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Atmospheric Sciences & Global Change Division
Research Highlights

November 2013

Adaptation Science and Preparing for Change

Climate and social scientists propose preparedness approach to climate change

Hurricane Sandy devastated the New Jersey shoreline.
Impacts from extreme weather events, such as the destruction of the New Jersey shoreline amusement park during Hurricane Sandy in 2012, show the vulnerability of the United States and other regions to extreme climate in the present and future. Preparedness measures can cost-effectively increase society’s resilience today and in the future. Enlarge Image. Photo courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons License.

Results: Change happens. The challenge lies in preparing for and adapting to it. In a new study published in Science, an international team of researchers led by Dr. Richard H. Moss at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory proposes an integrated approach to prepare for and adapt to climate change. They conclude that climate preparedness—a global concern—must integrate social and climate science, engineering and other disciplines. And preparation for impacts requires determining whom and what are the most vulnerable to change and considering ways to adapt.

"Science for adaptation starts with understanding decision-making processes and information needs, determining where the vulnerabilities are, and then moves to climate modeling. A final step tracks whether adaptation is effective," said Moss, a senior scientist at the Joint Global Change Research Institute, a collaboration between PNNL and the University of Maryland.

Why It Matters: Change is already happening to Earth's climate. Scientists point to changes in extreme weather events such as more intense precipitation and a higher ratio of warm temperature extremes to cold extremes, as evidence of climate change. The importance of preparing for change was emphasized by U.S. President Obama in his Climate Action Plan. And many national and international governmental bodies, businesses and trade associations, cities and states are already developing adaptation plans. In this research, the scientists stress the need to fill science gaps that still exist between fundamental science and decision-making with adaptation science that is both basic and applied.

Methods: The scientists discussed their proposed approach at a workshop held in August 2012 at the Aspen Global Change Institute in Aspen, Colo. They evaluated ongoing research that was largely being conducted in isolation and developed approaches for integrating science around ways to improve information for climate risk management decisions. The proposed approach will guide preparedness research based on the need to reduce risks. The challenges are global, and they stressed the need for a flexible, integrated approach that merges theoretical and problem-oriented sciences.

To learn more, see PNNL news release "Preparing for hell and high water."

Acknowledgments

Sponsors: The Laboratory Directed Research and Development Office at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory funded this research as part of the PRIMA initiative. Funding for the Aspen Global Change Institute workshop was provided by NASA.

Research Area: Climate & Earth Systems Science

Reference: Moss RH, GA Meehl, MC Lemos, JB Smith, JR Arnold, JC Arnott, D Behar, GP Brasseur, SB Broomell, AJ Busalacchi, S Dessai, KL Ebi, JA Edmonds, J Furlow, L Goddard, HC Hartmann, JW Hurrell, JW Katzenberger, DM Liverman, PW Mote, SC Moser, A Kumar, RS Pulwarty, EQ Seyller, BL Turner II, WM Washington and TJ Wilbanks. 2013. "Hell and High Water: Practice-Relevant Adaptation Science." Science 342(6159):696-698. DOI: 10.1126/science.1239569


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