Understanding Climate Projections: Guidance for Climate Change Adaptation Planning

 JUL 30, 2015    by ALEX BRYAN

Example output generated from the Regional Climate Model (RegCM) developed by the International Center for Theoretical Physics (ICTP).

Climate change threatens our lands and seas, our wildlife, and our natural and cultural resources. To conserve our natural environment, managers rely on climate model projections to determine where to take action, what type of action to take, and how much action to apply. Ecologists and biologists depend on these projections to better understand how natural ecosystems will respond to the changing climate. A variety of climate models have been developed, and managers and environmental scientists often need guidance to determine the most likely future conditions and the range of possible alternatives. I am a postdoctoral fellow and climate scientist for the NE CSC, providing such guidance to NE CSC stakeholders to help them better anticipate and prepare for future climate. As leader of the Climate Assessments and Scenario Planning (CLASP) project, I investigate how the climate is changing with respect to our natural ecosystems and resources, assesses the predictability of those changes, and educates managers on those predictions. Additionally, I provide technical support for users of climate model data and guides potential users to data sets that best fit their needs.

For as long I can remember I have had a long standing interest in applied climate science and, in particular, the link between climate and the environment. While earning a degree in meteorology from Valparaiso University, I studied air pollution as part of two NASA field campaigns. Both campaigns investigated natural sources of pollution, such as tropical convection and forest fires. I measured atmospheric profiles of ozone using balloon-borne ozone sensors as part of these campaigns. During one campaign, I observed ozone formation from lightning after one balloon became trapped in a storm cloud, inspiring my interest in the intersection between climate and environmental health.

Alex measures atmospheric profiles of ozone using balloon-borne ozone sensors as part of a NASA project.

Wanting to know more about naturally-occurring pollution, I pursued a graduate degree at the University of Michigan studying the role of forests in air quality and regional climate. Among my projects, I applied a downscaled regional climate model to the Great Lakes region to study how heavier rains after climate change might affect algal bloom formation in western Lake Erie (see top image). In addition to conducting and analyzing the climate simulations, I assisted with integrating the data into hydrologic and ecologic models. Through this work, I became interested in the utility of climate models beyond the study of atmospheric processes and toward real-world applications. In other words, I desired to make climate model data actionable.

With the NE CSC, I’m working to make climate science actionable through efforts to guide conservation planning. I assist on projects funded by the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCCs) and serve on technical teams for their landscape conservation design (LCD) efforts. I have presented on climate modeling techniques and model projections tailored for a range of audiences, from forest managers in West Virginia to research ecologists studying climate change impacts on moose in the North Woods. I recently led the development of a chapter on climate projections as part of a consortium-wide effort to integrate climate change into the State Wildlife Action Plans. Currently, I am providing localized climate trends to Native American tribes in Michigan and Wisconsin, as well as managers with the National Park Service in Acadia National Park, to help them prepare for the impacts of climate change.

In my research, I continue to examine downscaled climate data, but with an eye to conserving our landscapes and wildlife in the face of climate change. I am engaged on a cross-CSC effort to assess the reliability of various types of climate models at capturing critical thresholds that threaten a species’ survival. In addition, I am investigating changes in the frequency, intensity, and duration of late-spring freezes and their timing relative to certain biological transitions (e.g., leaf-out, migration, and winter coat removal). Over my time with the Center, I hope to examine changes in many other biologically-relevant climate indices in order to help guide conservation planners and managers.

For more information about CLASP, visit the project page

This post originally appeared on NE CSCs website on April 22, 2014.

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