NSF Award Grants to Improve Predictions of Climate Change on Regional, Decadal Scales

Research will lead to better understanding of climate change effects


What will Earth’s climate be like in a decade–or sooner? And what will it be like where you live, and around the globe?

To help find answers, the National Science Foundation (NSF) and other federal agencies have awarded new grants to study the consequences of climate variability and change.

The awards were made through the interagency Decadal and Regional Climate Prediction Using Earth System Models (EaSM) Program. At NSF, EaSM is part of the Science, Engineering and Education (SEES) portfolio of investments.

“NSF is strongly supportive of the EaSM goal of improved understanding of the climate system,” says Roger Wakimoto, NSF assistant director for Geosciences.

“Better climate predictions will arm decision-makers with the quantitative information they need to help chart the appropriate future course for society,” says Wakimoto.

Other agencies awarding grants in the interagency EaSM Program are the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).

NSF has invested $22.7 million in the awards; USDA, $5.2 million; and DOE, $3.3 million.
Among the subjects addressed by the EaSM awards are:

Quantifying and conveying the risk of prolonged drought in coming decades,
Exploring the connection between wildfires and regional climate variability,

Linking near-term future changes in weather and hydroclimate in Western North America to adaptations for ecosystem and water resource management,

Advancing climate and regional model validation for societal applications, and
Connecting human and Earth system models to assess regional effects and adaptations in urban systems and their hinterlands.

According to scientists, the EaSM program addresses one of the most pressing problems of the millennium: climate change and how it is likely to affect the world–and how people can plan for its consequences.

That challenge calls for the development of next-generation Earth system models that include coupled and interactive representations of ecosystems, agricultural working lands and forests, urban environments, biogeochemistry, atmospheric chemistry, ocean and atmospheric currents, the water cycle, land and sea ice and human activities.

EaSM projects will expand the limits of scientists’ understanding of Earth’s climate system, leading to better ways of predicting climate change.

The consequences of climate variability and change are becoming more immediate and profound than anticipated, research has found.

Prolonged droughts on several continents, increasing stresses on natural and managed ecosystems, losses of agricultural and forest productivity, degraded ocean and permafrost habitats, global sea-level rise, the rapid retreat of ice sheets and glaciers, and changes in ocean currents have shown that climate variability and change will likely have significant effects on decade and shorter time scales.
Those effects on humans and other animals, plants, and planet-wide systems such as the oceans, may be far-reaching.

Among the goals of the EaSM program is achieving reliable global and regional predictions of decadal climate variability and change through an understanding of the coupled physical, chemical, biological and human processes that drive the climate system. Awardees are working to quantify the effects of climate variability and change on ecological, agricultural and other human systems, and to identify and quantify “feedback loops” through which humans affect the environment.

“As climate becomes more variable, precipitation extremes become more frequent and temperatures rise, agricultural producers, foresters and natural resource managers will need to plan and adapt in order to meet the needs of Earth’s population,” says Sonny Ramaswamy, director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“Understanding the climate system and being able to predict climate trends on decadal and regional scales will be important to helping the agriculture industry remain profitable. These grants will help us move science forward so we can make the best decisions for adaptive management and planning for the future.”

Adds Sharlene Weatherwax, DOE associate director for Biological and Environmental Research, “To advance a robust predictive understanding of Earth’s climate, and to inform the development of sustainable solutions to our energy and environmental challenges, a deeper understanding of natural climate variability and change is needed.

“The projects DOE supports through EaSM are expected to efficiently enhance the ability to design and deploy the most effective energy solutions for the nation.”

Scientists are maximizing observational and model data for impact and vulnerability/resilience assessments, and translating model results and their uncertainties into the scientific basis for well-informed human adaptation to and management decisions for climate change.

These decisions need to happen, say climate researchers, in the coming years–not decades or centuries.