“efforts to understand the impact of such changes on society and
analyze mitigation and adaptation strategies are still relatively
immature. … inadequate progress in supporting
decision making, studying regional impacts, and communicating with a
wider group of stakeholders. … place more emphasis on understanding
how people will be affected by climate change and how they might

Public release date: 13-Sep-2007

The National Academies

US Climate Change Science Program making good progress in documenting
and understanding changes

WASHINGTON — Climate change research directed by the federal
government has made good progress in documenting and understanding
temperature trends and related environmental changes on a global
scale, says a new report from the National Research Council. The
ability to predict future climate changes also has improved, but
efforts to understand the impact of such changes on society and
analyze mitigation and adaptation strategies are still relatively
immature, added the committee that wrote the report. Moreover, the
U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP), which oversees federal
research in this area, has made inadequate progress in supporting
decision making, studying regional impacts, and communicating with a
wider group of stakeholders.

“CCSP, an important initiative that has broadened our knowledge of
climate change, needs to package more of that knowledge for
policymakers from the national to local level, and place more
emphasis on understanding how people will be affected by climate
change and how they might react,” said committee chair Veerabhadran
Ramanathan, Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric and Climate
Sciences at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of
California, San Diego.

Adjustments will have to be made in the balance between basic science
and applications if CCSP is to achieve its vision of producing
information that can be used to formulate strategies for preventing,
mitigating, and adapting to the effects of climate change, the
committee stated. It did not offer recommendations for how to sustain
and improve the program’s basic science while strengthening its
applications, but this will be among the subjects considered in a
follow-up report that the committee expects to issue early next year.

The report was requested by CCSP’s former director, who asked the
Research Council to develop a process for evaluating the program and
to conduct a preliminary assessment of its progress. The committee’s
report is the first review of CCSP’s progress since the program was
established in 2002.

The committee developed a two-stage evaluation process. The first
stage, presented in this report, assesses the strengths and
weaknesses of the entire program, and identifies areas where progress
has not met expectations and that should be subject to more detailed
analysis during a second stage of evaluation. This second stage, to
be completed by CCSP because it requires detailed budget and
management information not readily available to the committee, would
diagnose the reasons for weaknesses and identify strategies for
improving the program.

In its review, the committee concluded that discovery science and
understanding of the overall climate system are proceeding well. For
example, knowledge of the nature and extent of atmospheric warming
and other climate changes over the past few decades and the influence
of human activities on these observed changes has advanced
significantly. In addition, models that have demonstrated reasonable
success in reproducing past climate conditions are improving
confidence in future projections. Understanding of the water cycle
has also improved, and good progress has been made in documenting
land-use changes and estimating how carbon is distributed around the

Uncertainties remain in other aspects of global climate change,
particularly the role of man-made aerosols in masking greenhouse
warming, the response of hurricanes and ice sheets to global warming,
and how climate feedbacks — the dynamics of water vapor and clouds,
for example — amplify or dampen the effects of greenhouse gases and
other climate-change forces.

Overall, research into the social sciences, including human drivers
of climate change such as energy consumption, the impact on human
systems such as political institutions and economies, and mitigation
and adaptation options, is much less developed than research on the
natural climate system. One reason for the slow progress is that only
$25 million to $30 million of CCSP’s $1.7 billion annual budget is
devoted to such research. In addition, few social scientists are in
leadership positions at the participating federal agencies, making it
difficult for CCSP to increase emphasis in this area or to establish
links with the academic social science community.

Even where good scientific progress is being made, use of new
knowledge to support decision making and risk analysis is proceeding
slowly, according to the committee. For instance, although CCSP’s
temperature trends assessment was influential in this year’s report
by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 19 other synthesis
and assessment products that were scheduled for release by now are
still in production.

One way CCSP could bridge the gap between science and decision making
would be to more closely examine the impact of climate change at
regional and local scales, the report says. More accurate models,
better regional observations, and the development of impact scenarios
will be required to improve predictions of how climate change will
affect smaller spatial scales.

Better communication from CCSP also will be critical for confronting
climate change at the local level. CCSP should build upon the two-way
dialogue envisioned in its strategic plan by engaging state and local
officials, nongovernmental organizations, industry, and the climate
change technology community. This dialogue should go beyond
communicating research results to asking what is needed from the
program. The committee acknowledged that more resources will be
needed to bolster such relationships.

A major hurdle to CCSP progress is the program director’s lack of
authority to allocate or prioritize funding across participating
agencies, the committee said. Likewise, many of the members of CCSP’s
interagency working groups have little budgetary authority to
implement the program’s research agenda. As a result, progress tends
to occur when the priorities of the 13 participating agencies
coincide with CCSP’s goals.

The committee emphasized that high-quality data from satellites have
been crucial to the advancement of climate change science. However, a
number of planned satellite missions have been cancelled or seriously
delayed, presenting perhaps the single greatest threat to the future
success of CCSP, according to the committee. Without these
satellites, scientists’ ability to monitor and predict climate change
will decline, even as the urgency of doing so increases.

The committee is holding a workshop in Washington, D.C., Oct. 15-17,
to discuss future priorities for CCSP research, which will be the
focus of its follow-up report.


The study was sponsored by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program.
The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering,
Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the
National Academies. They are private, nonprofit institutions that
provide science, technology, and health policy advice under a
congressional charter. The Research Council is the principal
operating agency of the National Academy of Sciences and the National
Academy of Engineering. A committee roster follows.

Copies of Evaluating Progress Of The U.S. Climate Change Science
Program: Methods And Preliminary Results will be available from the
National Academies Press; tel. 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242 or on
the Internet at HTTP://WWW.NAP.EDU.

news@nature.com – the best science journalism on the web
Published online: 18 September 2007; | doi:10.1038/news070917-3

Arctic sea ice at record low
Open waters in northern ocean highlight massive melting.

Daniel Cressey

Even for a society jaded by the continual
breaking of climate records, the retreat of
Arctic ice this year is stunning.

Sea-ice extent – the total number of 25 x 25
kilometer square sections of ocean covered by at
least 15% ice – in the Arctic Ocean melts from
about 16 million km2 every March to a minimum
sometime in September or October, the exact date
normally only being evident in retrospect. The US
National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) says
the previous record absolute minimum was 5.32
million km2, set in 2005. This year has already
reached 4.14 million km2 – the lowest since
records began in the late 1970s.

This has opened the Northwest Passage – the most
direct shipping route between the Atlantic and
Pacific Oceans, from Russia along the north coast
of Canada to Europe. It is now navigable without
an icebreaker.

“I’m shocked daily, looking at the maps,” said
Marika Holland, sea-ice researcher at the US
National Center for Atmospheric Research in
Boulder, Colorado, earlier this month. “Where
it’s going to bottom out, I wouldn’t hazard a

Some models suggest that if the current trends
continue, we’ll hit a first summer day entirely
free of sea ice sometime between 2050 and 2100
(1,2) – dates accepted by the Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change. Other studies predict it
could happen even earlier (3).

“The observations and the climate models both
point in the same direction, and that direction
is we will reach a seasonal ice-free state. I
wouldn’t say it’s inevitable; without some
important changes I think that it’s likely,” says
Holland. She adds: “In general, the models seem
to be conservative compared to the observations.”

Going, going, gone

As well as examining the area over which sea ice
is prominent, scientists also look at the actual
area of ice. Processing of NSIDC data by
researchers at the University of Illinois,
Urbana-Champaign, puts the previous 2005 record
for area at 4.01 million km2, with this year’s
sea-ice area currently at 2.92 million km2.

There are three ideas as to what could have
caused such a dramatic drop this year, according
to John Walsh, of the University of Illinois’s
Department of Atmospheric Sciences. Ocean waters
have been warmer in the past few summers, which
would have encouraged melting. This summer has
also been “unusually cloud free”, again
encouraging melting. Finally, he says, spring
temperatures over the Russian section of the
arctic were also higher than usual.

Feedback effects may make recovery from this new
low harder – ice reflects sunlight whereas open
sea absorbs it. So less ice this year will
militate against lots of ice next year, as well
as boosting global warming.

“This year does stand out as a jump downward,”
says Walsh. “I would say the odds favour an
extreme year next year too.”

Thin ice

Whether global warming should be blamed entirely
for this year’s low is not entirely clear.
Variation in the factors mentioned by Walsh is
not necessarily caused by climate change. But a
warmer planet has resulted in thinner ice, which
is more vulnerable to warm weather.

Initial results from a German survey that were
revealed last week show that arctic ice is
approximately 50% of its 2001 thickness.

As if to drive home how complex the sea-ice
problem is, as the Northern Hemisphere hits
record lows, at the other side of the world the
sea-ice area is close to breaking the record for
maximum area of 16.03 million km2.

As well as opening up trade routes, the reduction
of sea ice in the north will have consequences on
local wildlife too. The most visible example of
this will be polar bear populations; newly
released reports from the US Geological Survey
(USGS) suggest that two-thirds of the bears could
be lost within 50 years because of reduced sea
ice. Polar bears rely on the ice as a hunting
platform and the USGS models predict a 42% loss
of habit in the key summer breeding months.


1. Johannessen, O., et al. Tellus A 56 , 328 – 341 (2004).
2. Walsh, J.& Timlin, M., . Polar Research 22 , 75 – 82 (2003).
3. Stroeve, J., et al. Geophysical Research Letters 34 , L09501(2007).

Story from news@nature.com:

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Public Release: 17-Sep-2007
Geophysical Research Letters
Rising surface temperatures drive back winter ice in Barents Sea,
Rutgers researchers find
Rising sea-surface temperatures in the Barents Sea, northeast of
Scandinavia, are the prime cause of the retreating winter ice edge
over the past 26 years, according to research by Jennifer Francis,
associate research professor at Rutgers’ Institute of Marine and
Coastal Sciences. The recent decreases in winter ice cover is clear
evidence that Arctic pack ice will continue on its trajectory of
rapid decline, Francis said.

Contact: Ken Branson
732-932-7084 x633
Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey

Public Release: 14-Sep-2007
Satellites witness lowest Arctic ice coverage in history
The area covered by sea ice in the Arctic has shrunk to its lowest
level this week since satellite measurements began nearly 30 years
ago, opening up the Northwest Passage — a long-sought short cut
between Europe and Asia that has been historically impassable.

Contact: Mariangela D’Acunto
European Space Agency

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