Strategic Climate Objective: I Improve Scientific Understanding

Through its Climate Mission Goal, NOAA advances scientific understanding of Earth's climate system through sustained observations and monitoring, integrated environmental modeling, and interdisciplinary research. Substantial progress has been made over the last several decades in observations, modeling, and understanding, but the mission remains incomplete. Key scientific uncertainties limit scientists' ability to understand and forecast changes in the climate system. The factors responsible for climate forcing, and those underlying climate variability and change, need to be better characterized and quantified.

To accomplish this Objective, advances need to be made across a broad array of NOAA-sponsored activities, including:

  1. Sustained climate observing systems that routinely monitor the state of the climate system
    Enhancements to a number of measurement systems will be sought, including those for sea level change, sea ice, and other essential climate variables. Annual State of the Climate reports will continue to inform the climate science community, decision makers, and the public about the ongoing evolution of the climate system and related extreme events.
  2. More comprehensive knowledge of greenhouse gases and other climate-forcing agents
    High-quality, uninterrupted, long-term measurements of greenhouse gases, aerosols, water vapor, ozone, and ozone-depleting gases via balloon launches, instrumented aircraft, and surface-based observatories are needed. Quantifying the sources and sinks of each of these climate-forcing agents, and characterizing the roles they play in the climate system, are vital to advancing the state of knowledge in climate science.
  3. Improved confidence in our understanding of key oceanic, atmospheric, hydrologic, biogeochemical, and socio-economic components of the climate system
    A particular focus is the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, its relationship to anomalies in sea surface temperature, and key atmosphere-ocean interactions that may impact regional climate predictions. Another key activity is understanding longer-time scale changes in the Pacific Ocean background state in the context of improving our ability to predict El Niño and on identifying the effect of anomalies in sea surface temperatures on regional climate predictions and projections. Improvements in climate attribution research are needed to better interpret causes of past, current, and evolving regional climate conditions and their dependence on the larger-scale climate.
  4. Advances in computer simulations of Earth's climate leading to improved scientific understanding and a new generation of climate predictions and projections on global to regional scales, and from monthly to centennial timescales
    We will work to obtain high spatial-resolution information from climate models by developing, testing, and applying (i) global models at fine resolution, and (ii) regional climate models embedded within coarse-resolution global models. When available, ensembles of these model runs to help assess confidence in predictions and projections of climate change for different regions of the United States. Improving the skill of seasonal and intra-seasonal climate forecasts will require engaging more fully with the extramural research community, increasing the members of multi-model ensembles, improving operational data assimilation schemes, and identifying systematic errors in the models.
  5. Increased confidence in assessing and anticipating climate impacts
    With input from decision makers, climate risk profiles can be developed along with a portfolio of response measures for selected regions and sectors, identifying the broader economic, social, and environmental benefits of each measure along with its cost. Early warning systems for critical thresholds and transitions across climate-relevant time and space scales are also needed, including completing the National Integrated Drought Information System (or NIDIS, online at www.drought.gov) and regional early warning system prototypes as resources permit.
  6. Quantitative short- to long-term outlooks and projections of Arctic sea ice
    Improved representation of sea ice and relevant processes within NOAA's operational suite of forecast models, coupled with improvements to the assimilation of satellite data, are needed to place daily to weekly sea ice forecasts on a firmer scientific footing. This work would also improve understanding of the linkages between changes in Arctic sea ice and weather and climate in the Northern Hemisphere.

Summary of potential outcomes and benefits:

  • Improved scientific information is available to policy and decision makers to support options for climate change mitigation and adaptation
  • Improved estimates of the impact of aerosols on climate, providing a basis to inform policy makers about choices to deal with climate change and air quality
  • Critical climate observations are sustained to meet the needs of operational forecast centers, international research programs, and major scientific assessments
  • The state of the climate is routinely monitored and reported to inform the nation about notable trends and extreme events
  • Regional-scale predictions and projections of climate variability and change, including estimates of their likelihood to occur, will inform adaptation decisions
  • The ability to produce useful predictions of climate variability and change for the next one to three decades will be tested
  • Coastal planning decisions are supported by scientific information about sea level rise and inundation on intra-seasonal through multi-decadal time scales
  • Decision makers are able to adapt to climate variability and change in the Arctic by using quantitative, short- to long-term outlooks and projections of Arctic sea ice

Objective Lead:

Rick Rosen, Senior Advisor for Climate Research
NOAA Climate Program Office

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    Americans’ health, security and economic wellbeing are tied to climate and weather. Every day, we see communities grappling with environmental challenges due to unusual or extreme events related to climate and weather. In 2011, the United States experienced a record high number (14) of climate- and weather-related disasters where overall costs reached or exceeded $1 billion. Combined, these events claimed 670 lives, caused more than 6,000 injuries, and cost $55 billion in damages. Businesses, policy leaders, resource managers and citizens are increasingly asking for information to help them address such challenges.