From farmers deciding which crops to plant next season, to mayors preparing for possible heat waves, to insurance companies assessing future flood risks, an array of stakeholders from the public and private sectors rely on and use climate information.
A new report from the National Research Council provides a framework to guide progress and improve the nation’s collection of climate models, which consists of several global efforts and many regional efforts, over the next 10 to 20 years.
Climate models are the foundation for understanding and projecting climate and climate-related changes and are critical tools for supporting climate-related decision making. This study developed a strategy for improving the nation's capability to accurately simulate climate and related Earth system changes on decadal to centennial timescales. The committee's report was envisioned as a high level analysis, providing a strategic framework to guide progress in the nation's climate modeling enterprise over the next 10-20 years. Specifically, the committee:
1. Engaged key stakeholders in a discussion of the status and future of climate modeling in the United States over the next decade and beyond, with an emphasis on decade to century timescales and local to global resolution. This discussion included both the modeling and user communities, broadly defined, and focused on the strengths and challenges of current modeling approaches, including their usefulness to decision making, the observations and research activities needed to support model development and validation and potential new directions in all of these spheres.
2. Described the existing landscape of domestic and international climate modeling efforts, including approaches being used in research and operational settings, new approaches being planned or discussed and the relative strengths and challenges of the various approaches, with an emphasis on models with decade to century timescales and local to global resolution.
3. Discussed, in broad terms, the observational, basic and applied research, infrastructure and other requirements of current and possible future climate modeling efforts, and develop a strategic approach for identifying the priority observations, research and decision support activities that would lead to the greatest improvements in our understanding and ability to monitor, model and respond to climate change on local to global space scales and decade to century timescales.
4. Provided recommendations for developing a comprehensive and integrated national strategy for climate modeling over the next decade (i.e., 2011-2020) and beyond. This advice includes discussion of different modeling approaches (including the relationship between decadal-to-centennial scale modeling with modeling activities at other timescales); priority observations, research activities and infrastructure for supporting model development; and how all of these efforts can be made most useful for decision making in this decade and beyond.
Examples of the types of strategic questions addressed include: What is the appropriate balance between improving resolution and adding complexity as computing power improves? What are the advantages and disadvantages of different approaches to projecting regional climate change (e.g., embedded regional models, statistical downscaling, etc.)? What are the benefits and tradeoffs associated with multi-model versus unified modeling frameworks? What opportunities might exist to develop better interfaces and integration between Earth system models and models of human systems? What observations and process studies are needed to initialize climate predictions on both regional and global scales, advance our understanding of relevant physical processes and mechanisms and validate model results? What critical infrastructure constraints, including high performance computing and personnel issues, currently limit model development and use? What steps can be taken to improve the communication of climate model results (e.g., presentation of uncertainties) and ensure that the climate modeling enterprise remains relevant to decision making? What modeling approaches and activities are likely to provide the most value for the investments required?