|Home Library Strategic Plan 2003 Review Draft, November 2002 Chapter 12: Grand Challenges in Modeling, Observations, and Information Systems|
Plan for the
This chapter's contents...
Research into the basic processes of global environmental change provides the foundation of knowledge required to improve projections and understand the consequences of interacting stresses on natural resources and human activities. However, the seven research elements described in Part II cannot meet the Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) objective for the coming decade. Even the first part of the objective -- extending knowledge of the Earth system and improving projections of global change at scales relevant to decisionmaking -- cannot be met without more extensive integration, regional synthesis, advances in modeling capabilities, and sustained commitment to observations and data information systems.
Observations, modeling, and data and information dissemination have been thought of as crosscutting, "enabling" activities since the US Global Change Research Program's (USGCRP) inception -- hence these are already tightly coupled to the seven research elements. These are needs that are particular to a given research area and must be planned and implemented in close association with the research that they support or draw on. However, they also need to be managed in a focused manner because they provide essential infrastructure that must serve multiple purposes within the CCSP -- enabling fundamental research, as well as supporting assessment and decisionmaking -- and because they depend on the distributed assets of CCSP agencies, some of which were originally developed to serve other needs.
These activities are of the highest priority for the CCSP. Because of their crosscutting nature, these capabilities are also particularly challenging to foster. The sections that follow outline new objectives and approaches that will improve CCSP implementation of these areas and contribute to the evolution of the program into one that successfully integrates research and responds to the needs of the next decade.
The study of global change requires a strong base of observations. The Global Change Research Act of 1990 specifically calls for "global measurements, establishing worldwide observations necessary to understand the physical, chemical, and biological processes responsible for changes in the Earth system on all relevant spatial and time scales," as well as "documentation of global change, including the development of mechanisms for recording changes that will actually occur in the Earth system over the coming decades." The program continues to respond to this call by following a strategy to address observations on appropriate space and time scales. The strategy includes guiding principles, identification of priorities, and effective management of available resources.
The development of new space-based global observing capabilities was a primary focus of the program's first decade. Several new Earth-observing satellites -- including TOPEX/POSEIDON, Jason-1, TRMM, QuikSCAT, SeaWiFS, EOS-Terra, EOS-Aqua, and Landsat-7 -- are now producing unprecedented amounts of high-quality global data for the research community and other users, and new data from satellites soon to be launched are not far behind. There have also been advances in programs that provide additional important data for global change research such as the Global Climate Observing System (GCOS) Surface Network (GSN), the Tropical Atmosphere-Ocean moored array (TAO), Argo, the Joint Global Ocean Flux Study, the Global Terrestrial Network for Permafrost (GTN-P), and the Ameriflux network. Many new ground-based and ocean observing technologies have also been developed and demonstrated.
Yet despite these major achievements, many serious observing-system challenges remain for the CCSP. Several fundamental challenges for the next decade include:
A range of observational requirements are identified in the CCSP research elements described in Part II of this plan, including both existing measurement programs that must be maintained and enhanced, and new measurements that must be initiated (see box: Observational Priorities in CCSP Program Elements). A key lesson learned over the past decade is that observing systems and networks must be implemented in a way that allows flexibility as both requirements and technology evolve. Therefore, the program will regularly assess the evolving science requirements and priorities and propose modifications to the observing systems that are required for the CCSP to execute its research plans. This process must involve the scientific community and program managers working on each research element, as well as those involved in modeling, scientific assessment, and other integrative activities.
The National Research Council (NRC) has specified six attributes of the Earth's climate system that are especially important to society:
Developing a better understanding of natural and human-induced climate changes is dependent on accurate long-term measurements of the mean state or condition, variability over time scales, geographic variability, and the frequency and persistence of extreme values of each of these variables. The CCSP has expanded this initial inventory to encompass the needs of research on and applications to the global cycles of carbon, water and biogeochemical constituents, atmospheric composition, and changes in land use. The need to characterize the vulnerability and resilience of society and of natural and managed ecosystems to change, and thus to develop a more complete understanding of the potential impacts of global change, adds yet another dimension to observational requirements.
Observing systems are currently in place within both research and operational programs that partially fulfill the requirements for meeting these objectives. Other key sensors and observing networks still need to be developed and implemented. Priorities for these augmentations will be determined by the scientific needs of the research elements and a set of agreed criteria (see box: Observing System Prioritization Criteria). The management of the program will recommend these augmentations in consultation with the scientific community. The continued development and deployment of new technology that can improve the accuracy and lower the costs of space-based observing systems and suborbital measurements (i.e., those within the atmosphere, at Earth's surface, and below it) is also critical. Careful calibration and overlapping operation of new and old technology during transitions is a necessity for maintaining the quality control of data records.
There is an immediate need to work with US Government agencies to prevent the further deterioration of operational observing systems that provide essential data for global change research. In some cases, it may be cost effective to invest in stabilizing and upgrading existing operational systems rather than in the creation of new systems. In other cases, the transition of proven research systems to operational status may help fill both operational and research requirements in a more cost effective way. More effective integration of the planning and development of research and operational systems will benefit both communities.
The need for dedicated observing systems for climate change research is well established, and the CCSP is poised to assist agencies to build on the successful deployment of many elements of such systems over the last five years. Thus a near-term priority for the program is augmentation of existing observations to initiate the Global Climate Observing System (GCOS), as described in Chapter 3. There is a clear consensus on a core set of long-term measurement requirements for GCOS, many of which are parts of existing operational observing systems and many of which need to become parts of operational systems. A system to meet requirements for long-term continuous data must be coupled with ongoing opportunities, such as explorer satellites, to initiate shorter-term measurements of key processes and forcing factors.
The major near-term challenge is to seek every opportunity to improve and maintain the coverage, quality, and consistency of land, ocean, and atmosphere measurements to complement the research observation capabilities that have been initiated by the USGCRP in the past and new capabilities developed over the next decade. Additionally, provisions must be made for observations that do not necessarily require continuity, e.g. monitoring changes of ice sheets and glaciers over time. Such observations, which must be particularly well calibrated, differ from many others in that they do not directly feed into routine climate-related models and do not fit the "transition to operational" paradigm. They are necessary, however, for addressing critical elements of the CCSP plan.
The creation of US networks is a valuable step in creating an observing system; however the overarching need is for global networks and systems. The CCSP will continue to support the international development of the Integrated Global Observing Strategy, and the Global Climate, Ocean, and Terrestrial Observing Systems. As the largest supporter of global change research and observations, the United States has a special responsibility to lead the development of an integrated global Earth observing system, but this task cannot be accomplished without active international support and participation. The CCSP will continue or expand efforts to assist and support developing nations in improving their observing networks.
It is the responsibility of the CCSP to ensure that decisions on the implementation and maintenance of important space-based and in situ observing system components are based primarily on scientific needs. However, many important observing systems are developed and operated by organizations that are not formal participants in the CCSP, making the development of strong cooperative relationships that extend beyond the current CCSP a necessity. The CCSP will work with observing system partners and the scientific community to identify requirements and set priorities in light of available resources and competing needs, in order to develop the observing system priorities identified in the table "Observational Priorities in CCSP Program Elements." Near-term CCSP observing system objectives include:
2. Modeling capabilities
Modeling is one of the most important components of the CCSP. Models are an essential tool for synthesizing observations, theory, and experimental results to investigate how the Earth system works and how it is affected by human activities. Such models can be used in both a retrospective sense, to test the accuracy of modeled changes in Earth system forcing and response by comparing model results with observations of past change, and in a prognostic sense, for calculating the response of the Earth system to projected future forcing. Models provide the only quantitative means to integrate scientific understanding of the many components of the climate system and, thus, are the only tools available for making quantitative projections. Comprehensive climate models represent the major components of the climate system (atmosphere, oceans, land surface, cryosphere, and biosphere) and the transfer of water, energy, organic chemicals, and mass among them, but are still in their formative stages. Comprehensive climate models are complex and require "high-end" computer resources to run.
The current organizational structure of the US modeling effort has not fully supported the product-driven modeling that is especially important for making climate model information more usable and applicable to the broader global change research community. The NRC (1999b and 2001b) reports provide valuable guidance on how to improve US climate modeling efforts. They emphasize:
In the next decade, the CCSP modeling component must expand beyond the simulation and prediction of the physical climate system to include the complex and interrelated nature of the many processes that make up the Earth system, including dynamic ecosystems and biogeochemistry. Previously, the focus in model development has been primarily on the largest spatial scales (especially global). It is clear that many emerging modeling needs, especially for predictive applications, are at the regional scales at which most societal and environmental resource decisions are made. It is thus increasingly important that models have the capacity to integrate across the multiple components and processes needed to describe the Earth system in sufficient complexity, while simultaneously providing reliable information on increasingly refined spatial scales.
In addition, the computational capability, software, and model physics must be developed to allow for model resolutions at the smaller scales that support regional decisions. These are two immense challenges. Over the long term, the CCSP must define a path that leads from comprehensive climate modeling as a research activity alone to the point where it can routinely produce high quality, but standard products, on demand. Further, the CCSP must guarantee that a productive partnership is maintained between product-driven modeling activities and the discovery-driven modeling research program that will underpin its credibility and future success.
The CCSP strategy envisions two complementary climate-modeling activities. The first will be principally a research activity. It will maintain strong ties to the research communities in both global change and computational science to incorporate new knowledge rapidly into a comprehensive climate and Earth-system modeling capability. Although the mission of this activity is research, it will be "product driven" in the sense that it must make models and model products available to the broader community. Tightly connected research institutions with complementary areas of expertise can form the core of a distributed modeling program that maintains collaborations with perhaps hundreds of external contributors. Areas of research emphasis would include model development, computational science, and data assimilation.
Closely associated with the research activity, but distinct from it, will be a prediction capability responsible for sustained and timely delivery of model products that are required for assessment and other needs. This "quasi-operational" capability should maintain a research component that is an integral part of the research modeling activity described above. Additionally, the "quasi-operational" entity would be charged with producing, on demand, the required modeling products for policy analysis and assessment. This activity might include both operational forecasts of seasonal-to-interannual variability (e.g., El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO)), because we can model these shorter-term variations at a level of skill appropriate to operations, as well as quasi-operational decadal- to centennial-scale modeling, because there are operational needs, such as scenario preparation for sensitivity studies of impacts, that we can meet with existing skill levels. The addition of product-driven model research to a strong base of discovery-driven research, together with strong links between them will result in a suite of CCSP modeling activities that will better support and drive the interdisciplinary research objectives of the CCSP.
These two activities are complementary and both are required for a successful modeling program. They should both employ a common modeling framework and maintain constant interaction. Full implementation of such a strategy will take several years. Key to the success of the strategy are substantial and continuing investments in high-end computing, archival storage, collaboration technology, and associated information technology infrastructure.
The approach toward a having a comprehensive climate and Earth-system modeling capability will be to incorporate the modeling needs of the seven CCSP elements (see box: Modeling Priorities and Linkages in CCSP Program Elements).
The grand challenge modeling components will ultimately result in a multidisciplinary approach toward the Earth system climate model, which couples the chemical and ecological systems to atmospheric processes and incorporates:
Outcomes will span a wide range of options, such as sets of ensemble global simulations projecting possible climate change at continental and regional scales from various emissions scenarios; and comprehensive studies of greenhouse-relevant emissions and potential climate change that include carbon aerosols in an integrated assessment model and the appropriate specification of emissions, costs of control, and chemical and radiative characteristics of those aerosols.
3. Data and Information Management
Providing access to distributed and varied forms of data, products, and information is a central objective of CCSP data systems. Researchers, planners, and decisionmakers need seamless access to information produced not only by CCSP efforts, but also the larger scope of information produced by other federal, non-federal, regional, and international programs and activities. These users should be able to focus their attentions on the information content of the data, rather than how to find and access the data. The vision of the future CCSP system is one where the user experience will change fundamentally from the current process of locating, downloading, reformatting, and displaying to one of accessing information, browsing, and comparing data in the form of basic scientific graphics through a standard Web browser, GIS tools, and scientific visualization/analysis systems, without concern for data format, data location, and data volume.
This vision can only be achieved by harnessing advanced technologies and developing frameworks for interoperability between heterogeneous systems, which are part of a common collective. Such a framework, with established metadata and quality control/quality assurance standards, mechanisms of transport, protocols, and requirements, would permit federal and non-federal data and product providers to contribute their information to the common collective as well as allow users to query and access the system for relevant information. The system will call for each cooperating system to conform to such protocols enough to ensure that it will interface seamlessly with the overall climate information system thereby maintaining a distributed architecture.
Such a data management strategy is being pursued for the ocean observing system (i.e., Ocean.US) and holds great promise. Much of the technology required to make this vision a reality exists already; however, significant challenges remain that require short-term as well as strategic investments. The challenge to CCSP will be pursuing unprecedented levels of cooperation across current data management systems and programs and a commitment to mapping the future development and execution of a suitable strategic plan.
Opportunities lie ahead for the evolving data and information systems of the CCSP. Evolving new technologies for data collection and management, new science and applications, and new institutional and organizational possibilities indicate that a robust and open data and information system spanning the environmental and socioeconomic realms is achievable in the coming decade. This vision needs to incorporate careful attention to the need for continuity in global change data, for long-term data stewardship, and for equitable access across social or "digital" divides. The CCSP will need to provide leadership both within the US Government and across a diversity of partners to ensure that the Nation's global change data and information capabilities support the achievement of its 10-year objectives and the realization of their full potential benefits to the Nation and the world.
At present, data are not integrated, making them difficult for policymakers -- and even scientists -- to use. They are often not consistently calibrated in space or time to permit simple identification by site or scientifically sound integration of the multiple data sets needed for multidisciplinary research. Moreover, the US Government has limited resources to support long-term electronic data management beyond the life of individual investigators' projects or programs. Scientific data that are not institutionally managed are likely to vanish when the scientist-data collector turns to other projects or retires.
Ongoing advances in information technology will for the first time enable development of a distributed data and information system in which
To advance these goals, the CCSP priorities will be to:
Requirements from the seven CCSP elements will be incorporated as part of the data and information management plan to provide products such as:
In the next five years the data management program will focus on improving the interoperability and usability of agency data sets by the various working groups and researchers. This includes:
The focus of the CCSP plan is to advance our capability for understanding and predicting past, present, and future impacts of our changing climate. Every step in this process, from understanding the variability in climate change through the use of models and observations, to ensuring the continuance of quality long-term records, interpretation of the model and observation results, and communication of and access to these results for resource managers and decisionmakers will rely on the existence of a flexible, accessible, and user-friendly data and information system. The transfer of research information to policymakers and resource managers will require interactions between customers and data system managers including research and operational efforts, and close links to international programs such as the World Climate Research Programme and the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme.
NRC, 1999b. Climate Research Committee, National Research Council, Capacity of U.S. Climate Modeling to Support Climate Change Assessment Activities (Washington, DC: National Academy Press).
NRC, 2001b. Panel on Improving the Effectiveness of U.S. Climate Modeling, Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate, National Research Council, Improving the Effectiveness of U.S. Climate Modeling Modeling (Washington, DC: National Academy Press).