Science must evolve to tackle the challenges of warming, researchers say
16 December 2008
By Harvey Leifert
For the Daily Climate
SAN FRANCISCO – As the science of climate change matures and the need to prepare for its consequences presses, scientists must change their focus to advise local and regional leaders on how best to adapt to a warmer future, two senior climate researchers said Monday.
"We need to change the way we do our climate science," said Jonathan Overpeck, director of the Environmental Studies Laboratory at the University of Arizona in Tucson.
"Rather than being curiosity driven, we need to be end-user driven."
Modeling is one example, added Jack Fellows, vice president of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, a consortium of more than 70 universities.
Global models used by scientists to forecast climate shifts lack the detail necessary for mayors and governors to prepare for local challenges, particularly the changing intensity, frequency, and location of storms, floods, and other natural events.
"We’re going to need both global-scale models as well as regional-scale models to look at very specific processes that are happening in those regions," Fellows said.
The two men spoke at the American Geophysical Union’s Fall Meeting in San Francisco, an annual gathering of around 17,000 scientists from around the globe.
The need is urgent, Overpeck said, particularly given climate-induced changes already underway. The United States is drying out, with fewer days of rainfall in most regions as compared with decades past. And the Pacific Ocean could lap the streets of Sacramento, California’s inland capital, if the sea rises two meters – a possible scenario for the coming century, he said.
But changing the culture of science and politics will not be easy, Overpeck acknowledged.
Scientists must accept that economic and cultural considerations will be part of the mix as policy-makers develop strategies to cope with climate change. Policy-makers must trust and have access to relevant scientific research results in a form they can use.
Both sides, he added, must cooperate to "co-generate knowledge."
Harvey Leifert is a freelance reporter based in Bethesda, Md. To reach the Daily Climate, contact editor Douglas Fischer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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