirements and access to data by the scientific community.
Predictive Models of Global Change
The integration, testing, and application of existing and new knowledge produced by the full suite of USGCRP programs is proceeding by means of both detailed analysis and the development and use of fully coupled and interactive Earth system models. The simulations supported through these programs are an important tool for integrating the results of process studies and observations into a view of the Earth system as a whole.
Both the WCRP and the IGBP sponsor activities promoting international coordination in the development and testing of Earth system models. In this way, WCRP's global climate modelling programs and IGBP's Global Analysis, Interpretation, and Modelling (GAIM) program both help to advance understanding of the climate system.
Over the past 2 decades, relatively limited atmosphere and ocean models have evolved into highly sophisticated models that couple the atmosphere, oceans, land surface, and sea ice, using improved and tested representations of physical and biogeochemical processes. A number of the coupled models are now becoming able to carry out simulations of the climate extending over centuries, including the effects of human activities.
In spite of these successes, available models still need further refinements to address new science questions and improve their accuracy. Improvements continue to flow from process studies in the four key areas of global change research discussed in Chapter 2. One important improvement needed for all types of global change studies is an improved ability of models to represent the Earth system's physical and biogeochemical processes at regional-scale resolution. Better representations of a number of physical and chemical processes also are needed, particularly for clouds and aerosol effects.
Climate models also are being improved so they can incorporate observed changes in the concentrations of individual greenhouse gases and aerosols. Models of ecosystems are emerging that can simulate the distribution of vegetation over the world. Of particular importance have been the continuing improvements of vegetation models for the United States as a result of GAIM's VEMAP project (see the back cover illustration of the FY98 edition of Our Changing Planet). These and related improvements should generate more realistic simulations of climate change. Spatially resolved carbon cycle models also are being developed that can calculate the fate of CO2 emissions. Analyses of these simulations, in the context of what is being learned from ongoing process studies, will provide valuable guidance on the most important remaining uncertainties.
- Human contributions to global change
- The consequences of global change for people
- Understanding strategies for dealing with global change.
Toward an Understanding of the Human DimensionsThe goal of the human dimensions 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 respond to problems associated with environmental change.
Research on the environmental effects of human activities is critical for understanding longer term climate change, changes in atmospheric chemistry, and changes in land cover and ecosystems. For example, increasing amounts of carbon in harvested wood, the "fertilization" effects of increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide on ecosystem productivity, and large reforestation programs may all have a substantial effect on the rate of carbon sequestration in biomass. By planting trees and altering management regimes, foresters can have a significant impact on the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide, offsetting some of the emissions from societal activities and land-use change. Additional management opportunities include increased recycling, substitution of biomass combustion for that of fossil fuel, and increased use of durable wood products.
The Human Consequences of Global Change
Enhanced short-term climate variability, longer term climate change, the changing composition of gases in the atmosphere, and changes in land cover and ecosystems all have implications for human health and well-being. These consequences include the effects of global change on different economic sectors and on managed resources, such as water resources, agriculture, forestry, fisheries, energy, transportation, financial and insurance services, and coastal infrastructure. Consequences also include the health effects of exposure to ultraviolet radiation, the effects of changes in natural systems on the incidence of diseases, and the factors that increase or decrease societal vulnerability to environmental variability and change.
Understanding and modeling the consequences of short-term variations in climate are critical for making more efficient decisions. For example, research has examined a range of options for more efficient fisheries management in the face of El Niño events and has demonstrated the economic value of adjusting these management decisions to incorporate climate variability. Other studies are showing the significant effects of government policies and institutional constraints on the potential use of climate information for better planning in agriculture. Research on the impacts of climate variability is expanding into transportation, public health, forestry management, insurance, and water management. Other studies are evaluating how international trade, cultural practices, public policies, and other social and economic factors come into play in adjusting to climate.
The USGCRP agencies are working to enhance the use of their observing systems, models, and data to explore relationships between human health and changes in climate and the global environment. Research includes studies of heat-wave mortality and winter mortality; the effects of climate change on atmospheric chemistry and the consequences for air pollution and air quality; the relationships between El Niño events and diseases; toxic algal blooms and the relationship between algal blooms and cholera; and the relationship between ultraviolet radiation and the immune system, retinal damage, cataracts, and skin cancers.
USGCRP-sponsored researchers are applying satellite data, geographic information systems, global positioning systems, and computer modeling to the study of diseases such as malaria, Lyme disease, yellow fever, cholera, filariasis and schistosomiasis. The Interagency Research Partnership in Infectious Diseases (INTREPID) is investigating the link between disease and weather patterns, with an initial focus on dengue fever.
Research on the human consequences of global change is also an integral part of the USGCRP's new National Assessment program. Special emphasis is being placed on identifying and analyzing the consequences of climate variability and change for different geographical regions within the United States and for different economic sectors (see Chapter 4).
Understanding Strategies for Dealing with Global Change
Current and proposed strategies for responding to environmental change comprise an important facet of research on human contributions and responses to global change.
Researchers are developing capabilities to examine the environmental implications of alternative policy approaches and to identify ways to anticipate global change and develop strategies for dealing with it. For example, USGCRP-supported researchers are developing economic models to examine the implications for the global environment of policies relating to international trade. Results from these models can be combined with other analyses to evaluate the implications for sectors of the national economy.
Other USGCRP-sponsored research suggests that perceptions play an important role in determining acceptable strategies. Studies have shown, for example, that many people believe that general environmental pollution causes climate change, without understanding that carbon dioxide released from the burning of coal and oil is the principal driver of climate change. Thus, when asked to list actions that could reduce the risk of climate change, they do not place energy conservation and renewable energy technology high on their lists.
Integrated Assessment Methods and Models
Researchers focusing on human contributions and responses to global change have been improving models and other representations of the complex feedbacks among human and natural systems. Progress has been made, for example, in the development and refinement of methods and models for "integrated assessment."
Research on integrated modeling and assessment of human- environment interactions includes a range of approaches. Integrated assessments use quantitative models and other methods to investigate individual component systems and their interactions, with particular emphasis on how changes in one or more component systems will affect other systems. Integrated assessment models have become increasingly sophisticated in their representation of socioeconomic factors.
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. The program continues to support the full and open international sharing of scientific data and results, which is essential for global change research.
The International Research Institute for Climate Prediction
In addition to participating actively in the international planning and conduct of research, the USGCRP is involved in extensive coordination to realize the benefits of research. One such effort is the International Research Institute for climate prediction (IRI), which has entered a stage of rapid multilateral development. A number of countries and agencies are taking steps to ensure its long-term sponsorship and management, with fully multilateral status expected in about 2000. Development of a multinational IRI network of research centers and activities to apply the information from forecasts has progressed through a series of regional projects and cooperative planning in the Americas, Africa, and Asia.
In 1997, the IRI began issuing experimental climate forecast "net assessments" and guidance as part of the international response to anticipated El Niño-related impacts. For example, forecasts were developed for and distributed in Southern Africa, Southeast Asia, and South America.
Regional and Bilateral Cooperation in Global Change Research
In 1997, Vice President Gore and the Prime Minister of Japan indicated the intention of their two countries to expand cooperation in global change research and prediction. The bilateral Joint High Level Committee for Science and Technology agreed to implement such cooperation based on existing arrangements. With substantial Japanese support, the International Pacific Research Center in Hawaii was opened in October 1997, and the International Arctic Research Center in Alaska is expected to open in 1998, for joint research on global change in the Pacific and Arctic regions.
To expand multilateral efforts, the three hemisphere-scale regional institutes for global change research--the Inter-American Institute (IAI), the European Network (ENRICH), and the Asia-Pacific Network (APN)--have all begun implementing programs and have invited research proposals. For example, the IAI has recently issued the fourth of its calls for proposals.
Cooperation in Remote Sensing and Observing Systems
The TOPEX/Poseidon satellite, a cooperative U.S.-France mission, is tracking the ongoing El Niño event of 1997-98. Its measurements of sea-level height allow the development of the event to be followed across the Pacific Ocean.
Cooperation with the Canadian Space Agency on Canada's RADARSAT satellite reached a milestone in 1997, with the completion of data collection for the Antarctic Mapping Mission. These data have made possible the first complete, high-resolution satellite map of Antarctica and will enhance understanding of changes in the Antarctic ice sheet, which holds more than 60 percent of the world's fresh water. (Sea level could potentially rise about 70 meters if this ice were to melt.)
A U.S.-Japan collaboration, the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM), has led to orbiting of the first instrument dedicated to studying tropical and subtropical rainfall. The TRMM satellite was launched successfully in November 1997 (see Color Plate 7 below).
The international Committee on Earth Observation Satellites (CEOS) and the International Group of Funding Agencies for Global Change Research (IGFA) continue their planning for a series of six pilot projects for integrated observation of the global environment. Such cooperative efforts reduce duplication and costs among missions planned by the space-faring nations.
Color Plate 7. Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission
Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission. The Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) is a cooperative program with Japan. The TRMM satellite carries instruments to measure three-dimensional rainfall distribution and total rainfall, cloud distribution, Earth radiation balance, and lightning. TRMM observations of rainfall will be particularly important for studies of the global hydrological cycle and for testing the ability of models to simulate and predict climate accurately on a seasonal to interannual time scale, especially El Niño events. This NASA satellite was successfully launched by Japan in November 1997.
The data for this 2-day composite of global rainfall comes from the TRMM Imaging Radar. Super Typhoon Paka can be seen in the Pacific Ocean (just off center of the top left image). The data were combined to highlight cold temperatures (bright yellow) found in many tropical storms. The cold temperatures are due to scattering effects of ice above the storm's freezing level. Darker blues are indicative of higher moisture in the atmosphere due to water vapor, clouds, and rainfall.
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, Laboratory for Atmospheres
(Christian Kidd/Mark Sutton).
The widely attended Scientific Conference for the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP) in 1997 reviewed the results of recent climate change research and recommended that priorities for such research over the next decade should be (see discussion of WCRP in Earth System Science section):
- To study seasonal-to-interdecadal variations both globally and regionally to develop the soundest possible scientific basis for climate prediction
- To detect climate change and its causes and project the rate of human-induced climate change.
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC): Current Activities
The IPCC was established with U.S. leadership in 1988. Since then, the IPCC has provided governments, international bodies, and the public with unbiased assessments of scientific and technical information related to climate change. The United States has consistently played a leading role in the IPCC, by co-chairing working groups and by supporting the world's most comprehensive set of climate research activities. Since 1993, the United States has co- chaired Working Group II (on climate change impacts, adaptation, and mitigation), and the USGCRP has sponsored the Technical Support Unit (TSU) for the Working Group.
The IPCC Second Assessment Report provided the scientific basis for the negotiations leading to the Kyoto Protocol to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC).
A U.S. citizen, Dr. Robert T. Watson, has been elected overall Chair of the IPCC, replacing Professor Bert Bolin of Sweden. Professor James McCarthy of Harvard University has been elected Co-Chair of Working Group II, which will assess impacts and adaptation options. The USGCRP will continue to provide support to the Working Group II Technical Support Unit.
Special Reports and Technical Papers
In addition, at the request of the subsidiary bodies of the FCCC, the IPCC, supported by the U.S. Working Group II Technical Support Unit, prepared a special report entitled The Regional Impacts of Climate Change: An Assessment of Vulnerability, and technical papers on the following key issues in the negotiations:An Introduction to Simple Climate Models Used in the IPCC Second Assessment Report also was prepared for the FCCC as Technical Paper #2. USGCRP researchers played leading roles in preparing all of these reports. The IPCC is in the process of completing a number of additional special reports in response to requests from the FCCC:
- What technical and policy options are available for reducing emissions in different sectors of the economy? (Technical Paper #1, Technologies, Policies, and Measures for Mitigating Climate Change)
- What impacts are associated with different concentrations of greenhouse gases, and how much might it cost to achieve those concentrations? (Technical Paper #3, Stabilization of Atmospheric Greenhouse Gases: Physical, Biological, and Socioeconomic Implications)
- What greenhouse gas concentrations, temperatures, and sea-level rise would result from some of the proposed emissions reductions being considered at Kyoto? (Technical Paper #4, Implications of Proposed CO2 Emissions Limitations).The USGCRP is participating in the efforts to complete these projects.
- Aviation and the Global Atmosphere, which will provide Parties to the FCCC, Parties to the Montreal Protocol, and members of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) with a comprehensive assessment of potential impacts of aviation on the global atmosphere, aviation technology, and socioeconomic aspects of aviation
- Methodological and Technological Issues in Technology Transfer, which will provide improved information about the process of technology transfer as a basis for Parties to the FCCC and others to take advantage of opportunities to address global climate change
- Emissions Scenarios, which will contain an improved set of greenhouse gas emission projections for use in the Third Assessment Report, thus increasing the relevance of the report to policymakers. Special efforts will focus on improving projections of aerosol emissions.
Third Assessment Report
The IPCC is preparing to write the Third Assessment Report (TAR), which is scheduled for completion in late 2000 or early 2001. Climate scenarios based on model results from Atmosphere-Ocean General Circulation Model (AOGCM) experiments from four centers--the Canadian Centre for Climate Modeling and Analysis (CCCMA), the Deutsches Klimarechenzentrum (DKRZ/MPI) in Germany, the NOAA Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL) at Princeton University, and the Hadley Centre in the United Kingdom--are being compiled and will be made available in several formats for use in analyses of impacts of climate change in preparation for the Third Assessment Report.
For the Third Assessment Report, improvements in the review process are being made, as are efforts to involve more actively technical experts from the private sector in assessments of the market and technological potential of promising technologies for reducing emissions. The USGCRP will actively support preparation of the Third Assessment Report.
For further information about the IPCC, please contact the U.S. Coordination Office, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 400 Virginia Avenue, SW, Suite 750, Washington, DC 20024. Fax: 202 488-8678. E-mail: email@example.com.
Current Agency Initiatives
Many of the USGCRP agencies are engaged in efforts to increase public awareness of how the Earth system is changing.
EPA, for example, has been sponsoring educational efforts that emphasize the scientific assessment of climate change, its causes and potential impacts. Outreach efforts focus on communities and groups potentially at risk from climate change, including coastal communities, people at risk from heat waves, communities potentially affected by the spread of infectious diseases, business sectors at risk from the costs of severe weather events, and groups potentially affected by impacts on wildlife and outdoor recreation. EPA is hosting a series of regional global climate change conferences around the country, focused on helping citizens and organizations identify measures they can take to reduce emissions and thereby slow future climate change.
NOAA, NASA, NSF, DOE, and EPA support the periodical Consequences: The Nature and Consequences of Environmental Change. In addition, NOAA produced and released the fourth in its "Reports to the Nation on Our Changing Planet" series, entitled Our Changing Climate. This report describes and explains the human forcing of climate change in the context of a naturally varying Earth system. It is being distributed with a teacher's guide to science teachers and other educators nationwide. NOAA also has produced a Spanish-language version of its popular monograph El Niño and Climate Prediction.
NASA conducts an ongoing education and outreach program focused on promoting a broad public understanding of Earth system science and climate change. NASA is currently developing a series of regionally oriented educational materials focused on climate change and its specific regional impacts. This material will be based on the information being generated by the National Assessment.
Encouraging Global Change Science LiteracyThe 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 education on a wide range of global environmental change issues.
The USGCRP on the World Wide WebThe USGCRP home page on the World Wide Web (http://www.usgcrp.gov/) is a gateway to a wealth of global change information. The Web site provides access to:
- An introduction to the USGCRP, with links to detailed information about U.S. Government agency programs related to global change research, USGCRP-sponsored research institutions, and related international programs.
- The U.S. Global Change Research Information Office (GCRIO) Web site. GCRIO provides access to data and information on global change research, adaptation and mitigation strategies and technologies, and educational resources related to global change.
- The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and its publications.
- The Global Change Data and Information System (GCDIS). GCDIS, a cooperative activity of USGCRP agencies, is a collection of distributed information systems that provide global change data to scientists and researchers, policymakers, educators, industry, and the public.
- Global change and environmental education resources. Multidisciplinary and international in scope, this collection includes a wide range of resources on global change and environmental education in a variety of formats for educators and students at all levels (K-12 and higher education), librarians, citizens, and community groups.
- USGCRP-related documents and official statements, including the text of the annual editions of Our Changing Planet from FY95 through FY98.
- Summaries of all presentations made as part of the USGCRP Seminar Series.
- Many other global-change-related Web sites around the world, including sites focused on data sources, observing programs, weather-related issues, seasonal variations, long-term climate change, stratospheric ozone and atmospheric chemistry, ecosystems, and general sources of information.
USGCRP Seminar Series
Each month the USGCRP sponsors a seminar on a current global change research topic that is of current interest. At the seminar, which is held on Capitol Hill as a means of drawing a wide audience from the Washington, DC, community, one or two scientists present recent findings from their own research and that of the broader scientific community and answer questions ranging from scientific methods to the policy implications of their work. Recent seminar topics have included:
- Observed Climate Change in Alaska: The Early Consequences of Global Warming
- Global Warming and the Earth's Water Cycle: What Do the Changes Mean and Why be Concerned?
- The 1997-98 El Niño Forecast: What are the Societal Implications and Opportunities?
- Wetland Losses in the United States: Scope, Causes, Impacts, and Future Prospects
- Antarctic Update: An Ecosystem Perspective on Ultraviolet Radiation and Climate Change Impacts
- Natural Hazards, Human Impacts, and Disaster Reduction. For information on this series, contact the USGCRP Coordination Office (see Appendix F for contact information).
Return to: Table of Contents
Go to: Chapter 4. National Assessment of the Consequences of Climate Change for the United States