Meeting the Challenge of Climate Change with GIS

On page 4 of the new report Restructuring Federal Climate Research to Meet the Challenges of Climate Change from the National Academies Press, one of the committee’s top six priority actions for restructured climate change research is to…

“Develop the science base and infrastructure to support a new generation of coupled Earth system models to improve attribution and prediction of high impact regional weather and climate, to initialize seasonal to decadal climate forecasting, and to provide predictions of impacts affecting adaptive capacities and vulnerabilities of environmental and human systems.

“Further climate change is inevitable, even if humans significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It is therefore essential not only to have the capacity to explain what is happening to climate and why (attribution), but also to improve predictions of weather and climate variability at the spatial and temporal scales appropriate to assess the impacts of climate change. Both will require improved infrastructure and techniques in modeling the coupled human-land-ocean-atmosphere system, supported by sustained climate observations. The latter are necessary to further develop and constrain the models and to start model predictions from the most accurate observed state possible (initialization). Tools are also needed to translate the data and model output into information more usable by stakeholders. Improved predictions of regional climate will also require more unified modeling frameworks that provide for the hierarchical treatment of climate and forecast phenomena across a wide range of space and time scales, and for the routine production of decadal regional climate predictions at scales down to a few kilometers. New computing configurations will be needed to deal with the computational and data storage demands arising from decadal simulations at high resolution with high output frequency.”

The potential role of GIS as a base platform for helping to meet this goal cannot be understated. GIS will be invaluable as a foundation for data management (both of inputs and outputs associated with coupled Earth system models); performing analysis, spatial modeling, and geospatial statistics across multiple models; visualization and presentation of data and results; and dissemination of data and results to a wider audience.

The key to developing a true understanding of our complex and dynamic earth is creating a framework to take many different pieces of past and future data from a variety of sources and merge them together in a single system. GIS is a sophisticated technology tool already in widespread use by planners, engineers, and scientists to display and analyze all forms of location-referenced data about the health, status, and history of our planet. GIS provides a framework for analyzing and managing anthropogenic earth issues by allowing users to inventory and display large, complex spatial data sets. They can also analyze the potential interplay between various factors, getting us closer to a true understanding of how our dynamic earth systems may change in the coming decades and centuries. A GIS framework also lets us design and test various alternatives, helping us make the most educated and informed decision about the best possible future.