Scientific Highlights

[ Flood-Related Presidential Disaster Declarations ]
[ IPCC Third Assessment Report ]
[ Lessons Learned from the 1997-98 El Niño ]
[ North American Carbon Program ]
[ Uncertainty Analysis for Climate Change and Its Impacts ]

Flood-Related Presidential Disaster Declarations

FloodFederal disaster assistance is one component of US policy for coping with damaging floods. The president ultimately determines whether or not federal relief is provided to states and local communities following a disaster. Yet, guidelines governing the president's discretion are vague, and the total federal cost of disaster assistance is extremely difficult to determine. A study by Mary Downton and Roger Pielke, Jr., compared flood-related declarations from 1965 to 1997 to measures of precipitation and flood damage, finding that presidents have differed significantly in disaster declaration policy. Downton and Pielke compared how seven presidents made use of their discretionary authority in the disaster declaration process. Because there is great year-to-year variation in weather and in damage, they also looked at precipitation and flood damage data collected by the National Weather Service, as well as several measures of a state's "ability to pay" for its response to a disaster. This study was featured in the March 2001 Natural Hazards Observer (view the article here). The authors presented the complete results in the article "Discretion without accountability: Politics, flood damage, and climate," which appeared in the Natural Hazards Review (November 2001).

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IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) Third Assessment Report

Kathleen Miller and Stewart Cohen (Environment Canada) are co-Convening Lead Authors of Chapter 15 on "North America," for the IPCC Working Group II, Third Assessment Report, Climate Change 2001: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. This chapter provides an assessment of potential climate change impacts in the United States and Canada. It addresses vulnerabilities and adaptation options for a broad range of economic sectors and natural resource systems. Among the major findings are that North American agriculture and industry have considerable adaptive capacity to cope with the effects of climate change. However, regional impacts are likely to be uneven and adaptation will require changes in activities and investments in new technology. Natural systems including wetlands, other aquatic ecosystems, marine fisheries and forests have less adaptive capacity and may come under considerable stress from climate change and other anthropogenic pressures.

Water resources are vulnerable to the combined effects of climate change and a growing set of potentially conflicting demands. This figure shows potential water resource impacts from climate change in North America. (Click on the number to access descriptions of these impacts.) Even with major adaptations including institutional changes and new infrastructure, it may not be possible to offset all adverse impacts on water availability, water quality and aquatic resources. Miller has written sections of the chapter, helped to coordinate responses to reviewer comments, and collaborated with the Lead Authors to complete the final revisions on this chapter. The volume was published in FY01 by Cambridge University Press.

Cascade of UncertaintiesIn the volume released for Working Group I of the IPCC Third Assessment Report, Climate Change 2001: The Scientific Basis, Linda Mearns was co-Convening Lead Author of Chapter 13, "Climate Scenario Development" with Michael Hulme (U East Anglia). This chapter acts as an important bridge between the climate science of Working Group I and the climate impact science of Working Group II. She was also a Lead Author for Chapter 10, "Regional Climate Analysis," of the Working Group I Report, which assesses regionalization techniques such as statistical downscaling, regional climate modeling, and stretched GCM grid techniques. A paper on the regional results of new OGCM projections was published in Geophysical Research Letters. Mearns was also a contributor to Chapter 9, "Climate Change Projections." In Working Group II, she was a Lead Author of Chapter 3, "The Development and Application of Scenarios in Climate Change Impact, Adaptation and Vulnerability Assessment." This is another new chapter for the Third Assessment Report, which discusses and integrates all types of scenarios needed for performing climate change impacts and integrated assessments. It acts as the other half of the bridge between Working Groups I and II.

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Lessons Learned from the 1997-98 El Niño

The climatic phenomenon known as El Niño has been associated with catastrophes such as floods, fires, drought, cyclones, and infectious disease outbreaks in many parts of the world. Until an investment is made to improve forecasting of and preparedness against El Niño and its related events, thousands of human casualties and billions of additional dollars in economic damage will likely occur during each ENSO extreme warm or cold event. The 1997-98 El Niño caused worldwide devastation, with estimated costs ranging upwards of US$32 billion. Michael Glantz began a study in FY98, in collaboration with the UN Environment Programme, the World Meteorological Organization, the United Nations University, and the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, to examine the societal impacts of El Niño in 16 countries. Particular attention was given to how societies reacted to the El Niño-related events, especially the existing government infrastructure, management approaches, information flow, forecasting capabilities, early warning, and disaster preparedness. The study concluded in FY00, and a book, edited by Glantz, was released in September 2001. It identified lessons to be learned from the similarities and differences among the responses to El Niño forecasts and impacts. The book, Once Burned, Twice Shy? Lessons Learned from the 1997-98 El Niño was published by the United Nations University Press, and a CD-ROM also released that contains the full text of the entire 16 country studies. Limited copies of the book and CD-ROM are available from ESIG and the UNU for distribution to policy- and other decision-makers.

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North American Carbon Program

North American Carbon Program The North American Carbon Program (NACP) represents a major expansion of the effort to address gaps in the scientific knowledge of climate change. A strong scientific consensus exists that human emissions of greenhouse gases have important climatic consequences that will continue to grow in the future. The primary cause of these changes is the increase in atmospheric CO2, which is caused by the burning of fossil fuels, cement production, and changes in land use, e.g., deforestation. Robert Harriss and Steve Wofsy (Harvard U) convened a workshop in Boulder, Colorado, 5-7 September 2001, sponsored by the US Global Change Research Program, to exchange ideas with members of the Carbon Cycle Science Steering Committee and the Carbon Cycle Interagency Working Group on a draft program plan for the NACP. This plan is intended to be a component of the US Interagency Carbon Cycle Science Program, as well as a contribution to the US Climate Change Research Initiative. Participants reviewed and discussed the draft plan in order to design the final Implementation Plan for the NACP. The workshop proceedings are available on line on the ESIG website, and the full document is being prepared for distribution in FY02.

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Uncertainty Analysis for Climate Change and Its Impacts

Representing Uncertainty in Climate Change Scenarios and Impact
 Studies The importance of characterizing uncertainty in all aspects of climate impact assessment work is becoming more obvious as the science develops (i.e., "the value of knowing how little you know"). The goal of this research is to review tools that have been employed in performing uncertainty analysis for climate change scenarios and impact studies. A paper by Richard Katz on this topic will be published in Climate Research in FY02. The focus is on recent developments in statistics that could enable more full-fledged uncertainty analyses to be performed as part of integrated assessments of climate change and its impacts. One of the main points that comes out of this review is that uncertainty analysis should not be viewed as a minor component, but rather an integral part of the development of any model. This paper evolved from a discussion paper presented at an ECLAT-2 workshop on Representing Uncertainty in Climate Change Scenarios and Impact Studies.

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