Tackling Human-Relevant Climate Change

Three federal agencies announced the launch Monday of a joint program to predict climate change and its impacts on local scales over a few decades, information that decision makers will need to adapt to the inevitable. Obtaining such detail is an ambitious goal; computer models today yield seemingly reliable predictions of temperature and precipitation on continent-spanning scales at best. Under the Decadal and Regional Climate Prediction Using Earth System Models (EaSM) program, the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Energy will kick in a total of $50 million a year for 5 years.

"People live in regions, not on the global mean," said NSF Director Arden Bement in announcing the initiative. "Our experience of climate change is always local." To move from the continent- and century-scale to the Midwest- or Northwest-scale and decade-scale, scientists from computer specialists to geoscientists to biologists will draw on the "petaflop" calculating power of current supercomputers, said Bement. At the same time, understanding of climate change, especially the chronic problem of the role of clouds and aerosols, must be improved as well, he conceded.