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Executive Summary

The Environmental and Societal Impacts Group (ESIG) conducts an interdisciplinary research program that focuses on the evaluation of the societal consequences of weather and climate variability, change, and extreme meteorological events. ESIG aims to be a leading provider and integrator of the scientific knowledge necessary to design new strategies, methods, and tools to prepare for highly uncertain climate futures.

ESIG's fundamental mission connects advances in the atmospheric sciences with the societal need to better anticipate and respond to the detrimental impacts of weather, climate variability, and climate change. This mission is closely tied to NSF's strategic goal to "promote the discovery, integration, dissemination, and employment of new knowledge in service to society." ESIG also integrates and disseminates new knowledge through education and outreach activities that emphasize enhancing the societal "usability" of atmospheric and related science information.

During FY03, ESIG convened two important workshops, finished the planning of another workshop, and produced numerous peer-reviewed publications, including two books published in 2003. ESIG's research falls into three major categories:

(1) The science of weather and climate impact assessment;
(2) Use and value of weather and climate information; and
(3) Developing communication informatics for education and outreach.

The following narrative contains highlights from ESIG's significant accomplishments during FY03. A complete description of NCAR's FY03 research is available in the full Annual Scientific Report.

The Science of Weather and Climate Impact Assessment

Weather and Climate Impact Assessment Strategic Initiative

During FY03, ESIG began several new projects in this Strategic Initiative. ESIG co-leads this Initiative with CGD and RAP. The Initiative expanded significantly during FY03 to include greater development of current research, as well as adding new directions. Many ESIG scientists are currently engaged in characterizing uncertainty in impact assessment work and assessing extreme weather and climate events. The three main thrusts of this Initiative are to (1) characterize uncertainty in impact assessment science; (2) assess and model extreme weather and climate events; and (3) develop a climate/human health program. The Initiative also involves scientific collaborators from the university community, including Johns Hopkins U, U Arizona, U Colorado, U Kansas, U Michigan, U North Carolina, and U Washington, as well as several federal laboratories (e.g., National Severe Storms Lab, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory). During FY03, an "extremes toolkit" was developed to make software available that provides a web-based tutorial to better communicate meteorological extremes in a form accessible to the broader atmospheric community. Additionally, a preliminary climate/health document was produced to assist in establishing an education and research program designed to address the relationship between climate and human health. As a first step in this process, ESIG and ASP will convene an interdisciplinary Summer Institute on Climate and Health during FY04. More information on this Strategic Initiative is available on the website at, or see the Strategic Initiatives link of this Annual Scientific Report for more explanation of current projects.

GIS (Geographic Information Systems) Strategic Initiative

The GIS Strategic Initiative promotes and supports the use of GIS as an analysis and infrastructure tool in atmospheric research, as well as addressing the broader issues of spatial data management and interoperability. It helps to integrate NCAR data and knowledge across disciplines. ESIG and RAP co-lead this Strategic Initiative. During FY03, a GIS coordinator was hired from the Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI), and a lecture series on GIS was initiated to encourage the use of GIS at NCAR and UCAR through training and education. This year, the Initiative has partnered with GIS technology leaders in the public realm (the OpenGIS Consortium) and the private sector (ESRI). Through these partnerships, the GIS Initiative has been working with ESRI to develop an atmospheric data model to provide a structure for seamless integration of atmospheric data in GIS format. A new website has been created that contains extensive information on the four expanded program elements: (1) education, training, and user support; (2) research enabled by GIS; (3) data integration and distribution, and (4) research in GIS technology. More information is available at the newly redesigned website at

Issues in the Impacts of Climatic Variability and Change on Agriculture

ESIG scientists published findings that concluded several years of research in a special issue of Climatic Change (September 2003) on "Issues in the Impacts of Climate Variability and Change on Agriculture: Applications to the Southeastern United States." The papers in this issue are interdisciplinary in nature, from climate modeling to remote sensing to economics. The Southeast is agriculturally quite diverse, growing a wide variety of crops, and research suggests that the region could be highly vulnerable to climate change. In carrying out this multidisciplinary research, ESIG scientists learned to appreciate the importance of defining conceptual frameworks that reach across disciplines. Team members included climatologists, geographers, economists, remote sensing experts, and statisticians. A book containing the collection of articles has also just been published by Kluwer Academic Publishers (Mearns, L.O. (ed.), 2003: Issues in the Impacts of Climate Variability and Change on Agriculture: Applications to the Southeastern United States).

Use and Value of Weather and Climate Information

Early Warning Systems: Do's and Don'ts

An early warning system is made up of several components: the formulation of the warning, the issuance of the warning, and the reception of and response to the warning - each of which has to be considered in the evaluation of an early warning system. A weakness in any part of the process can render the early warning system ineffective, and a system that does not warn effectively will not be taken seriously. ESIG received funds in FY02 to convene an international workshop on "Usable Science VIII: Early Warning Systems," co-sponsored by the Chinese Meteorological Administration and the Chinese Academy of Meteorological Sciences, and held in Shanghai, China, in mid-October. Thirty-two participants from 12 different countries (Australia, Brazil, China, India, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, the UK, the US) and from several different disciplines and funding agencies gathered in Shanghai to examine ways to improve early warning systems, including types of early warning systems in theory and practice, sustainable development, politics, capacity building for early warning, and much more. A comprehensive workshop report will be available in early FY04.

Increasing the Value of Weather Information in the Operation of the Electric Power System

On 6-7 November 2002, ESIG convened a workshop sponsored by the US Weather Research Program on Increasing the Value of Weather Information in the Operation of the Electric Power System. Reliable and high quality electric service is central to public welfare and economic productivity, yet much of electric power decision-making and consumption remains highly exposed to the vagaries of weather. Advance knowledge of the weather's influence on electric power has the potential to greatly reduce society's vulnerability. Thirty-five representatives from the electric power industry, electric power research, academics, and research meteorologists were invited to participate in the two-day workshop. Several suggested action items emerged, which included (1) the development of a common data format in archives and forecasts; (2) coupling of forecasts to GIS-based frameworks; (3) detailed analysis of the causes for failure in different weather events; (4) demonstrations of new weather products and their value in industry decision-making; and (5) education programs to inform the industry of cutting-edge capabilities in meteorology. Full workshop results are available on the website and in the workshop report.

International Fisheries and Climate Variability

Expanding upon previous studies in fisheries research, ESIG has created a collaborative project on International Fisheries and Climate Variability that encompasses three separate activities to examine the impacts of climate variability on fish abundance and distribution, as well as the implications of that variability on efforts to maintain effective cooperative international fisheries management. The three components of the project are: (1) climate variability and Pacific salmon, which describes the evolution of the institutional framework for US/Canadian cooperation on Pacific salmon management; (2) climatic regime shifts and cooperative fishery management, which focuses on the general problems posed by climatic regime shifts to international fisheries management; and (3) climate variability: implications for tuna management, which addresses the question of how to achieve stable management of multinational marine fisheries in an unstable climatic environment. The ESIG project lead scientist is collaborating with colleagues from the University of Montana, the University of British Columbia, and Moscow State University, among others. The international project was begun in FY03 and continues into FY04.

Developing Communication Informatics for Education and Outreach

Advanced Institute on Urbanization, Emissions, and the Global Carbon Cycle

For three weeks in August 2003 (4-22 August), 18 outstanding natural and social scientists, engineers, and urban planners from 12 countries (Brazil, Chile, China, Columbia, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Uganda) were invited to NCAR to examine the interaction of cities with their environments, particularly emissions of both long-lived greenhouse gases and short-lived polluting gases and particulates. This Advanced Institute is the second in a series implemented by START (the global change SysTem for Analysis, Research and Training) that aims to enhance early- to mid-career professionals from developing countries to play a leadership role in key issues of global environmental change and sustainable development. Sponsored by NCAR and START, and supported by the David and Lucille Packard Foundation and the Inter-American Institute for Global Change, this Advanced Institute emphasized trans-disciplinary thinking and interdisciplinary collaboration. Curriculum topics during the intensive seminar session in Boulder included: (1) conceptual frameworks for the study of urban ecosystems and urban metabolism; (2) methodologies for estimating and measuring emissions of greenhouse gases from metropolitan regions and their application in developing regions; (3) socioeconomic factors that control urban emissions; (4) institutions and incentive/disincentive systems for managing urban carbon and greenhouse gas emissions; (5) innovative technologies and their potential impact on emissions; and (6) future trajectories of urban emissions as a component of the global carbon cycle.

Climate Affairs: A Primer

The idea to look at climate and climate-related issues through the multidisciplinary lens of Climate Affairs has been catalyzed by the spirit of the times: an obvious growing concern about a broad range of climate-related issues that affect society and the environment. In May 2003, after more than two years of preparation, Island Press published Climate Affairs: A Primer. Stimulated by the notion of Marine Affairs, a multidisciplinary activity that emerged during the negotiations to establish a "Law of the Sea" in the post-World War II period, Climate Affairs is designed to foster a multidisciplinary "Law of the Atmosphere" in the twenty-first century. Basically, this program fosters the training of educators and professionals in six areas: Climate Science, Climate Impacts on Ecosystems and Societies, Climate Policy and Law, Climate Politics, Climate Economics, and Climate Ethics and Equity. Establishing a Climate Affairs program will enable undergraduate as well as graduate students to concentrate their educational training in areas of research, impact assessment, and policy implications that center on climate and climate-related issues. They will be better prepared than those without such training to work in various disciplinary areas such as industry, agriculture, fisheries, mining, insurance, education, health, civil defense, government agencies, and disaster prevention.

Table of Contents | Director's Message | Executive Summary
Strategic Initiatives
| Fundamental Research | Enhancing Productivity | Protection of Life and Property
Education & Outreach | Additional Educational Activities | Publications | Community Service
Staff, Visitors and Collaborators | ASR 2003 Home