Scientific Highlights

[ The Case of the 1997-98 El Niño: Forecasting by Analogy ]
[ Prediction: Science, Decision-Making and the Future of Nature ]
[ Extreme Events Workshop ] [ Currents of Change ]


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The Case of the 1997-98 El Niño: Forecasting by Analogy

The Case of the 1997-98 El Niño: Forecasting by AnalogyIn mid-FY99, Principal Investigator Michael Glantz organized a 19-month study of the impacts of the 1997-98 El Niño event on 16 countries in four major areas: Asia, Southeast Asia, Subsaharan Africa, and Latin America. The study was conducted in cooperation with the UN Environment Programme, the UN University, the World Meteorological Organization, and the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR, formerly the IDNDR). Glantz identified team leaders for each country and convened a workshop in July 1999 to identify research strategies. The "forecasting by analogy" (FBA) approach was chosen to identify strengths and weaknesses in societal responses to El Niño-spawned droughts, floods, fires, frosts, and disease outbreaks in order to provide governments with quantitative and qualitative information on the impacts of previous El Niño events. Such assessments provide a government with insights into regions, sectors, and populations that are likely to be at increased risk during El Niño. FBA can also provide disaster agencies with an opportunity to review how well their contingency plans worked in 1997-98 and make adjustments to them. In FY00, Glantz organized a "Mid-Course Evaluation Meeting," held in Macau, a Special Administrative Region in China, to assess the progress of the country studies, discuss problems encountered, and finalize dissemination procedures. An Executive Summary of the findings, prepared by Glantz and Stewart, was released on 27 October 2000 to the UN Millennium Assembly at the United Nations in New York. It was released by UNEP's Director, Klaus Toepfer, and the WMO's Secretary-General G.O.P. Obasi. The full summary will be available in mid-FY01. The UN University Press will also provide, in its entirety, each country study on CD-ROMs. Stewart acted as the Project Liaison during this project, as well as serving as Rapporteur for the various workshops and project advisory meetings.

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Prediction: Science, Decision-Making and the Future of Nature

Prediction: Science, Decision-Making and the Future of NatureIn modern society, prediction serves two important goals: (1) as a test of scientific understanding, and (2) as a potential guide for decision making. Calls for prediction as a basis for environmental policy making suggest confusion about these two motives for why we predict. Prediction: Science, Decision-Making and the Future of Nature is the culmination of two workshops and papers from ten case studies, ranging from asteroid paths to climate change to nuclear waste disposal. The volume was edited by Dan Sarewitz (CSPO, Columbia U), Roger Pielke Jr., and Radford Byerly (US House Science Committee, retired) and its production was overseen by D. Jan Stewart. This book provides insight into the promise and limitations of prediction as a tool for decision-makers, explores alternatives to prediction, presents fresh perspectives about the interface between science and environmental decision making, and makes recommendations to increase the likelihood of effective decision making.

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Extreme Events Workshop

Extreme Events: Developing a Research Agenda for the Twenty-First Century. Extreme events are emerging as a unifying theme in scientific research. Investigations into complex systems yield increasing evidence that system evolution is strongly controlled by extreme events, which appear to be on the upswing. Scientific and societal interest in extreme events is converging. Roger Pielke Jr., with Dan Sarewitz (CSPO, Columbia U), organized a National Science Foundation-sponsored workshop 7-9 June 2000 at NCAR in Boulder, Colorado. The overarching objective of the workshop was to reconsider research on phenomena traditional defined as "natural hazards," "surprises," and "low probability" in terms of a more unified perspective, focused on society's needs for useful information from scientific research.

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Currents of Change: Impacts of El Niño and La Niña on Climate and Society

Currents of Change: Impacts of El Niño and La Niña on Climate and SocietyThe periodic warming and cooling of sea surface waters in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean spawn extreme climatic events such as droughts, hurricanes, and floods worldwide. The best known of these phenomena is El Niño, but the equally serious consequences of its lesser-known counterpart, La Niña, are now being identified as a result of the 1998-2000 La Niña event. Scientists around the globe are studying these interactions between the ocean and atmosphere. Michael Glantz completed a second edition of his 1996 book on El Niño, expanded to include new chapters on such topics as the 1997-98 El Niño, the 1998-2000 La Niña, and the media attention generated by these two events. The second edition, Currents of Change: Impacts of El Niño and La Niña on Climate and Society, was released in the United States in November 2000.

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