Protection of Life and Property

[ Climate and Health Initiative ] [ Disaster Diplomacy ]
[ Disaster Prevention in the Lower Rio Grande ]
[ Effects of Weather Forecasts on Society ]
[ Methods of Assessing Economic Value
of Weather and Climate Forecasts
[ Extreme Weather and Climate Events ]
[ Flashpoints and Hotspots ]
[ Population Growth and Climate Change ]
[ Risk-Benefit Assessment of Observing System Decision Alternatives ]
[ Wildland Fire Initiative ]

Climate and Health Initiative

In FY01, Linda Mearns began a multidisciplinary initiative with other ESIG members and Sasha Madronich (ACD) to establish a Climate/Human Health Program at NCAR. This initiative will bring together leading institutions in health and climate science in an ongoing multiyear program to develop needed linkages in health and climate issues. Such a program is required to train individuals in complex interdisciplinary research and to address the multifaceted interactions of climate, health, and society. The program will help to produce the first generation of scholars dedicated to an integration of health and climate science. Three main institutions will form the center of the program: NCAR, Johns Hopkins University, and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. A meeting of potential collaborators is planned for FY02, and a detailed program plan will be developed and submitted to interested funding agencies. Many collaborators have already been identified, including experts in epidemiology, disease/society interactions, microbiology and water-borne disease, environmental health sciences, and climatology.

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Disaster Diplomacy

The idea behind "disaster diplomacy" is to identify areas of diplomatic cooperation that could foreseeably result between national governments in conflict from concern about or impacts of a shared natural disaster. A paper written by Michael Glantz traces the history of climate-related cooperation between the United States and Cuba, two countries that have poor diplomatic relations with each other. It identified and analyzed areas of present interaction and conflict, with particular respect to the forecasts of and responses to the ENSO cycle and the extreme meteorological events that are spawned by El Niño. Glantz concluded that if there is to be an improved, long-lasting, mutually beneficial interaction between these two countries with regard to the ENSO phenomenon, it will have to come as a result of a broad political rapprochement between the two governments at the highest levels. The paper, "Climate-Related Disaster Diplomacy: A US-Cuban Case Study," appeared in the winter issue of the Cambridge Review of International Affairs in December 2000.

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Disaster Prevention in the Lower Rio Grande

Robert Harriss has been involved in a collaborative project with the Rio Grande Institute (RGI) and the Texas Natural Resources Information System (TNRIS). NCAR participated in evaluating and upgrading certain remote sensing and environmental information resources available to local communities and universities/colleges located in the Texas-Mexico border region. The initial phase of this project was supported by a cooperative agreement that RGI maintains with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The geographic focus of the project has been on communities within or near the countries of Willacy, Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr, Zapata, Webb, and Val Verde in the Texas-Mexico border region.

In FY01, initial discussions were conducted with Texas A&M University-Kingsville on NCAR's contribution to a climate impact workshop entitled "South Texas in 2050." NCAR/ESIG has agreed to provide climate scenarios and guidance on impact assessment methodologies to all workshop participants. Professor James Norwine from TAMU-Kingsville agreed to join ESIG as a visiting scientist in the summers of 2002 and 2003 to advise on curriculum and training needs for climate impact assessment and emergency management in Texas-Mexico border universities and colleges.

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Effects of Weather Forecasts on Society

Rebecca Morss continued working with Roger Pielke, Jr. (formerly at NCAR, now at the University of Colorado) and others on connecting observing systems, weather forecasts, and their effects on society. As part of this project, she and Pielke are currently co-authoring a paper that discusses the importance of using an unbiased conceptual framework when studying these connections and when analyzing the costs and benefits of proposed observing system changes. She also spent four weeks in February and March 2001 observing and interviewing weather forecasters and users of forecasts in conjunction with the Pacific Landfalling Jets Experiment (PACJET), an experiment to improve wintertime weather forecasts for the West Coast of the U.S. (organized by F. Martin Ralph at NOAA). In addition, she collaborated with Pielke, Robert Harriss, Mel Shapiro (NCAR/NOAA), Rolf Langland (Naval Research Laboratory), Bob Gall, and others, on developing a societal impacts component of The Hemispheric Observing System Research and Predictability Experiment (THORPEX), a proposed set of major field experiments during the next decade to improve 0- to 10-day mid-latitude weather forecasts.

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Methods for Assessing Economic Value of Weather and Climate Forecasts

The goal of this research has been to evaluate methodology for quantifying the economic value of imperfect weather and climate forecasts. During the past year, Richard Katz contributed to the planning of an international research program (i.e., design of appropriate measures of value of potential improvements in weather forecasts as a consequence of The Hemispheric Observing System Research and Predictability Experiment [THORPEX]). A website that categorizes recent case studies of the value of weather and climate forecasts continues to be maintained and updated as well.

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Extreme Weather and Climate Events

Many NCAR divisions are involved in research aspects of extreme weather and climate events. These research areas would benefit from a more integrated focus by combining studies of (1) the atmospheric science of extremes (global climate and mesoscale models), (2) the statistical aspects of extremes (further development and application of extreme value theory), and (3) the societal impacts, resilience, and vulnerability to extremes. Work on developing a comprehensive, cross-division extremes initiative began in FY01, with ESIG, RAP, MMM, and CGD scientists expecting to complete the initiative in FY02.

Various other initiatives and ongoing projects on extreme weather and climate events were carried out during FY01 as follows:

  • Extreme Heat. Heat waves are subtle hazards that claim more human lives than any other natural hazard. The rapid growth of urban populations, the urban heat island effect, and a potential increase in the frequency and duration of heat waves due to global climate change raises a series of issues about the health impacts of urban population and the effective means of hazard mitigation. Olga Wilhelmi (ASP) worked together with Robert Harriss and Katie Purvis (ASP) on evaluating the role of geospatial information technologies in mitigation of heat wave impacts. The paper, in preparation, addresses the issues of social and economic trends that exacerbate human vulnerability in cities, discusses the question of how remote sensing and GIS technologies can enhance understanding, communication, and effectiveness in the prevention of heat wave impacts in urban areas, and presents a conceptual framework for heat wave impacts mitigation. During the summer 2001, SOARS protégé Casey Thornbrugh worked with Harriss, Wilhelmi, Shannon McNeeley, and Asher Ghertner on the heat wave project, "Are American cities ready for the hot times ahead?" This work focused on two case studies (Chicago and Philadelphia) and formed the basis for the Heat Wave Awareness website (in progress).

  • Extreme Weather Sourcebook 2001. The Extreme Weather Sourcebook was first created in 1998 by Pielke et al. to provide quick access to data on the cost of damages from hurricanes, floods, and tornadoes in the United States and its territories. The Sourcebook was updated in FY01 by Roger Pielke, Jr. and Roberta Klein to include data through 1999 on these extreme events in constant 1999 dollars, simplifying comparisons among extreme-weather impacts and states or regions. New additions to the Sourcebook include data on lightning, hail, thunderstorms, heavy rainfall, windstorms, and winter storms. The report was issued in 2001, with the assistance of the American Meteorological Society and UCAR. The Sourcebook moved to Pielke's new website at CIRES (U Colorado) in FY01.

  • Stochastic Models for Damage from Extreme Weather: Richard Katz completed work on a stochastic model for economic damage associated with extreme weather events, such as hurricanes. A paper on this subject was submitted to the Journal of Applied Meteorology.

  • Hurricane Mitch. Michael Glantz and Dale Jamieson (Carleton College) prepared a paper on Hurricane Mitch and Honduras, raising some of the ethical issues that surround the decision of whom to help, when, and how to help in the wake of such a human tragedy. Honduras, at the time of Hurricane Mitch, was the fourth-poorest country in Latin America. The devastation wrought by Hurricane Mitch should serve as a catalyst for governments in the region and the donor community to reconsider how best to design, implement, and integrate development and disaster relief strategies. This paper addressed considerations about the conflicts between intra-generational and inter-generational issues and briefly discussed the notion of "leapfrog" development, followed by a discussion of persistent global inequities. The paper appeared in FY01 in a special issue of Risk Analysis.

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Flashpoints and Hotspots

A "flashpoint" can be defined as a current, dormant, or potential area of geopolitical instability. It can also be applied to a wide range of conflict situations where military action is not involved. An environmental catastrophe can be a flashpoint with respect to societal instability, a hurricane can lead to economic instability, or a drought can lead to migration, which can lead to conflicts. In an attempt to review the value of the notion of "flashpoints" for earliest warning of potential conflict situations from a climate perspective, Michael Glantz, with Kelly Sponberg (NOAA/OGP), organized a planning meeting to bring together different disciplines, countries, and government agencies to assess the application of climate-related flashpoints to decision making. The meeting was postponed from 20-22 September 2001 because of the recent terrorist activities and will be held on 4-5 April 2002 at Columbia University in New York.

Glantz undertook a new activity in FY01 with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization's Environment and Natural Resource Service (SDRN) on "agricultural-environmental hotspots." In recent decades, growing demand for food, fiber, cash crops, and so forth because of expanding populations may cause agricultural activities and environmental conditions to affect each other in adverse ways. This can result in, for example, farmers encroaching onto forested land, or cultivators converting pastureland to farmland. These areas can be viewed as "hotspots," where agricultural practices and environmental conditions intersect to cause environmental degradation. If the processes are allowed to continue, the "hotspots" would become increasingly extreme, leading to reduced crop production and further environmental degradation. Glantz is working with the SDRN to undertake what could be called a "hotspots audit," to identify monitoring activities being carried out within various areas of the FAO and other organizations. This activity will conclude in FY02.

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Population Growth and Climate Change

Population growth and climate change are similar, in that each unfolds slowly, over decades, and each manifests a "momentum phenomenon" in which the effectiveness of efforts to decrease the forces driving the rapid growth is reduced by the long persistence of additional carbon dioxide in the atmosphere or the future births from the very large generation of young people resulting from the high fertility of recent decades. In FY01, John Firor and a colleague completed a book manuscript on this subject, entitled The Crowded Greenhouse: Population, Climate Change, and Sustainability. This book will be published by Yale University Press and is scheduled to appear in FY02.

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Risk-Benefit Assessment of Observing System Decision Alternatives

The Tropical Rainfall Measurement Mission (TRMM) satellite was launched in November 1997. On 18-19 June 2001, Roger Pielke, Jr. convened a workshop at NCAR in collaboration with NASA to discuss the decision of whether to place the TRMM satellite in a low earth orbit in order to extend its lifetime, or de-orbit in a controlled fashion, virtually eliminating any risks to human life and property. The workshop was organized by ESIG and included the participation of NASA (and NASA-supported) scientists and managers. Partly as a result of the decisions made at this workshop, the satellite was changed to its new orbit altitude under the control of NASA engineers at Goddard Space Flight Center. This orbital change could extend the lifespan of TRMM to somewhere between 2005 and 2007. A workshop report is available on line through Roger Pielke, Jr.'s new website at CIRES (U Colorado).

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Wildland Fire Initiative

The Wildland Fire Research and Development program is a new NCAR initiative, led by Richard Wagoner (RAP) and Janice Coen (MMM/RAP). The three major components of the program are wildland fire science, societal impacts, and operational applications. Robert Harriss and Olga Wilhelmi are working on the societal impacts portion of the initiative, which is focused on analyzing and effectively communicating the societal impacts of wildland fire that are relevant to policymaking, strategic planning, and operational decision support systems. Initial research will be focused on assessment of user requirements within the wildland fire community and developing a methodology for integrating fire modeling and GIS.

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