THE U.s. Global ChangeResearchProgram(USGCRP) supports research on the interactions of natural and human-induced changes in the global environment and their effects on society. The USGCRP began as a presidential initiative in 1989 and was codified by Congress in the Global Change Research Act of 1990, which mandates development of a coordinated interagency research program. Participants in the USGCRP include the Agency for International Development, Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Department of Defense, Department of Energy, Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, Department of State, Department of Transportation, Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey, Environmental Protection Agency, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Science Foundation, and the Smithsonian Institution.
The Office of Science and Technology Policy, the Office of Management and Budget, and the Council on Environmental Quality supervise the activities on behalf of the Executive Office of the President. Since its establishment, the USGCRP has funded research and activities, together with several other national and international science programs, to document important aspects of the sources and lifetimes of greenhouse gases. The program has also established extensive space-based systems for global monitoring of climate and ecosystem. Its researchers have started to analyze the complex issues of various aerosol species that have a significant effect on the climate. They have also furthered understanding of the global water and carbon cycles and made major progress in computer modeling of the global climate.
The USGCRP carries out research in several focus areas. The research in atmospheric composition focuses on how human activities and natural phenomena affect the atmosphere and on how those changes relate to important issues such as climate change and ozone layer depletion. The research in this area aims to develop a framework for observation that will provide decisionmakers with sound scientific information both in the United States and abroad. The research carried out in this area has contributed to the approval of laws and international treaties that protect the national and global environment. In addition, it has shown connections between global change and ozone depletion, as well as air-quality degradation at local, regional, and global levels. Scientists have been able to improve predictive models on climate change by taking into account the interconnectedness of these factors. This area of study has also tackled the important problem of atmospheric aerosols (particulate matter). Similar to greenhouse gases, aerosols have increased greatly in their atmospheric concentration since the Industrial Revolution and cause changes to the energy balance of the planet. Unlike greenhouse gases, however, aerosols can have either a warming or a cooling influence on the climate.
Since 2002, the Global Change Research Program and the administration's U.S. Climate Change Research Initiative (CCRI) established the Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) to allow the United States and the global community with scientific knowledge to manage risks and opportunities of change in the climate and the related environmental systems. Every year the CCSP produces the report "Our Changing Planet," which supplements the president's budget for that fiscal year. The preview of the report for year 2008 unmistakably states that "climate research conducted over the past several years indicates that most of the global warming experienced in the past few decades is very likely due to the observed increase in greenhouse gas concentrations from human activities. Research also indicates that the human influence on the climate system is expected to increase." Because of these findings, the report recommends that society should be "equipped with the best possible knowledge of climate variability and change so that we may exercise responsible stewardship for the environment, lessen the potential for negative climate impacts, and take advantage of positive opportunities where they exist."
The scientists working in climate variability and change have made significant progress in identifying the causes of climate change. USGCRP projects in this area have also attempted to incorporate this new knowledge into models for the prediction of future climate variability and for the exploration of the effects of human activities on climate. A new generation of climate models improved represen tations of physical processes, as well as increased resolution. Despite these improvements, there are still significant uncertainties associated with certain aspects of climate models.
Research on the global carbon cycle has attempted to quantify the extent of the dynamic reservoirs and fluxes of carbon within the Earth system. Researchers have also tried to predict how carbon cycling might change and be managed in future years. This research should supply guidelines on how to achieve an appropriate balance of risk, cost, and benefit.
The Global Water Cycle was selected as a focus area in USGCRP research, as the cycle plays a critical role in the functioning of the Earth system, and an incorrect understanding of such a cycle is one of the main sources of uncertainty in climate prediction. The water cycle includes all the complex physical, chemical, and biological processes that are necessary for ecosystems and that influence climate. The research in this area aims at developing responses to the consequences of water cycle variability. The changing ecosystems area is motivated by the awareness that global change can affect the structure and functioning of ecosystems in complex ways. The role of ecosystems research is to assess the potential effects of global change on ecosystems to help society respond effectively to such change. Research focuses on modifications in ecosystem structure and functioning and on potential alterations in the frequency and intensity of climate-related disturbances that may have significant effects on society.
The area of land use and land cover change acknowledges that land use and land cover are connected to climate. They can be the determining factors in the exchange of greenhouse gases between the land surface and the atmosphere, the radiation balance of the land surface, and the exchange of sensible heat between the land surface and the atmosphere. Researchers in this area analyze how changes in land use and land cover contribute to climate change and variability.
The research in human contributions and responses is based on the assumption that decision makers and other interested citizens need reliable scientific data to make decisions and actions that address the risks of and opportunities for changes in climate and related systems. The results of these USGCRP researchers are intended to shape public debates about climate-
related issues. They should point at ways to reduce climate change and to adapt to climate variability.
In addition to these focus areas, the USGCRP also has a series of cross-cutting activities. The Observing and Monitoring the Climate System interagency working group develops research in the planning and operation of observing systems, including several new Earth-observing satellites, suborbital systems, surface networks, reference sites, and process studies. These can supply reliable data on the Earth's climate system and can be helpful in the prevention of natural disasters. USGCRP sections and researchers are all involved in communications initiatives to improve public understanding of climate change research and to make scientific findings more accessible to different audiences. Finally, the interagency working group of International Research Cooperation works with major international scientific organizations on behalf of the U.S. government and the scientific community.
sEE ALsO: Carbon Dioxide; Climate Change, Effects; Department of Defense, U.S.; Department of Energy, U.S.; National Aeronautics And Space Administration (NASA); National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Luca Prono University of Nottingham
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