Nearly all of the research called for in this report either requires or would be considerably improved by a comprehensive, coordinated, and continuing set of observations— physical, biological, and social—about climate change, its impacts, and the consequences (both intended and unintended) of efforts to limit its magnitude or adapt to its impacts (Table 4.6). Extensive, robust, and well-calibrated observing systems would support the research that underpins the scientific understanding of how and why climate is changing, provide information about the efficacy of actions and strategies taken to limit or adapt to climate change, and enable the routine dissemination of climate and climate-related information and products to decision makers. Unfortunately, many of the needed observational assets are either underdeveloped or in decline. In addition, a variety of institutional factors—such as distributed responsibility across many different entities—complicate the development of a robust and integrated climate observing system.
The breadth of information needed to support climate-related decision making implies an observational strategy that includes both remotely sensed and in situ observations and that provides information about changes across a broad range of natural and human systems. To be useful, these observations must be
• Sustained for decades to separate long-term trends from short-term variability;
• Well calibrated and consistent through time to ensure that observed changes are real;
• Spatially extensive to account for variability across scales and to ensure that assessments of change are not overly influenced by local phenomena;
• Supported by a robust data management infrastructure that supports effective data archiving, accesses, and stewardship; and
• Sustained by defined roles and responsibilities across the federal government as well as state and local governments, the research community, private businesses, and the international community.
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