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Translational Climate Science and Services in the Climate Impact Assessment for the Southwest (CLIMAS) Project. Andrew C. Comrie. Acknowledgements: Maria Carmen Lemos, Malcolm K. Hughes, Jonathan T. Overpeck & the CLIMAS Team. CLIMAS & RISAs. CLIMAS = Climate Assessment for the Southwest

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Translational Climate Science and Services in the Climate Impact Assessment for the Southwest (CLIMAS) Project

Andrew C. Comrie

Acknowledgements: Maria Carmen Lemos, Malcolm K. Hughes, Jonathan T. Overpeck & the CLIMAS Team

climas risas
  • CLIMAS = Climate Assessment for the Southwest
  • One of several RISA (Regional Integrated Science and Assessment) projects
    • Different from the USGCRP National Assessments
  • RISAs aim to bridge the gap between climate science and societal needs for climate information
    • Produce usable knowledge via “end-to-end” process:

understanding how climate conditions and processes generate regional and local social and natural impacts and responses

  • CLIMAS works from a foundation of social science research and direct user linkages, which drive formulation of the natural science and outreach agendas
    • active involvement of users in all phases of the research process
    • integration across scales ranging from the global to the local
    • identification of the multiple stressors (climate in context) that members of the region must take into account when making decisions.
aims outline
Aims & Outline
  • Social science literature conveys broad value of stakeholder engagement for climate impact research, but there is no established theory or practice of “how to do it” in the social or natural sciences
  • Therefore, synthesize and communicate what we have learned from several years of experience
    • Describe the interactive process that we have evolved
      • how the interdisciplinary CLIMAS team works with users to identify common research objectives
    • Define a framework of research and user dimensions
    • Highlight examples of these interactions
      • Several climate research sub-projects driven by user’s needs
    • Discuss lessons learned
      • Highlight how “usable science” can be expanded into a critical component of the national climate science and services enterprise
example usability interpretation



Oklahoma: +5% chance of wet

38% chance of wet

33% chance of normal

28% chance of dry

E US: Complete uncertainty

“CL” = climatology/no skill

 “normal”

  • Led to Forecast Evaluation project & interactive evaluation tools
Example: Usability & Interpretation

CPC tercile forecast 3rd party product

(CL now EC)

developing relationships with users
Developing Relationships with Users
  • CLIMAS user groups vary by size, function and topic
    • might include policymakers, resource managers, or groups of individuals such as ranchers or farmers
  • Simple pairing of climate scientists with users is sometimes appropriate
  • More often, involve social scientists to help address complex human-environment relationships
    • Use interviews, surveys, and other ethnographic techniques to analyze institutional opportunities and constraints, information flow, decision-making, and policy
  • Relationships via a range of actual interactions
    • Individual interviews, presentations & Q/A at user meetings, specially convened workshops, newsletters, technical meetings
  • Outcomes can be tangible products and/or more abstract assessment, e.g.:
    • reformatted and synthesized climate forecasts; decision support tools
    • interagency use/ decision-making involving climate information, or a broader policy analysis of a climate-related resource
research interdisciplinarity and integration
Research Interdisciplinarity and Integration
  • Natural and social science integration is fundamental to integrated assessment within CLIMAS
  • Truly interdisciplinary work is very hard to achieve because of the fundamentally different paradigms used and questions asked
    • Each of the disciplinary groups must learn how the other thinks (a non-trivial and continuous process)
    • Examples -- natural scientists initially perceived:(i) social scientists’ major role was “market research” surveys (ii) tech transfer of science results done by simple presentationBut, after some time and many team interactions, realized:(i) importance of analyzing who has information, institutional constraints on its use, known and unknown reshaping of natural science research by such factors (ii) need for cartographic visualization specialist for graphical products, and “lay” interpreter to make verbal material easily understandable
      • e.g., the correct and incorrect interpretation of probability terciles in climate forecasts
  • Practical strategies
    • “Core office” coordinates PIs, postdocs, RAs in various subprojects
    • Meetings, meetings, meetings… (of parts and of whole)
    • Co-location of as many staff, postdocs etc. as is practical
dimensions framework
Dimensions Framework
  • 2 dimensions:
    • User type
    • Natural & social science research
  • Example projects
    • All have different values on each dimension
    • Most span a range on each dimension
    • Selected several to highlight these dimensions
examples of climas projects
Examples of CLIMAS Projects
  • Community Vulnerability Assessment & Mapping
    • Extensive social science fieldwork to document complex vulnerabilities of different communities/sectors (complex social & hydroclimatic variability)
  • END InSight – El Niño Drought Initiative
    • Decision/Policy-maker outreach: forecasts, climate education, feedback surveys, and policy involvement in AZ Governor’s Drought Task Force
  • Wildfire & Climate workshops
    • For fire managers, became Nat’l Seasonal Assessment Wkshp for fire season planning
  • Urban Water Use and Climate
    • Policy & management surrounding water supply and demand w.r.t. climate
  • Fine-Scale Climate Mapping
    • Provide 1-km climate grids (huge user demand) – evolved into WestMap
  • Valley Fever & Climate
    • Research climate-disease links, develop experimental forecast model
  • Paleoclimate Reconstructions
    • Develop 1000-year precipitation series by climate division, use for outreach
  • Monsoon Variability & Impacts
    • Research on SST links, impacts on fire season
  • Winter Precipitation Sub-Regional Variability & Impacts
    • ENSO/PDO controls within the West, impacts on growing season
community vulnerability assessment
Community Vulnerability Assessment
  • Background & Objectives
    • Document the varying nature of stakeholder vulnerability to climate variability under different hydrological regimes and livelihood systems in a range of rural communities
    • Identify and analyze private and public strategies to reduce social vulnerability to climate
    • Identify specific stakeholder uses of and needs for climate information
    • Link stakeholders and CLIMAS in an ongoing outreach relationship
  • Usable-Science Dimensions
    • Many less-specialized stakeholders (farmers, ranchers, tribes, migrant workers)
    • Mixture of repackaged climate info and new applied social research
  • User Interactions & Activities
    • Interviews & multiple field visits
    • Study 4 representative livelihoods and communities
      • irrigated agriculture dependent on groundwater
      • irrigated agriculture based on surface water
      • rain fed farming
      • timber/recreation/tourism livelihoods).
    • Create Community/CLIMAS partnerships through climate forecast meetings with stakeholders
    • Define a set of critical indicators to characterize community vulnerability & create a GIS-based vulnerability database

Example: History of the irrigated agriculture in the Sulphur Springs Valley, AZ. It highlights the interaction between climate, economy, water and technology

Example Outcomes
    • Low Vulnerability – diversified livelihoods
      • transition from dependence on primary industries (agriculture and ranching) to an economy fueled by services, tourism, and retirement.
      • Technology and social organization have buffered most livelihoods to surface and groundwater variability
        • residents perceive themselves as largely unaffected by climate extremes
    • High Vulnerability – dependence on groundwater
      • Range of concerns with climate variability
        • some vegetable growers may welcome a summer drought since this allows them to control, by irrigation, the amount of water desired. Yet consecutive years of drought can be devastating. Increased reliance on groundwater irrigation can lead to a decline in aquifer levels and a substantial increase in the costs of pumping
      • Combination of stresses = mixed effects
        • bankruptcy and abandonment of agriculture for some
        • adoption of water-efficient irrigation systems for others
  • Climate information needs of stakeholders include:
    • downscaling climate information to fine spatial resolution (few kilometers)
    • understanding monsoon variability and onset of the monsoon precipitation
    • accurate seasonal forecasts at the local and regional level
    • understanding winter climate variability
    • information on temperature extremes
    • pertinent historical climate information
  • Overall, established important linkages between farmer investment in crop and technology choice and a wider institutional context of crop insurance, agricultural extension assistance and integrated markets that put a premium on climate information
end insight el ni o drought initiative
END InSight: El Niño-Drought Initiative
  • Background & Objectives
    • Provide stakeholders with accurate information about El Niño and drought
    • Invite and encourage stakeholder feedback
    • Stimulate research
    • Provide feedback to NOAA and other producers of climate information
  • Usable-Science Dimensions
    • 35 stakeholders (decision-makers from diff sectors in AZ & NM) plus wider web audience
      • land, wildlife, and water resource managers; agricultural extension agents; fire managers; ranchers; environmental organizations; members of the media and tourism sectors; community development specialists; and energy sector representatives
    • Repackaged climate information on seasonal summary, education and forecasts
  • User Interactions & Activities
    • Monthly Climate Packets (mailed, plus web posted)
    • Surveys (questionnaire & phone feedback on all aspects of climate information & packets)
    • Media Briefings (press releases/conferences) & News Analysis (tracking news reports)
    • Communications with Policymakers (e.g., climate summaries to state legislators)
    • Wrap-up workshop with stakeholders
    • Segue to involvement in AZ Drought Task Force

Percentage of stakeholders taking action using END InSight drought materials in 2002 (Note: total respondents varied from 33 in July to 29 in August and 21 in September).

Sample page from END InSight Packet, which builds on climate products created by our partner agencies. This example shows precipitation forecasts from the Climate Prediction Center. Notes are added to each product to aid stakeholders in comprehending the products, along with interpretive"highlights.“
  • To view a full sample packet, visit:
reconstructing past southwest climate
Reconstructing Past Southwest Climate
  • Background & Objectives
    • Develop cool-season precipitation reconstructions for AZ & NM climate divisions
    • Assess utility of two techniques, linear regression and neural networks
    • Summarize past drought with respect to conditions during the 20th century
    • Downscale paleoclimate information to climate divisions
  • Usable-Science Dimensions
    • Broader range of user groups
      • Previous stakeholder interactions indicated a need to provide a longer context for current climate variability
    • Develop new basic research and data
  • User Interactions & Activities
    • Presented to users as part of interviews, presentations, written and web materials
  • Example Outcomes
    • Linear regression captures dry periods better; neural networks capture wet periods better. Combined both to exploit the best qualities of each method
    • Created web interface for data and graphic download along with explanatory materials

Example of reconstructed cool-season precipitation for AZ CD2.

Note irregular dry/wet fluctuations. In particular, there are many dry periods comparable to the 1950's drought but few wet periods that match the post-1976 wet conditions

urban water initiative
Urban Water Initiative
  • Background & Objectives
    • Examine role of climate variability in determining water supply and demand in the Southwest
    • Increase awareness of the importance of climate variability in water resource planning
    • Inspire closer examination of the utility of current climate forecasts
    • Encourage water managers to further integrate climate information in planning annual and longer-term water use
  • Usable Science Dimensions
    • Focus on fewer more-specialized stakeholders (water managers)
    • Develop new research and knowledge about information use
  • User Interactions & Activities
    • Policy & literature reviews, interviews/surveys with water managers
    • Four components:
      • Urban Water Sensitivity Analysis
      • Water Law and Policy
      • Case Study of Urban Water Providers in Arizona
      • Urban Water Issues in Flagstaff

Sources of water used in Arizona, 1994

Example Outcomes
    • Three times as many informants support conservation measures over supply augmentation policies (drilling new wells, tapping new sources)
    • Support for supply augmentation as an alternative means of coping with water scarcity is limited to a few (but quite influential) water policy makers
    • Because future drought conditions and population growth likely, findings suggest that implementing a water budget and integrating long-term climate forecasts into local decision-making would partially mitigate future conflicts

Likelihood of climate-related impacts within five years. Note that drought and high temperatures are not the most significant disruptions to water systems.

Percentage of total water supply likely to be obtained via groundwater in various scenarios.

Note that climatic variability could necessitate a great deal more groundwater pumping than is currently necessary, particularly when combined with population growth and changes in water supply and land use.

wildfire decision making in the sw
Wildfire Decision-Making in the SW
  • Background & Objectives
    • Interannual to decadal climate & fire links have potential predictive power, but have not played a major role in planning of forest fire management
    • Extensive wildfires (in SW mixed conifer forests) tend to follow an ENSO-related wet-wet-dry winter sequence
    • Initiate annual workshop series with fire managers
      • improve communication between the climate forecast and fire management communities
      • encourage collaboration to address needs raised by fire managers
  • Usable-Science Dimensions
    • Many less-specialized users
    • Mostly extension-like use of repackaged information, but following survey results
  • User Interactions & Activities
    • Pre- and post-workshop surveys used to assess:
      • Use and perception of climate forecasts by fire managers
      • Changes in management tactics, resource allocation, and training based on climate forecasts
      • Dissemination of information during the fire season
      • Fire-climate research initiatives; major concerns and needs
      • Complementary survey of climate folks on product feedback, dissemination, interactions/needs
Example Outcomes
    • Climate forecasts used for long-term planning activities
      • resource allocation
      • risk assessment
      • support planning
      • long-range fire behavior prediction
    • BUT rarely used in the determination of:
      • preparedness levels
      • community education
      • fire prevention
    • Survey results from four workshops indicate that historical climate information and climate forecasts aid in:
      • resource allocation
      • repositioning of resources
      • prescribed fire management
      • raised public awareness of fire season danger
    • Meetings were successful enough to be transformed into the ongoing National Seasonal Assessment Workshop series and responsibility was handed off to fire management agencies
climate and health valley fever modeling
Climate and Health – Valley Fever Modeling
  • Background & Objectives
    • Valley fever (coccidioidomycosis) caused by inhaling spores of soil-dwelling Coccidioides fungus
      • Fungus responds to changes in climate (soil moisture/temp) conditions
      • Majority asymptomatic (60%), small number (1%) experience potentially fatal conditions as a result of infection
      • U.S. Severe Cases: 6,000-8,000 per yr (varies with climate)
      • Deaths: 50-100 per yr, Treatment: $60M per yr
    • Improve fundamental understanding of climate-coccidioidomycosis relationships
    • Develop experimental disease forecast model
  • Usable-Science Dimensions:
    • fewer, more specialized stakeholders (environmental health researchers/professionals)
    • basic research to improve climate-health knowledge
  • User Interactions & Activities
    • workshop-style meetings/discussions, two or three times per year
    • more frequent small group and individual contacts
Example Outcomes
    • January % of total annual incidence, Pima County, AZ1948-1998
    • Note that a combination of wet conditions 16-24 months prior to the current January and dry conditions in the several months leading up to the current January is conducive to high valley fever incidence (and vice versa)
  • Experimental Disease Forecast
    • Model Adj. R2 = 0.48jacknife (indep.) R2 = 0.4
    • =0.05
monsoon diagnostics and predictability
Example Outcomes
    • Nonlinear (neural) multivariate clustering using SOMs
      • most common mode during the mature phase = second wettest
        • strong links to mid-tropospheric height & moisture over the SW
      • wettest monsoon mode = less common

Precipitation Anomalies

- Wettest modes in the SW, but dry in the Great Plains

- Opposite in pre-monsoon

Intraseasonal monsoon evolution

- Lowpass (>10d) 500 mb anoms (m)

Monsoon Diagnostics and Predictability
  • Background & Objectives
    • CLIMAS stakeholder surveys indicated a large user demand for better seasonal monsoon forecasts, but current summer climate forecasts have little to no skill
    • Initiate diagnostic analyses of intraseasonal daily precipitation variability
    • Identify potential seasonal precipitation predictability
      • complements broader initiatives within North American Monsoon Experiment (NAME)
  • Usable-Science Dimensions
    • Strong emphasis on development of new knowledge
    • Few users in short term (climate forecast scientists), but broad stakeholder benefits of improved monsoon forecasts in longer term
±0.4 = 95% signif.




SW Mex



Potential Predictability from SSTs

  • PCA  3 major variables from range of potential predictors:
    • winter or spring SST indices from:
      • North Pacific/Baja California/E Pacific
      • North Atlantic Ocean
      • plus antecedent winter precipitation
  • Modeling Results
    • neural networks  better results than linear regression
    • antecedent ocean and land-surface conditions important
    • seasonal forecasts for AZ should give greater weight to above predictors
fine scale gridded climate data
Fine-Scale Gridded Climate Data

Wet/Dry Winter Precipitation Examples

  • Background & Objectives
    • Stakeholder surveys indicated a large unmet need for historical climate data at a fine spatial scale
    • Develop a fine-scale gridded data set for winter precipitation and temperature in AZ & NM
  • Usable-Science Dimensions
    • range of stakeholder group size/specialization
    • new and existing research methods
  • User Interactions & Activities
    • Evaluate approaches via diagnostic studies on sub-regional variability
    • produce monthly maps
    • Develop a graphical web interface for data query and download
Example Outcomes
    • Combination of multiple regression and residual interpolation
    • Terrain-based predictor variables (e.g., elevation, slope) from DEM
    • Stepwise regressions on 1961 to 1990 winter averages
      • 662 temperature stations
      • 572 precipitation station
    • Evaluated several grid resolutions from 1x1 to 9x9 km (1x1 = best)
    • Temperature residuals = Kriging; Precipitation residuals = IDW
    • Final 1x1 km model results on independent data (cross-validated)
      • temperature R2 = 0.98; precipitation R2 = 0.63
    • Created 1961-present time series maps for Arizona and New Mexico
  • Evolution into WestMap
lessons learned for integrated assessment
Lessons Learned for Integrated Assessment
  • Two dimensions of “Usable Science” activities
    • (i) kinds of users & (ii) type of research
  • Several other broad factors emerge:
    • Identify common goals/interests between researcher’s and user’s agendas and need for information
      • fuse stakeholder need with PI interest (usable science and research)
    • Ensure human/financial resource availability
      • need to build sustainability to keep users engaged
      • not “fly-in fly-out”; maintain constant contacts insulated from funding variability
    • Incorporate structural characteristics of program/program design
      • flexibility for event-driven response
      • inducements and constraints for PIs within the project (research vs. routine products)
      • ability to transition from R&D to operations
    • Draw on and develop availability of “social capital” among users and researchers
      • vertical and horizontal links across project and in established stakeholder relationships
    • Acknowledge the limitations of the science
      • intrinsic
      • level of skill/format
      • credibility
implications for climate services
Implications for Climate Services
  • Clearly a new model of (US federally-funded) climate science
    • inclusion of the user as a cornerstone in the process
    • a successful relationship will result in real advocacy for support of the climate science, by users
  • Build two-way relationships with stakeholders/users
    • whatever their form, these interactions constitute a mutual learning process
    • users learn the state of the science and which aspects of their climate information needs may or may not be achievable
    • researchers learn specific strengths and weaknesses of users’ current climate information, as well as the particular details of user needs
    • leads to new research questions that otherwise might not have been asked
  • Usable-science “products” are jointly defined
    • may range from retailored existing knowledge to new basic research
  • Structure this process as iterative
    • subsequent refinement and further development of usable-science
  • Employ interdisciplinary expertise
    • in particular, social scientists make critically important contributions