by Judith Curry
The title for this post comes from a recent presentation by Michael Morgan, Director of the Atmospheric and Geospace Sciences Division at NSF.
Each year, the University Corporation for Atmospheric Sciences (UCAR) holds an annual meeting for its members in Boulder. UCAR is the governing body of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).
UCAR has a new director, Tom Bogdan, who seems to be shaking things up a bit, in interesting ways. This post discusses some of the presentations a the UCAR meeting, and also some of Bogdan’s new initiatives.
The program for the UCAR annual meeting is found [here]. Bogdan’s overview presentation on UCAR is [here]. What I want to focus on in this post are two presentations, one by Michael Morgan and the other by Tom Bodgan, regarding the future of climate science.
Michael Morgan’s presentation, titled Whither (wither?) climate science? can be found [here]. Some excerpts:
- Obscurity is not necessarily bad; the science would be well-served it it were not politicized.
- Climate science is much more than climate change science; support for climate research has gone up–both in basic research and impacts
Administration priorities FY2014
Within the U.S. Glbal Change Research Program, agencies should give priority to new activities identified in the recently released 2012 Strategic Plan. Particular emphasis should be gien to research that advances understanding of vulnerabilities in human and biogeophysical systems and their relationships to climate extremes, thresholds and tipping points. This will require integrated cross-sectoral, biogeophysical, and socioeconomic observations as well as improved simulation and modeling. Specific areas where progress is needed include observations to detect trends in extremes; integration of observation into models; attribution of change to human or natural causes; integrated research on Earth and human systems; simulation and prediction at spatial and temporal scale conducive to decision making; and adaptation responses to changing frequency and intensity of extreme events.
Administration priorities dictate research opportunities
- Yes, the climate science budget has received increases due to concerns over climate change
- This has led to modest increases in core activities, but more notable increases in funding from solicitations
Some of the key near-term science challenges in Climate and Large Scale Dynamics:
- Modeling and prediction of organized tropical convection’
- Tropical-extratropical interactions; storm tracs and moisture transports
- Role of atmosphere-ocean interactions in intraseasonal variability
- Systematic zonal flow variations: mechanisms and predictive implications
- Predictability of tropospheric wave guides and baroclinic wave packets
- Troposphere-stratosphere interactions; modeling and potential predictability
- Variabilitity of climate modes beyond ENSO and MJO
- Effects of global ocean conditions, e.g. tropical Indian and Atlantic Oceans
- Effects of land surface processes
- Warm season climate system and its predictability
- Potential implications of climate change
Attribution problems remain
- Type 1: How do you disentangle natural variability of the climate/earth system from ‘forced’ change?
- Type 2: Given that the climate system is changing due to anthropogenic effects, how doyou attribute particular events to the change? What are the conditional PDFs?
Tom Bogdan’s presentation titled Climate sciences: a return to relative obscurity or a rising relevance? is found [here]. Some excerpts:
We have two hypotheses for the future of climate research:
Inertia and desperation: “It is about the battle between inertia (skeptics, people who don’t care, don’t understand, or put a low priority on such issues) and the need for action, where ‘now or never’ pleas are being made and ignored because they sound too desperate.”
Questions answered: “On the other end, climate sciences may be on the way down because it has accomplished the mission that has stimulated its growth in the past 20 years; we have provided society an answer; but. . . unless we choose to work on impacts, we are not part of the solution.”
Inertia — really? In spite of the noise, public views are now more accepting of the influence of climate on our lives.
The key questions are answered? Not so fast
The science IS settled in terms of knowing that we are changing Earth’s climate, AND YET
There are still significant questions and impacts that merit continued and deepening work – examples include:
- Regional climate
- Adaptation planning
- Understanding anomalies
Rather than declining relevance, our time is now if we adapt to a changed environment and playing field
FACE FISCAL REALITIES – Recognize government funding will likely be flat to down for the foreseeable future under most scenarios
– We must augment our traditional sources of funding for our work from those who will be affected by the changes across sectors
STOP FIGHTING THE LAST WAR – Spend less energy battling skeptics
– With the science established, we must move to more direct solutions in service to society, directly supporting those on the front lines who can make the most of our insights
PLAY TO OUR STRENGTHS – We are among the most successful predictors the world has ever seen*
– We have to double-down on the life-saving and economy-enhancing work our community does at the heart of weather-climate nexus over longer timeframes.
JC comments: As pointed out in Michael Morgan’s presentation, Administration priorities play a big role in determining what science gets funded, and climate scientists are pretty quick to figure out the optimal path for professional advancement in terms of recognition and funding. I have to say that Bush 41 and 43 were actually the best presidents for climate science research, since they focused their administration’s priorities in this area on the actual science.
As highlighted in Michael Morgan’s presentation, there are a lot of remaining challenges in the field of climate and large scale dynamics. His list is a good one, but by no means complete. These issues are at the heart of scientific problems of attribution, regional climate variability, and extreme events. We aren’t going to be able to adequately address those issues without focusing on Michael Morgan’s list. And kudos to Michael Morgan for acknowledging that the attribution issues surrounding climate change are not settled, although in his last slide he seems to accept the AR4 main attribution statement.
The field is focused on regional climate variability and extreme events, i.e. applications of climate model simulations. At the RS Workshop, I had an extensive conversation with Brian Hoskins about the lack of attention being paid to fundamental large scale dynamics, without which our understanding of climate dynamics will be stalled and our climate models will continue to be inadequate.
Tom Bogdan provides a good strategy for moving forward:
- face fiscal realities
- stop fighting the last war
- play to our strengths
I think each of these points are very good, but I disagree somewhat with the subtext he provides. Regarding the war against skeptics, this fails to acknowledge that the rational skeptics position pretty much are raising main of the issues that Michael Morgan has raised. With regards to playing to our strengths, our strengths are in weather prediction.
Along these lines, Tom Bogdan is spearheading the unified call for a U.S. Weather Commission [link]. Moving the focus to seasonal and subseasonal weather/climate forecasting would be of enormous scientific and socioeconomic benefit. The socioeconomic benefits are obvious. The scientific benefits would address a number of Michael Morgan’s listed challenges, and provide the foundational understanding for tackling many of the others.