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Atmospheric Sciences & Global Change
Research Highlights

June 2009

PNNL's Tony Janetos Co-authors White House Climate Report

New report summarizes climate change science and impacts on United States

Tony Janetos
Dr. Tony Janetos speaks at the White House news conference about climate change impacts in the United States. At left is Dr. Katharine Hayhoe from Texas Tech University and ATMOS Research & Consulting; at right is Dr. Jerry Melillo from the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

Result: PNNL scientist Anthony Janetos was a key spokesperson at a White House news conference announcing the release of a major new climate change assessment on June 16, 2009. "Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States" summarizes current climate change science and projects regional and national consequences of the changing environment. It also discusses some of the actions society can take to respond to the climate challenge.

The White House Office of Science and Technology, which released the 200-page report, called it the "most comprehensive, authoritative report on global climate change impacts in the United States." The purpose of the report is to increase understanding of climate change and to provide a framework for decision making. The report received widespread media coverage, including from the Associated Press, The New York Times, the Washington Post, Time magazine, National Public Radio, numerous climate change blogs, and Twitter.

Janetos directs the Joint Global Change Research Institute, a partnership between PNNL and the University of Maryland. He wrote the ecosystems section and served on the author team for the full report. The ecosystems chapter concludes that, "Human-induced climate change, in conjunction with other stresses, is exerting major influences on natural environments and biodiver­sity, and these influences are generally expected to grow with increased warming."

Ecosystem impacts include changes in basic processes such as photosynthesis; large-scale shifts in the distribution of plants and animals; and increased threats from fire, pests and disease. These effects are occurring now and are likely to grow, especially in desert, coastal, and arctic environments.

Why it matters: "The most important thing in this report is that the impacts of climate change are not something your children might theoretically see 50 years from now," Janetos told reporters during the news conference. "The thing that concerns me the most is that we have a whole host of impacts that we now observe in the natural world that are occurring sooner and more rapidly and that appear to be larger than we might have expected 10 years ago. If anything, we might have underestimated the rate and the impact of changes in the climate system."

Method: The report summarizes an extensive body of scientific information in layperson-friendly language. The authors drew primarily from 21 synthesis and assessment reports of the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP).

The USGCRP is a 13-agency group that includes the Department of Energy. PNNL's atmospheric scientists and other researchers contributed to several USGCRP climate studies cited in the report. Also included were other peer-reviewed assessments and research, as well as government statistics, publicly avail­able observations, and advice from expert reviewers.

What's next: This work is part of PNNL's quest to transform the Nation's ability to predict climate change and its impacts. Janetos is now working on expanding the JGCRI's research agenda on integrated assessment to include more sophistication on climate impacts and adaptation. The Global Change Research Act of 1990 requires the USGCRP to conduct an assessment of the impacts of global change in the United States at least every four years.

Acknowledgments: Janetos' work was supported by the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Biological and Environmental Research, as part of the U.S. Global Change Research Program.

Research team: In addition to Janetos, the report was authored by 30 people from Federal agencies, universities, national laboratories, and other research institutions. 

Reference: Thomas R. Karl, Jerry M. Melillo, and Thomas C. Peterson (eds.) 2009. "Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States." Cambridge University Press, New York.

Here you can listen to Tony Janetos' interview with 610 KONA radio.

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