Policy & Society

Building roads to match tomorrow's weather

April 20, 2017 | When engineers design roads, bridges, and other types of transportation infrastructure, they need to account for local weather patterns. Extreme heat or freeze-thaw cycles can lead to ruts and cracks in roads, and heavy rains can overwhelm inadequate drainage systems, washing out bridges and flooding key transportation corridors.But how should engineers design new transportation projects, which may last for a half-century, if climate change will greatly alter weather patterns? The extent to which temperatures and precipitation may change in the future has become a major concern for the transportation industry.To address this issue, climate scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) are launching an innovative collaboration with civil and environmental engineers at Carnegie Mellon University and the RAND Corporation. They're using global and regional computer models, along with statistical techniques, to generate projections of future climate in ways that will be most helpful to infrastructure designers and planners, especially when it comes to drainage.A girl looks at a washed-out road in Louisville, Colorado, after damaging floods in 2013. Engineers are teaming up with climate scientists to design transportation infrastructure that can withstand shifting weather patterns. (Photo by David Hosansky.)The three-year project, funded by the National Science Foundation, will focus on Pittsburgh and several other cities across the country that will likely be affected in different ways by future climate."Our overriding goal is to enable transportation agencies to maximize the lifetime performance of new infrastructure while minimizing the costs to ensure its resilience to extreme weather events," said NCAR scientist Linda Mearns, the principal investigator on the project.Several recent studies led by NCAR scientists have underscored the extent to which climate change may affect future temperature and precipitation extremes in the United States. One concluded that, if emissions of greenhouse gases continue along a business-as-usual course, record daily high temperatures will outpace record daily lows by about 15 to 1 later in the century. A second study, also looking at emissions continuing on a business-as-usual path, concluded that incidents of extreme rainfall may increase by as much as five times in parts of the country.More detail means more uncertaintyTo conduct the new project, Mearns and her colleagues are working closely with local transportation officials and other stakeholders. Rather than analyzing the overall ways that climate is likely to change in the target cities, they're focusing on information that will be most useful to the design and construction of drainage infrastructure and other transportation systems."This requires very active engagement with stakeholders," Mearns said. "It's working together to determine what they want versus what we can actually provide and coming up with measures of uncertainty that are meaningful for them. This is in the realm of true coproduction of knowledge."For example, an engineer designing a drainage system along a highway might want an estimate of how much precipitation will fall in 15-minute increments. Although climate models do not provide such detailed information, Mearns and her colleagues can provide a partial answer by using a combination of techniques to produce projections of future precipitation every hour to several hours, as well as characterizing the uncertainty around those projections.A major challenge is that more detailed projections have greater uncertainty. While climate models consistently show that emissions of greenhouse gases lead to higher average global temperatures, the outlook is less clear for temperature and precipitation patterns by region. The type of information most needed by infrastructure planners and designers—projections of extreme temperatures and precipitation for specific locations and time periods—is even more uncertain. As a result, the study team will have to make compromises between the need for high-resolution data and the need for reliable data.Mearns said it's critical to give engineers a clear understanding of the uncertainty of a particular projection in order to prevent transportation projects from being based on a false sense of precision in climate projections. "The challenge," she said, "is developing sound engineering strategies for extremes under uncertainty."In addition to Mearns, the NCAR scientists working on the project include Seth McGinnis, Melissa Bukovsky, Rachel McCrary, and Doug Nychka. The Carnegie Mellon team is being led by Costa Samaras, who directs the school's Center for Engineering and Resilience for Climate Adaptation.“This project is a unique interdisciplinary collaboration that will advance the ways engineers and climate scientists will work together in the future,” said Samaras. “Infrastructure can last for many decades, and engineers need to design infrastructure to be resilient at the end of the infrastructure life span as well as in the beginning. Working with NCAR is critical to advancing the research needed to transform the way we design infrastructure in the United States."The benefit of different techniquesTo generate climate projections, Mearns and her colleagues will use two types of techniques to translate the coarse resolution of a global computer model, which typically simulates climate processes that are larger than about 100 miles, into the localized weather events that are of interest to transportation experts.One of these techniques, known as dynamical downscaling, will use a combination of three coarser-resolution global climate models and two higher-resolution regional models (including the NCAR-based Weather Research and Forecasting model, or WRF). This will enable the researchers to simulate the entire globe in coarse resolution while zooming in on selected regions with much higher resolution. This approach doesn't need as much supercomputing power as trying to simulate the entire globe in high resolution, although it still can be computationally intensive.The other technique, known as statistical downscaling, involves developing statistical relationships between large-scale atmospheric patterns and local temperatures and precipitation. This technique, which requires even less computing, can help scientists link conditions in a global model (such as a large area of low pressure) to a localized weather event (such as intermittent downpours).The combined approaches will enable the scientists to generate projections for at least every six hours, and possibly—with the use of additional specialized techniques—as frequently as every hour. Using both the dynamical and statistical approaches also will enable the team to better understand the uncertainties around future climate as well as evaluate the relative strengths of the techniques."Transportation systems are critical to the U.S. economy, and they represent some of the largest investments of our tax dollars," Mearns said. "We want to make sure that they'll hold up to a future climate."FunderNational Science FoundationPartnersCarnegie Mellon UniversityRAND CoroporationWriter/contactDavid Hosansky, Manager of Media Relations

Congressional briefing on wildland fires

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Scientists and fire experts are making landmark progress in developing new tools to improve the management and prediction of wildland fires, a panel of experts said at a congressional briefing today. The developments offer the potential of better protecting vulnerable residents and property from these extreme events, as well as reducing their costs. The briefing, sponsored by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), highlighted the development of new observing tools and advanced computer models to better understand wildland fires. "We're at a turning point where new technologies and advances in basic research are enabling us to tackle a major real-world problem," said UCAR President Antonio J. Busalacchi. "Federal and state agencies, firefighters, and scientists are all working together to develop a new generation of tools that will keep firefighters safer, reduce the costs of these massive conflagrations, and better safeguard lives and property."Bureau of Land Management firefighter near Burns, Oregon, in September 2011. (Photo by Dave Toney, BLM Oregon.)UCAR is a consortium of 110 universities that manages the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) on behalf of the National Science Foundation. NCAR's wildland fire research includes working with Colorado on an advanced prediction system.Toll of wildland fires The costs of forest, grass, and other types of wildland fires are increasing dramatically. In 2016 alone, more than 67,000 wildfires consumed 5.5 million acres across the nation. The U.S. Forest Service spends more than $2.5 billion annually on fire management, an increase of more than 60 percent over the last decade. The total losses can run many times higher: Last year's Chimney Tops 2 fire in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, left 14 people dead and destroyed more than 2,400 structures at a cost of $500 million. "The money spent by the federal government on suppressing the fires is only a fraction of the overall costs, such as the destruction of houses and other property," said Michael Gollner, assistant professor at the University of Maryland's Department of Fire Protection Engineering. "There are more large-scale fires than there used to be, and those are the most dangerous blazes that are particularly expensive and destructive." Donald Falk, assistant professor of the University of Arizona's School of Natural Resources and the Environment, warned that decades of fire suppression coupled with drier and warmer temperatures in some regions will lead to longer fire seasons and more major fires. "The problem is not going away," he said. "It's going to get bigger, and we're going to have to live with it without breaking the bank." Wildland fires are extremely difficult to predict because they are influenced by local topography and vegetation, as well as by atmospheric conditions that, in turn, are affected by a blaze's heat and smoke. To better anticipate fire risk as well as predict a fire once it has started, scientists are harnessing new technologies. These include specialized satellite instruments and unmanned aerial vehicles to observe the blazes, as well as specialized computer models that incorporate weather-fire interactions, the density and condition of vegetation, landscape features such as elevation and topography, and the physics of fires. The researchers are working with federal and state agencies, emergency managers, and firefighters to adapt the new capabilities for real-time decision support. "Practitioners and scientists are bringing their expertise and knowledge to the table in order to create new evolutions of technology that will result in safer and more effective firefighting, enhance how we predict events and their potential impacts, and better plan for ways to prevent those wildfires we consider harmful," said Todd Richardson, state fire management officer of the Bureau of Land Management's Colorado office. "Having better guidance prior to planning your fire operations can provide critical information to the tactical operations and fire management," said William Mahoney, interim director of NCAR's Research Applications Laboratory. "Taking advantage of these important data sources and integrating these research areas provides tremendous opportunities to advance wildland fire management." The event is the latest in a series of UCAR congressional briefings that draw on expertise from the university consortium and public-private partnerships to provide insights into critical topics in the Earth system sciences. Past briefings have focused on predicting space weather, aviation weather safety, the state of the Arctic, hurricane prediction, potential impacts of El Niño, and new advances in water forecasting.

UCAR praises passage of Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act

Update: April 18, 2017Today President Donald Trump signed H.R. 353, the "Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act of 2017," into law.BOULDER, Colo. — With the unanimous passage of legislation to improve weather research and prediction, Congress has taken a major step today toward strengthening the nation's resilience to severe weather and boosting U.S. economic competitiveness."This landmark legislation will save lives and property while providing business leaders with critical intelligence," said Antonio J. Busalacchi, president of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR). "Today's bipartisan vote underscores the enduring value of scientific research to our nation."The Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act is the first major weather legislation since the early 1990s. It calls for more research into subseasonal to seasonal prediction, a priority for business and community leaders who need more reliable predictions of weather patterns weeks to months in advance. The bill also will strengthen short-term weather forecasts and smooth the way for research findings to be adopted by forecasters and commercial weather companies.Antonio J. Busalacchi. (©UCAR. Photo by Carlye Calvin. This image is freely available for media & nonprofit use.)Improved short- and long-term weather predictions have major implications for public safety and the economy. The nation experienced 15 weather and climate disasters last year that cost $1 billion dollars or more, including tornadoes and widespread flooding that left dozens dead. Even routine weather events can affect transportation, supply chain management, consumer purchasing, and other sectors, with a collective impact of hundreds of billions of dollars on the U.S. economy.Scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, which is managed by UCAR on behalf of the National Science Foundation, have estimated that weather forecasts provide an annual benefit to the American public of more than $30 billion, compared with about $5 billion spent on generating U.S. weather forecasts."Research into the atmosphere provides an enormous return on investment," Busalacchi said. "Weather affects all of us, and being able to make plans based on forecasts of likely weather conditions is literally worth many billions of dollars to households and businesses."Decades of investments by federal agencies in weather research, observing systems, computer models, and supercomputing resources are dramatically advancing our understanding of how our atmosphere works. Five-day weather forecasts now are as reliable as two-day forecasts used to be, hurricane forecasts will soon extend out to seven days, and scientists are starting to find ways to project certain events, such as droughts and heat waves, a month or longer in advance.The Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act is designed to strengthen:forecasts of tornadoes, hurricanes, and other severe stormslong-range prediction of weather patterns, from two weeks to two years aheadcommunication of forecasts, which influences subsequent decisions by public safety officials, businesses, and the publictsunami warningsthe process of moving research into operations and commercializationThe legislation (HR 353) was introduced by Rep. Frank Lucas of Oklahoma and Sen. John Thune of South Dakota. Co-sponsors include Sen. Brian Schatz and Reps. Jim Bridenstine, Lamar Smith, Dana Rohrabacher, Chris Stewart, Aumua Amata Coleman Radewagen, and Suzanne Bonamici.The bipartisan bill authorizes spending increases at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for weather research focused on observations, models, and more powerful computing resources. It authorizes spending for COSMIC-2 an innovative suite of micro-satellites that will provide critical atmospheric observations, with multiagency support provided by UCAR, NOAA, the U.S. Air Force, the National Science Foundation, and Taiwan's National Space Organization. The legislation also expands commercial opportunities to provide weather data while increasing the efficiency of NOAA's weather satellite programs."We are very appreciative of the work by Senator Thune, Representative Lucas, and the many co-sponsors in the House and Senate," Busalacchi said."As the United States faces an increasingly competitive global marketplace, it needs more accurate and longer-term weather forecasts," he added. "At UCAR we look forward to working with NOAA, the Department of Defense, and the other federal agencies; the private sector; and the university community to build off of the National Science Foundation investment in basic research in this essential area."

UCAR statement on President Trump's first budget proposal

BOULDER, Colo. — The budget process for fiscal year 2018, which begins Oct. 1, is now under way with this morning's release of President Trump's proposed budget blueprint. This proposal will be more fully developed in coming months, with the administration providing more detail and then the plan undergoing revisions during negotiations with Congress. The administration’s blueprint would increase spending for defense by $54 billion, with corresponding reductions in domestic spending, including scientific research.StatementAntonio J. Busalacchi, the president of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), issued the following statement today on the administration’s plan:It is vital that the government continue to invest in crucial scientific endeavors that save lives and property, ensure our continued economic competitiveness, and strengthen our national security.Last year alone, our country experienced 15 weather-related disasters that each reached or exceeded $1 billion in costs, including tornadoes, drought, and widespread flooding that, combined, left dozens dead. Even routine weather events affect transportation, supply chain management, consumer purchasing, and other sectors in every state, with a collective impact of hundreds of billions of dollars on the U.S. economy. Higher up in our atmosphere, space weather events pose a multibillion-dollar threat to GPS systems, communications networks, power grids, and other technologies that are essential for the functioning of our nation.Strategic and necessary collaborations among government agencies, academia, and the private sector are resulting in landmark progress in short- and long-term forecasts. Scientists are gaining revolutionary new insights into the entire Earth system in ways that will lead to predictions of weather patterns and other events weeks, months, or even more than a year in advance, providing needed intelligence to political, military, and business leaders.UCAR is concerned that the proposed funding cuts to Earth system science research would derail the nation’s progress toward improved prediction and weaken the position of the United States in the world. Earth system science is an international endeavor, prioritized by both U.S. allies and competitors. Any significant cuts to science funding in the U.S. budget would threaten our preeminence, undercutting efforts to keep the public safe and our economy and military strong.As the months-long budget process moves forward, we will work with policy makers to ensure that the nation continues its robust support of essential Earth system science research.

Five new trustees join UCAR's board

BOULDER — Five new trustees are taking their seats this week on the board of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), which manages the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).The five new trustees are: Susan Avery, president emerita of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution; Raymond Ban, managing director of Ban & Associates; Shuyi Chen, professor of meteorology and physical oceanography at the University of Miami; Sherri Goodman, senior fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center; and Harlan Spence, director of the University of New Hampshire's Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space. Each was elected by UCAR’s 110 member universities to a three-year term.The board, which determines UCAR's overall direction, elected a new chair: Everette Joseph, director of the Atmospheric Sciences Research Center at the University at Albany-SUNY. Joseph is serving his second three-year term as a trustee.At this week's meeting, UCAR President Antonio J. Busalacchi and Joseph thanked outgoing Chair of the Board Eric Betterton for his outstanding leadership, dedication, and commitment to UCAR."Eric is a tough act to follow, but I am looking forward to working with the new and returning trustees to ensure that UCAR continues to be regarded as one of the world's leading resources in the atmospheric and related Earth system sciences," Joseph said.Betterton, who has served as chair since 2015, said he was delighted to see Joseph assume the role. "Everette is exceptionally well placed to take over as chair, having served as vice chair since 2015. He has a deep understanding of UCAR, most recently evidenced by his leadership last spring of the successful search for a new UCAR president," Betterton said.Petra Klein from the University of Oklahoma will assume the vice chair role. She has served as a trustee since 2015.The UCAR member universities also re-elected two sitting trustees to additional terms: Betterton, also director of the University of Arizona's Department of Hydrology and Atmospheric Sciences; and Romy Olaisen, a vice president of enterprise ground solutions at Harris Corp. Eleven board members have continuing terms in a staggered-term system that assures continuity."I am excited to work with a board that has the depth of expertise from academia, government, and the private sector needed to help tackle the complex challenges facing Earth system science," Busalacchi said. "The work of NCAR, the UCAR university consortium, and our many partners working on weather, water, and climate has never been more important for protecting lives and property, growing the economy, and advancing national security."UCAR is a nonprofit consortium of 110 North American colleges and universities focused on research and training in the atmospheric and related Earth system sciences. UCAR manages the National Center for Atmospheric Research with sponsorship by the National Science Foundation. UCAR's community programs offer a suite of innovative resources, tools, and services in support of the consortium's education and research goals.New UCAR chairEverette Joseph has been the director of the University at Albany-SUNY's Atmospheric Sciences Research Center since 2014. His current projects include research to improve extreme weather resiliency and the development and deployment of ground-based and satellite observing systems. In his prior position as director of the Howard University Program in Atmospheric Sciences, he helped Howard become a national leader in graduating African American and Hispanic Ph.D.s in atmospheric science. Read more about Joseph.  New UCAR trustees Susan Avery is an atmospheric physicist and president emerita of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, where she served as president from 2008–2015. Prior to that, Avery was a professor at the University of Colorado and held various leadership positions, including director of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES). Avery also is a past president of the American Meteorological Society and a past chair of the UCAR Board of Trustees. Read more about Avery.  Raymond Ban is managing director of Ban & Associates, which provides consulting services to weather media companies. He also serves as a consultant to The Weather Channel, where he served as an executive vice president from 2002–2009. Read more about Ban.  Shuyi Chen is a professor at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science at the University of Miami. She has also been an affiliate scientist at NCAR since 2006. She serves as vice chair of the National Academies Board of Atmospheric Science and Climate (BASC). A fellow of the American Meteorological Society, Chen is an expert in the prediction of extreme weather events, including tropical cyclones and winter storms. Read more about Chen. Sherri Goodman is a senior fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center, affiliated with the center's Polar Initiative, Environmental Change and Security Program, and Global Women's Leadership Initiative. She is also a senior fellow at CNA, a nonprofit research and analysis organization, where she founded the CNA Military Advisory Board. Goodman is the former president and CEO of the Consortium for Ocean Leadership and former Deputy Undersecretary of Defense (Environmental Security). Read more about Goodman. Harlan Spence has been director of the University of New Hampshire's Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space since 2010. Prior to that, he was a professor of astronomy and department chair at Boston University. With expertise in solar research and the origins of space weather, he has worked closely with NCAR's High Altitude Observatory. He serves on several national committees providing advice to NASA and the National Science Foundation on potential space missions. Read more about Spence. 

Congress unanimously passes law for research and innovation

BOULDER, Colo. — By voting unanimously this month to pass the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act, Congress has strengthened U.S. science and provided a major boost to the nation's economy and national security."Scientific research is the critical foundation of economic competitiveness," said Antonio J. Busalacchi, president of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR). "This bipartisan legislation will propel advances in research and strengthen collaborations between scientists and private industry, creating jobs and providing far-ranging benefits for the nation in the years to come."UCAR President Antonio J. Busalacchi. (©UCAR. Photo by Carlye Calvin. This image is freely available for media & nonprofit use.)Busalacchi noted that federal investments in atmospheric research alone have spawned a multibillion private weather industry, providing critical forecasts to business leaders and local officials and helping to save lives from tornadoes, floods, and other disasters.The American Innovation and Competitiveness Act, which maximizes opportunities for basic research, won unanimous passage last week in the House and Senate. It was sponsored by Senators Cory Gardner (R-Colorado) and Gary Peters (D-Michigan), along with John Thune (R-South Dakota) and Bill Nelson (D-Florida).The bill encourages scientific entrepreneurship; provides incentives for private sector innovation; promotes improvements in manufacturing; strengthens national security; and promotes diversity in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. It most directly focuses on programs in the National Science Foundation (NSF), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.Key provisions include:Maximizing basic researchMerit review: Reaffirms the appropriateness of NSF intellectual merit and broader impacts criteria used to evaluate grant proposals.EPSCoR: Updates NSF’s Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) to continue promoting groundbreaking research in states that receive relatively little federal research money.Leveraging the private sectorIncentivizes private-sector innovation: Updates prize competition authority to encourage greater participation in federal prize competitions.Expands opportunities for public involvement: Permits federal science agencies to use crowdsourcing as a tool to conduct agency projects.Improving manufacturingEncourages improved manufacturing: Adjusts the federal cost-share ratio and implements new accountability and oversight provisions within NIST’s Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) program.Promoting innovation and technology transferBolsters scientific entrepreneurship: Authorizes the successful I-Corps program to help scientists move their research from the laboratory to the marketplace.Reaffirms importance of commercialization: Directs NSF to continue awarding translational research grants and strengthen public-private cooperation.Supporting STEMScientific community input: Establishes a STEM Advisory Panel composed of academic and industry representatives to provide recommendations on federal STEM programs.Diversity in STEM fields: Creates a working group to study ways to improve inclusion of women and underrepresented individuals in STEM fields.The legislation also includes provisions to strengthen national security and foster more communication between science and national security agencies. It reduces paperwork burdens and promotes transparency by requiring public notices of grants to justify the project's expenditures and confirm that they align with NSF priorities."Congress's unanimous support of scientific research and innovation is an important step for securing our nation's future, " Busalacchi said. "At UCAR we look forward to working with NSF and other federal agencies, the research community, and the private sector to advance research in support of society."Full text: American Innovation and Competitiveness Act 

UCAR publishes guidance to next presidential administration and Congress

BOULDER, Colo. — The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) has published guidance for the next U.S. presidential administration and Congress on the importance of better understanding and predicting weather, water, climate, and other aspects of the Earth system.A UCAR white paper emphasizes that focused investment of federal resources in the atmospheric, Earth, and related sciences will make significant contributions addressing important societal needs. These include protection of lives and property, expansion of new economic opportunities, enhancement of national security, and strengthening U.S. leadership in research and development."More than ever, federal support of research and education into the Earth system is critical to the nation," said UCAR President Antonio J. Busalacchi. "We are on the verge of a new era of prediction, based on understanding how the entire Earth system works. This will have a direct positive impact on lives and livelihoods."UCAR is a nonprofit consortium of 110 member colleges and universities.The white paper proposes federal support for advancing computer models, new observing systems, and more powerful computing resources, as well as a strong science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education system. Its proposals include a National Academies' decadal survey, involving representatives of the public and private sectors, which would develop priorities for weather research and forecasting."The United States should be the unambiguous leader in predicting weather, water, climate, and related systems," Busalacchi said. "Transforming this knowledge into action will allow our nation and the world to effectively respond and adapt to changing environmental conditions."UCAR federal government transition resources can be found here. 

UCAR congressional briefing highlights flood, drought prediction

WASHINGTON — The nation is poised to make major advances in "water intelligence" with more detailed forecasts of floods, streamflow, and potential drought conditions, a panel of experts said at a congressional briefing today.The briefing, sponsored by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), highlighted the new National Water Model, a comprehensive system for forecasting water resources from coast to coast. The technology underpinning the model, launched last month by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), was developed by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and its collaborators at universities, the National Science Foundation and other federal agencies, and the private sector."The new forecast model is really a quantum leap forward and will help safeguard Americans from major floods and other precipitation events," said UCAR President Antonio J. Busalacchi, who introduced the panel. "It bridges the gap between research and operations, generating real-time forecasts to help vulnerable communities and protect lives and property."UCAR manages NCAR on behalf of the National Science Foundation."Through a series of partnerships, it's possible to provide consistent, high-resolution, integrated water analyses, predictions, and data to address critical unmet information and service gaps," said Edward Clark, director of the Geo-Intelligence Office of Water Prediction at the NOAA National Water Center.Scientists generated this inundation forecast during Houston-area flooding earlier this year in a demonstration of  advanced computer modeling technology. (©UCAR. Image by David Gochis, NCAR. This image is freely available for media & nonprofit use.)Unlike past streamflow models, which provided forecasts every few hours and only for specific points along major river systems, the new system continuously simulates conditions at 2.7 million locations along rivers, streams, and their tributaries across the contiguous United States. It paves the way for the biggest improvement in flood forecasting in the nation's history."The National Water Model provides a different way of thinking about continental hydrology by providing a view of a connected plumbing network from the mountains to the ocean," said panelist Richard Hooper, executive director of the Consortium of Universities for the Advancement of Hydrologic Science (CUAHSI). "Previously, hydrologists had considered river basins as discrete units rather than this river-continuum approach. This change in view opens up new areas of research that will improve our ability to predict not just floods but other aspects of water resources, including water quality and the impacts of droughts."Thanks to ongoing research, the National Water Model is expected to provide increasingly detailed street-level forecasts, inundation maps, and additional features such as water quality forecasts. Scientists are working on incorporating more processes, such as soil saturation and the amount of water drawn up by vegetation."By dramatically increasing the geographic coverage as well as the lead times for forecasts, the National Water Model is ushering in a new era in flood and flash flood forecasting," said John McHenry, chief scientist of advanced meteorological systems for Baron Services. "Business, industry, and the general public will benefit through reduction in lost lives and property."The panelists emphasized the importance of water resources to the major sectors of the U.S. economy. They warned that the nation is facing myriad water-related challenges ranging from growing demand to increasingly costly floods and droughts. Meeting those challenges will require continued coordination among research organizations, universities, the private sector, and federal, state, and local agencies."Beyond developing a new computer model, we're building a community by sharing resources, tools, and ideas," said NCAR scientist David Gochis. "The scientists are engaging with practitioners and decision makers to make the system as usable as possible."The development team at NCAR worked with scientists at NOAA, the U.S. Geological Survey, and universities to adapt WRF-Hydro to serve as the first version of the National Water Model.The panelists also discussed the need for better water intelligence among diverse communities across the country. For example, Ryan Emanuel, associate professor at North Carolina State University's Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources, noted that indigenous tribes across the nation are particularly vulnerable to drought and flooding for a range of cultural, historical, and economic reasons."Indigenous peoples across the United States are diverse, but one common theme is that water is sacred," said Emanuel, a member of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina. "It's not only critical for life, but it is life itself. Beyond the tools, the models, and the management lies the knowledge of the original inhabitants of this nation that water binds us all to a common fate."The event is the latest in a series of UCAR congressional briefings about critical topics in the Earth system sciences. Past briefings have focused on predicting space weather, aviation weather safety, the state of the Arctic, hurricane prediction, and potential impacts of El Niño.

Capping warming at 2 degrees

June 27, 2016 | Even if countries adhere to the Paris climate agreement hammered out last fall, capping global warming at 2 degrees Celsius would likely require net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2085 and substantial negative emissions over the long term, according to an in-depth analysis by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).More than 100 parties to the Paris Agreement submitted pledges to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change outlining their individual commitments to cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 or 2030. The new study finds that, even if all the countries follow through on their commitments, steeper cuts would be necessary after 2030 to stay below 2 degrees of warming. And by the end of the century, total emissions would need to become negative, meaning more greenhouse gases would be removed from the air than are emitted into the atmosphere.These negative emissions would need to reach net minus 15 gigatons of "carbon dioxide equivalent," a measure that tabulates the global warming potential of all types of greenhouse gases in relation to carbon dioxide, according to model simulations created for the study.Worldwide, yearly greenhouse gas emissions now equal about 50 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent."The emissions targets in the Paris Agreement are an important first step, and it's known that additional action will be required to meet the goal of limiting warming to 2 degrees," said NCAR scientist Benjamin Sanderson, lead author of the study. "This paper provides details of what the next steps would need to look like in order to actually hit that target."The study, published in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union, was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy and by the National Science Foundation, NCAR's sponsor. This graph represents eight possible pathways that society could take to have a two-in-three chance of limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius.  The blue line represents our current emissions trajectory. The red line represents the path that society will be on if countries adhere to the Paris Agreement. The gray lines represent other possibilities, all of which require more stringent emissions cuts in the near term but fewer negative emissions later. Click to enlarge. (©UCAR. This image is freely available for media & nonprofit use.)Small changes now equal big benefits laterEven before the Paris agreement was finished, it was clear that the pledged emissions cuts by 2030 would not be sufficient on their own to meet the target of limiting warming to 2 degrees. This study gives a comprehensive look at the possible paths society could take to have a two-in-three chance of staying below the target."We created a wide range of possible global emissions pathways that would allow us to have a decent shot at limiting warming to two degrees," said Sanderson. "We found that very small increases in the rate at which we cut greenhouse gases now could lead to very large decreases in the amount of negative emissions we need later." Negative emissions in the future will require the massive deployment of technologies that are still hypothetical to draw down greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. That makes it difficult to know how capable society will be to implement large-scale carbon removal in the future.Sanderson and his colleagues, NCAR scientists Brian O'Neill and Claudia Tebaldi, also found that it is still possible to stay below 2 degrees of warming without net negative emissions, but to do so would require near-term cuts that are much more aggressive than those proposed in the Paris agreement.About the articleBenjamin M. Sanderson, Brian C. O’Neill, and Claudia Tebaldi, What would it take to achieve the Paris temperature targets?, Geophysical Research LettersWriter/contact:Laura Snider, Senior Science Writer

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