Seasonal to interannual prediction has a long history in a variety of guises, but it is in the five years during and since the 1997/98 El Niño event that it has become a major research and application issue. It has been demonstrated unequivocally that short-range climate prediction is achievable with skill in many parts of the world. The level of skill available varies geographically and with season, highest levels tending to be found in the tropics, and in some places may only be useable during windows of opportunity. In all cases predictability is available only over large temporal and spatial scales as well as in probabilistic terms, and it is these facts that create difficulties in applications. Attempts through the use of downscaling via RCMs are amongst those being made to overcome the scale problem. Addressing the probability problem is an issue that requires improved methods of interpreting forecast information into applications actions.
An increasing number of projects are being run to assess the opportunities of the predictions in agriculture in numerous crops and disparate regions of the world. Across the range of projects have been initiatives to understand how climate information is used in agriculture, to provide detailed historical information to guide decision making, and to interpret forecasts through a variety of approaches involving crop models and other analysis tools. There is little doubt that benefit has been gained by agriculture and that the potential for increasing this benefit in the future exists. However the optimal approach for using the predictions in a consistent manner remains to be assessed.
Climate variability sits at the lower end of the temporal spectrum occupied at longer scales by climate change. Insofar as climate change deals with trends, so within those trends lie the climate variations that have formed the subject matter of this paper. Adaptation to climate change incorporates adaptation not only to impacts of trends but also to impacts of changes in variability. A new multidisciplinary project, GECaFS,18 is examining the adaptation needs of agricultural under a changing climate. As such many of GECaFS' considerations are directly equivalent to those required for handling climate variations. The synergies and opportunities for integration of climate and agricultural sciences will continue to grow, and it is likely that we will see a cascading of similar benefits to other climate sensitive industries and activities.
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