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Home » A look back at 2013: NOAA CPO contributes to new advances in climate science

A look back at 2013: NOAA CPO contributes to new advances in climate science


In 2013, NOAA announced Wayne Higgins, Ph.D., as director of NOAA’s Climate Program Office. Higgins spent much of his career at the forefront of weather and climate prediction for NOAA’s National Weather Service. This was just one of the highlights of a productive year for NOAA CPO, which continued to make advances in climate observation, research, modeling, and decision support activities for society.

Observing the Climate System

State of the Climate Report: 2012 was one of the 10 warmest years on record globally

Worldwide, 2012 was among the 10 warmest years on record according to the 2012 State of the Climate report released on Aug. 2, 2013, by the American Meteorological Society (AMS). The peer-reviewed report, with scientists from NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, NC serving as lead editors, was compiled by 384 scientists from 52 countries—including many scientists funded by the NOAA Climate Program Office. It provides a detailed update on global climate indicators, notable weather events, and other data collected by environmental monitoring stations and instruments on land, sea, ice, and sky. The NOAA team produced highlights for the report. 
Long-term warming and environmental change trends persist in the Arctic in 2013
NOAA’s annual Arctic Report Card, introduced in 2006 by the NOAA Climate Program Office, found that cooler temperatures in the summer of 2013 across the central Arctic Ocean, Greenland and northern Canada moderated the record sea ice loss and extensive melting that the surface of the Greenland ice sheet experienced last year. Yet there continued to be regional extremes, including record low May snow cover in Eurasia and record high summer temperatures in Alaska. The NOAA team produced visual highlights for the report.

This collection of visual highlights from the 2013 report is a story of the Arctic in pictures. Based on the Arctic Report Card’s major themes, it was developed by the NOAA team with the report authors and Arctic experts.

Advancing our Understanding of the Climate System

A milestone in advancing the physical science basis of climate variability and change

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 5th Assessment Report on “The Physical Science Basis,” released on Sept. 30, 2013, represented a milestone in the understanding of the Earth system and climate science. Scientific research funded by NOAA’s Climate Program Office (CPO) is foundational to advancing IPCC reports. CPO supports climate science research reflected in the IPCC’s report through its Climate Observations and Monitoring (COM); Earth System Science (ESS); and Modeling, Analysis, Predictions, and Projections (MAPP) programs. These programs sponsor interdisciplinary collaborations involving NOAA labs and the external science community to extend the agency’s research and operational capabilities, and to improve scientific understanding, observations, and modeling of the climate system. This work is foundational to this first report of the IPCC’s 5th Assessment.

Science team aims to develop next-generation CarbonTracker system

The scientific community continues to explore how human-produced greenhouse gases and aerosols in the atmosphere influence climate. Greenhouse gases have been monitored for decades by NOAA scientists via surface and aircraft measurements. Utilizing this data, the Earth System Science (ESS) program recently established a CarbonTracker Science Team focused on delivering North American carbon fluxes for use as a benchmark for scientists and decision makers. CarbonTracker is a computer modeling system that helps us deduce surface emissions and uptake of CO2, globally. This information will enable NOAA scientists to monitor, diagnose, and possibly predict the behavior of the global carbon cycle and its long-term effect on Earth’s climate.
Task Force develops scientific understanding of CMIP5-based projections for North America
The Coupled Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP) panel—a subcommittee of the World Climate Research Programme—designs experiments to evaluate differences among climate models in how they simulate our global climate system and predict future changes. Many scientists produce papers based on the resulting data, which are synthesized into the scientific literature and assessment reports, such as the assessments produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). In addition to funding research that contributes to the CMIP, the Modeling, Analysis, Predictions, and Projections (MAPP) program organized a research Task Force to analyze the CMIP5 projections of North American climate conditions. Their work, documented in a special collection of new papers published by the Journal of Climate, shows how and where model simulations of Earth’s climate have become more accurate, and where more improvement in the models is still needed.

NOAA-led report: 2012 Central Great Plains ‘flash drought’ a result of natural variations in weather
At its peak last summer, moderate to extreme drought gripped 61 percent of the Lower 48, but a “flash drought” brought exceptionally intense conditions to the Central Great Plains. A new report released on April 9, 2013, by the NOAA Drought Task Force and the NOAA-led National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) finds natural variations in weather patterns caused this sudden “flash drought,” and rules out global ocean conditions, as well as human-induced climate change, as major culprits. A team of 19 other federal and academic scientists as part of the Drought Task Force led by NOAA. The report was produced through a partnership between the NOAA Climate Program Office and NIDIS Program.

Drought status in the U.S. on Sept. 25, 2012. More than half the country was between abnormally dry (light yellow) and exceptional drought (dark red)., based on data from the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Informing Society

Recovery and rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy
A strategy report, outlining a set of principles and recommendations to guide recovery and rebuilding efforts in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, was released on Aug. 19, 2013. The goal of the report – developed by President Obama’s Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force – is to support recovery and rebuilding efforts and to enhance the resilience of communities that face increasing risks from extreme weather in the Sandy-affected region. NOAA was engaged in the Task Force’s efforts and development of the strategy report. NOAA’s Climate Program Office coordinated NOAA’s engagement with the Task Force, working closely with NOAA leadership and personnel from multiple line offices.
In another interagency effort, NOAA CPO and colleagues from the NOAA National Ocean Service, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Global Change Research Program were awarded the Presidential Climate Champion Award for their work developing the Sea Level Rise Planning Tool for the Sandy-affected region. The team released the tool less than a year after Hurricane Sandy, allowing state and local planners to make more informed decisions that consider the risk in location and design of redevelopment projects.

View the press release and report.

NOAA-funded report highlights threat of climate change to estuaries
The nation’s 28 National Estuarine Research Reserves (NERR) are experiencing the negative effects of human and climate-related stressors, according to a research report from the National Ocean Service released in August 2013. The NOAA CPO-funded national study, Climate Sensitivity of the National Estuarine Research Reserve System, points to three East Coast reserves – Sapelo Island NERR in Georgia, ACE Basin NERR in South Carolina and Waquoit Bay NERR in Massachusetts, and the Tijuana River NERR on the California-Mexico border – as the most sensitive to climate change. The study was conducted by a collaborative, interdisciplinary team of investigators from the University of Wisconsin, NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, and working with staff across the National Estuarine Research Reserve System.  

NOAA-USAID partnership supports research to advance climate science for development and adaptation
The NOAA Climate Program Office’s International Research and Applications Project (IRAP) — in partnership with the US Agency for International Development (USAID) Climate Program — launched a project entitled “IRAP: Integrating Climate Information and Decision Process for Regional Climate Resilience. This effort marks the beginning of a new partnership between NOAA CPO and USAID that seeks to link multi-disciplinary climate research to development, adaptation and risk management challenges in three regions: the Caribbean; West Africa; and the Indo-Gangetic Plain. The International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) and the University of Arizona will work together in pursuit of the following strategic goals in each region: 1) Determine vulnerabilities and user needs; 2) Co-produce climate information; 3) Create relevant decision support tools; 4) Improve system through evaluation; and 5) Build local capacity. 

Redesigned puts power of climate data in users’ hands
In May 2013, NOAA unveiled a new and improved version of, a one-stop web resource for information about our changing climate from NOAA and agencies across the federal government. NOAA’s redesigned website offers user-friendly maps, video, imagery, news, and other features available to anyone seeking timely and trusted information, such as community planners, business and policy leaders, scientists, resource managers, broadcast meteorologists, journalists, and educators. 
Since the website’s launch in 2010, NOAA has engaged in dialogue with climate data users in both the public and private sectors about their needs. Based on feedback, now features a refined interface, enhanced its functionality, and added new content and tools, such as the Global Climate Dashboard and the Integrated Map Application, that make it easier for anyone to find, use, and visualize climate data.

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