Climate change, weather extremes, atmospheric pollution, and space weather have significant societal, environmental, and economic costs. More accurate prediction can help reduce these costs by providing advance warning of dangerous conditions. But the development of effective long-term strategies to minimize damages is hampered by incomplete ability to attribute observed changes in the atmosphere and Earth system to specific causes and mechanisms. For instance, the precise mix of factors driving regional climate variability is not fully understood. There are also many unanswered questions about the relationships among atmospheric change and ecological, biological, and societal processes. Improved understanding of such relationships would, for example, enable us to better anticipate how continued climate change will affect water availability, agriculture, and urban development in the western United States or to project the rate of loss of biodiversity from the combination of climate change, degraded air quality, and land use change. Enhancing our ability to analyze and determine the causes of changes and their impacts will help ensure that mitigation and adaptation strategies are focused on the right problems.
NCAR, with its university partners, is well suited to address the twin challenges of prediction and attribution because of our broad strength in process studies, observational research, model development, and simulation, as well as our long experience in collaborative interdisciplinary research. NCAR's deep experience in modeling complex processes provides a strong foundation for accurately quantifying the uncertainty associated with predictions - an important component of making them more useful for decision making and informing policy. Over the next three to five years, we will
- Produce experimental high-resolution climate forecasts for the next few decades, with companion measures of uncertainty, and work with collaborators to use these for investigating regional-scale climate impacts
- Conduct research and develop models to improve the accuracy and utility of forecasts of high-impact weather, focused on hurricane landfall and intensity, severe thunderstorms, and other extreme events
- Use models and observations to more accurately identify the natural and anthropogenic processes driving atmospheric changes as well as related societal and environmental vulnerabilities, impacts, and feedbacks
- Develop new techniques for predicting changes in air quality and their impacts on ecosystems and human health
- Analyze and predict the Sun's variable magnetic, radiative, and particulate outputs and their impacts on the terrestrial environment
- Collect critical measurements needed to improve our understanding of physical processes and test and improve models and their predictions of the atmosphere and the Sun
- Develop a comprehensive model of interactive processes throughout the Earth's atmosphere-ionosphere-magnetosphere systems, analyze how these are affected by solar variability, and begin prediction of space weather
Over the next five to ten years, we expect to move from independent predictions of climate, weather, and air quality to more unified environmental predictions that include aspects of all three. Fundamental research conducted at universities, NCAR, and other scientific institutions will significantly improve our understanding of basic atmospheric, oceanic, biological, hydrological, solar, and ecological processes. New modeling systems will permit integrated analysis of the relationship among changes in atmospheric composition, climate, and weather. We also expect significant advances in understanding how such changes affect ocean acidity, plant and animal species, ecosystems, human health, and communities. This should enable the attribution of observed impacts to specific causes and lead to more detailed, accurate, and useful prediction of potential future impacts, thus underpinning development of effective adaptation and mitigation strategies.