Comprehensive and Integrated Climate Observing System Should Be Developed Built and Maintained by the Federal Program and Relevant National and International Partners

The climate observing system should be able to monitor a broad spectrum of changes, including changes in the physical climate system (such as sea level rise, sea ice declines, and soil moisture changes); changes in related biological systems (such as species shifts and changes in crop yield or the amount of carbon stored in forests); the impacts of these changes on human systems (including human health and economic impacts); trends in human systems (such as human population and consumption changes and GHG emission trends); indicators of climate vulnerability and adaptive capacity across a range of sectors and spatial scales; and indicators of the effectiveness of actions taken to limit the magnitude of climate change and adapt to its impacts. In addition to a robust and flexible network of remote and in situ assets to monitor physical, chemical, and biological changes, observations and data sets from a wide range of human systems are needed. Observations of emission trends and the effectiveness of various climate policies and action plans are particularly important for informing actions taken to limit the magnitude of future climate change, while observations of climate change impacts at regional to local scales are particularly important for informing adaptation decisions.

The observing system, like other research activities and responses to climate change, should be integrated and flexible, and it should support adaptive risk management and decision making. For example, although observational assets with long-term and global coverage will play a critical role in monitoring climate change, its impacts, and our responses to it, we may also need easily deployable short-term observational technologies to monitor potential abrupt changes or important regional trends. The observing system should also be designed both to take advantage of advances in technology and to explicitly support adaptive risk management and decision making. External advisory boards, user councils, and other formal and informal stakeholder groups (see Recommendation 5) can play an important role in ensuring that the observing system is supplying the information required by stakeholders.

Adequate Climate Data Access, Management, and Stewardship Are Needed

Linking, integrating, and providing access to data of dramatically different types and scales will call for new and improved approaches and standards for climate and climate-related data management, including data collection, storage, and stewardship. To ensure a stable, long-term record of climate and climate-related changes, funding for data-generating activities should always include resources for long-term data management (NRC, 2007d). An equally important activity, described in further detail in Chapter 4, is the integration of data from different sources through data assimilation, analysis, and reanalysis. Finally, the system should allow ready access to data by a wide range of users, including decision makers. This will require the federal climate change program to work closely with programs involved in informing and supporting effective responses to climate change.

Recommendation 3: The federal climate change research program, working in partnership with other relevant domestic and international bodies, should redouble efforts to design, deploy, and maintain a comprehensive observing system that can support all aspects of understanding and responding to climate change.

Enhanced Modeling Capabilities and Other Analytical Tools

Improved predictions and scenarios of future climate change, its impacts, and related changes in ecosystems and human systems are critical for understanding and guiding plans to respond to climate, many of which require local- or regional-scale information at decadal time scales. As discussed in Chapters 4 and 6, great strides have been made in improving the spatial resolution, comprehensiveness, and fidelity of global climate and Earth system models. However, improvements are still needed in the ability of climate models to represent key climate feedback processes (such as the carbon cycle and changes in ice sheets) and to resolve and simulate the physical processes, interactions, and feedbacks that govern climate change at regional scales. Another emerging research need is integrated assessment models that can connect emissions projec tions, GHG concentrations, climate trends, and the social, economic, and environmental impacts of these trends on human and environmental systems. Other kinds of assessment tools and models, including those that allow integrated analysis of trade-offs and unintended consequences among combinations of actions or across different sectors, would also be valuable both to improve understanding and to support climate-related decision making. Chapter 4 includes a more extended description of these and other research needs related to improved projections, analyses, and assessments.

As noted in Chapter 4, and in many previous reports (e.g., NRC, 2009k), a national strategy is needed to improve (and to coordinate existing efforts to improve) regional climate modeling, global Earth system modeling, and various integrated assessment, vulnerability, impact, and adaptation modeling efforts. Developing improved models and analytical tools is strongly dependent on the availability of high-performance computing capacity as well as the infrastructure and human resources needed to develop, manage, analyze, and improve modeling approaches. The output from such models needs to be made readily available to a wide range of decision makers in formats that allow them to incorporate model analyses and projections into their decision-making processes. As with the integrated climate observing system—and perhaps more so, given the highly technical and interdisciplinary nature of many model development activities—the federal climate change research program is the logical entity for coordinating and integrating these development efforts. Input and buy-in will be needed from its partner agencies, action-oriented response programs, and other stakeholders. Likewise, international coordination and leveraging will be vital.

Recommendation 4: The federal climate change research program should work with the international research community and other relevant partners to support and develop advanced models and other analytical tools to improve understanding and assist in decision making related to climate change.


A research effort that can improve understanding of and support effective responses to climate change across a broad range of scales will require the engagement of universities, professional societies, nongovernmental organizations, corporations, and governments at many levels, including international partners. To date, the federal government, under the auspices of the USGCRP, has played a leadership role in the nation's climate change research enterprise. This section summarizes the history, structure, and current goals of the USGCRP, evaluates its capacity to carry out the seven research themes identified in Chapter 4, and recommends elements that would be needed for the USGCRP, or another federal entity, to lead and coordinate the nation's climate change research efforts. Additional background on the history and organization of the USGCRP can be found in Appendix E.

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