Thursday, December 20, 2012

Where are U.S. CO2 Emissions Headed?

What’s been happening recently with respect to U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and more importantly, what’s likely to happen in the future? 
Those who follow this issue closely probably already know that U.S. emissions from fossil fuel sources (principally carbon dioxide) have been declining recently.  This is due to a combination of a slowing economy, large new supplies of natural gas, tighter regulation of coal-based power plants, and individual efforts throughout the country to use energy more efficiently.   The accompanying chart shows U.S. CO2 emissions from 2000 through the first eight months of 2012, where the 2012 number is extrapolated to a full year.  Since 2007 the trend generally has been downwards, though the total briefly rose in 2010.  
Reasonably good news for the present, but where are things headed?  Obviously this will depend greatly on policy, which is far from settled.  However, a couple of recent projections of aggregate U.S. energy use shed some light.  First, the Energy Information Administration (EIA), the statistical arm of the Department of Energy, makes an annual forecast of long range U.S. energy demand.  The latest forecast, AEO2013, shows 5.69 billion tons of CO2 emissions in 2040.  That’s a decline from the peak shown in 2007, but an increase of about 1.5 percent over the 2010 number.  According to the EIA forecast, U.S. energy demand will rise by about 5 percent through 2040 but substitution of renewables for fossil fuels will ameliorate the gain in CO2. 
A different projection, however, comes from ExxonMobil Corporation.  That company also publishes an annual long range forecast of U.S. energy demand and supply (ExxonMobil).  In its 2012 forecast, U.S. energy demand actually declines by 9 percent between 2010 and 2040, while energy production shifts towards lower carbon fuels.  Consequently, according to this forecast, U.S. CO2 emissions will decline by 25 percent from 2010 to 2040. 
Of course independently made forecasts are not likely to wholly agree with one another.  But the difference between EIA and ExxonMobil is striking.  On the one hand an increase in energy demand and emissions, on the other a decrease in both.  What might account for such differences?
Most likely, the two forecasts differ substantially in their assumptions about future energy prices.  EIA lays out its assumptions, but ExxonMobil, as a private company, does not.  It seems safe to infer, though, that ExxonMobil thinks the price of fossil fuels will be higher than does EIA.  Such higher prices are not necessarily good news for consumers, but they do portend a different path for CO2 emissions. 
The reality is that future energy prices are impossible to predict, so it’s hard to say whether EIA or ExxonMobil’s CO2 projections are the more likely.  Nevertheless, the company’s forecast for U.S. CO2 emissions is more consistent with recent trends than is EIA’s.   In that respect, at least, we can hope that it is closer to the truth.   

Friday, December 14, 2012

Big Week For NOAA…Scenarios and Arctic Report Cards

Amidst moving over the weekend and a packed work schedule this past week, I’d barely had a chance to indulge my penchant for keeping up with latest news and pursuing report releases. Luckily, a colleague passed along the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Office release of the “Global Sea Level Rise Scenarios for the United States National Climate Assessment.”

This was big news as it provides long awaited scenarios that can now be used for US focused climate adaptation efforts. It also, however, served to reemphasize the need for scenarios with coverage outside of the US and that include low-probability, high impact scenarios.

Last week, I had the pleasure of speaking with Sandra Erwin of National Defense Magazine to discuss some takeaways from a unique NOAA Climate Services Division-sponsored workshop held back in March, 2012. It brought together national security and climate services practitioners and spurred some insightful discussions that later evolved into the LMI report “Climate: Opportunities for Improving Engagement Between NOAA and the US National Security Community.”
One theme voiced by workshop participants was the need to “develop climate change predictions endorsed by the federal government.”
The NCA scenarios represent important progress in this regard, particularly as federal agencies issue policy to support their climate adaptation planning efforts. These sea level rise scenarios should help practitioners immensely by providing a starting point for their functional analysis, planning, and adaptation efforts, whether federal office buildings, defense facilities, supporting infrastructure in local communities, and domestic disaster preparedness. I particularly appreciated the up front introduction to the range of average scenarios, practitioner uses for each, and the big drivers of uncertainty. Of the scenarios presented, the “Highest Scenario” and its use in applications “where there is little tolerance for risk (e.g., new infrastructure)” should nicely serve the needs of our coastal military installations and their infrastructure planning and adaptation efforts. 
These scenarios benefited from defense community contributors, such as SERDP and the US Army Corps of Engineers, who have been making significant progress wrestling with and analyzing climate-driven infrastructure challenges at several military installations. Truly, the interagency collaboration that produced the NCA scenarios is precisely the type of outcomes we sought to reinforce with our report.
Participants at the NOAA CPASW workshop identified the need to better understand location-specific impacts, such as tidal variation, even under mean sea level rise scenarios. They likewise emphasized the utility of “low-probability, high-impact” scenarios approved for use by defense planners and the intelligence community. This summer I’d posted some thoughts on how the defense and intelligence community analyze and plan for the likely contingencies, 90% probabilities, but also consider and war game the worst case scenarios, say >2.0 meters sea level rise impacts. Exploring, considering, and accepting the “10% scenarios” for war gaming and planning purposes may be the next opportunity for dialog between climate services providers and the national security community, particularly scenarios applicable outside of the US. 
Close collaboration and early successes here could help the defense and intelligence communities tame the climate “black swan” somewhat but also help frame the analysis of its potential second- and third-order impacts to the future security environment.
Another NOAA report, its most recent Arctic Report Card, was released last week and reinforced the need to consider more than the average scenario. I’d been aware of the summer’s big melt of the Greenland Ice Sheet but didn’t fully appreciate the extent of this year’s record setting reduction in Arctic snow and ice cover. It certainly has not been an “average” summer above 66° North latitude this year. As such, it seems prudent to consider the lower probability scenarios and their potential impacts on the future security environment so we can tune our plans and prepare our contingencies as necessary.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

NEW REPORT: Forecasting National Security

One of the key elements of responding to a changing climate is establishing new partnerships that may not have previously been thought of, and leveraging resources that are available but not used to the fullest capacity. My fellow book authors Jeremey Alcorn and Rachael Jonassen believe there are opportunities for NOAA and the national security community to work together on this common challenge, and have documented these in a new paper.

In Jeremey and Rachael’s report, Climate: Opportunities for Improving Engagement Between NOAA and the US National Security Community, which was independently funded by the LMI Research Institute, they identify six key areas where the special work of NOAA can play a big role in meeting the challenges that climate change presents to our national security.

Below I’m posting the reports’ executive summary for your perusal; the full report can be found here.

Executive Summary
Six themes emerge from a workshop that discussed potential new climate products and services from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that could serve needs in the national security community. These themes are the following:

1. Prepare and respond to climate variability and adapt to climate change.
2. Develop climate change predictions endorsed by the federal government.
3. Support national security with NOAA climate products.
4. Move from data access to data application.
5. Sustain cooperation.
6. Consider emerging product areas.

The first theme addresses published statements that imply adaptation to climate variability will help to adapt to climate change. This is not always true. A counterexample is coastal adaptation now in an area that a rising sea level will inundate soon. Greater clarity can help ensure appropriate allocation of adaptation resources. This issue is important to the national defense community both because of its large investment in infrastructure and possible compromise of continuity of operations.

The second theme responds to the lack of any official federal statement of what projected climate changes agencies are obliged to consider in adaptation plans. Such plans are required by laws and regulations that do not stipulate which potential changes to consider. This disconnect could compromise national security planning.

NOAA produces an official forecast of climate for the United States that extends to 1 year in the future. Forecasts are available from NOAA international desks for areas outside the United States. Theme 3 proposes a dialogue on greater use of NOAA products outside the United States.

New software, new media, and new hardware offer opportunities for NOAA to develop better ways to access data that would nurture greater use. Users also need tools (“apps”) for deeper and more efficient analysis of existing data. Theme 4 shows how NOAA could partner with the national security community to address both of these opportunities.

Effective use of the climate products and services NOAA now provides can be enhanced through a program that facilitates more productive interaction with the national security community. Such interaction can identify, develop, and apply useful products and services. Theme 5 lays the groundwork for effective partnership dealing with the long-term challenges that climate change poses to US national security.

Theme 6 describes several opportunities for early focus. Two are ripe for early action. First, NOAA could use the existing official long-term forecast to develop predictions of active layer thickness in permafrost within Alaska. This information can help protect energy supplies and improve planning for military mobility in Arctic regions. Second, NOAA could work in cooperation with the Naval Oceanographic Office to calculate estimates of tidal range with higher sea level. Such information informs the vulnerability of coastal military installations.

These six opportunities could allow NOAA to better serve the needs of the country and NOAA’s mission to “understand and predict changes in climate.” Together, they could help the national security community respond to challenges from climate variability and climate change.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Be Prepared…That’s My Motto

Superstorm Sandy, elections and a Nor’easter…May you live in interesting times indeed!  We seem to be finding new opportunities by the week to understand how a changing climate could impact our lives, homes and cities. The experience from the recent “superstorm” will definitely provide fodder and lessons learned to reflect on for years to come.

Photo Credit: NOAA Environmental Visualization Lab
With then-Hurricane Sandy bearing down on us last week, my family and I heeded warnings to prepare supplies and inspect our readiness kit to weather the impending storm. My daughter, oblivious to the “superstorm” coming our way, found it to be great fun “helping” dad charge the batteries, check the lanterns, and batten down the hatches.

Our trip to the local grocery store for some odds and ends met with bare shelves and hurried neighbors buying up the supplies that remained. Between the 2010 Snowmageddon, this summer’s super derecho, and numerous other less notable storms in between, I mused over the bare shelves of items long since purchased and picked over at local stores. How many flashlights, batteries, and generators does the typical NoVa household have on hand…materials for an emergency shelter and home repair, along with water and food? I guessed my years as an Eagle Scout and a Peace Corps Volunteer may have slightly skewed my perception on “being prepared.”  

While the Washington, DC, metro region suffered storm damage, infrastructure disruption and loss of life, we were spared the heartbreaking destruction and tragedy experienced in New York, New Jersey, and in other northeastern states. Superstorm Sandy’s high winds, rain, flooding, Storm Surge, and snow demonstrated that Mother Nature’s raw power is not to be taken lightly. She has (and will continue to) test our mettle, preparedness, and resilience.

For those who survived the Superstorm Sandy and sheltered in place, the aftermath and challenges of keeping warm, hydrated, and fed without operating critical infrastructure are overwhelming with thousands of homes becoming uninhabitable in the cold weather. Despite this, many New York and New Jersey citizens, along with the rest of our Nation, braved adversity and cold to exercise our civil right and duty to vote on Tuesday. Now, with the election behind us, comes a Nor’easter that piled on rains, winds, and snow to these battered neighbors in the northeast. With over a foot of snow and winds taking down recently restored power, New Jersey’s Governor, Chris Christie made an apt observation about watching and “waiting for the locusts and pestilence next.” In addition to downed power lines, both New Jersey residents and New Yorkers are facing fuel shortages, long lines, and rationing at their local gas stations.
In this backdrop, I though back to an article I'd recent read in National Defense Magazine on Top Five Threats to National Security— published just prior to Superstorm Sandy. It included a litany of nuclear weapons, bioweapons, cyberwarfare, transnational crime, and…climate change? Wait…climate change? It touched on many of the issues raised in our book and mentioned how the military is planning for the national security implications of energy-water-food security, polar ice melt and arctic access, and growing demand for US military response to natural disasters abroad. Ms. Erwin’s companion posting on Superstorm Sandy, and its challenge to national security thinking on climate change, is both timely and appropriate. While it is important to plan for the future security environment, it is likewise necessary to assess, plan, invest, and improve our critical infrastructures' resilience here at home. This is the essence of climate adaptation. Adaptation efforts are focused on assessing vulnerabilities and taking actions to become more resilience, not just applied to our military installations and state National Guard units, but also to our communities and households. DHS and FEMA both have agency adaptation plans as required by EO13514, along with their critical infrastructure protection portfolios and domestic emergency management missions.

Climate adaptation is not always identical to natural disaster preparedness measures (more on this in a future post)—but the areas where they overlap seem to be ripe opportunities for moving forward toward being prepared…as a nation, department, sector, community, or household.

How do we learn from our experience but increase our resilience for the future?

Be prepared…that is my motto. Be prepared.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Sandy’s Storm Surge Surprise

Courtesy of
Sandy has been a harrowing October surprise for some and has been devastating for too many who have lost loved ones, or been forced from their homes. Fox News described the unprecedented impact of this record-breaking storm. An example of the personal impact came when 20 babies had to be evacuated from the neonatal ward at Tische Hospital where they were under intensive care. Backup generators failed in the hospital after lower Manhattan lost power. This is the largest loss of electricity in city history so such stories are all too common.

Storm damage usually comes from two sources and Sandy offered these in spades: high winds toppled trees and power lines or hurtled objects at dangerous speeds, and excessive rainfall saturated the ground and overwhelmed storm water systems. Rainfall up to 8” was forecast and West Virginia braced for up to 3’ of snow. But Sandy added a third punch that was equally damaging and disruptive: storm surge.

When a hurricane hits, the intense low-pressure system brings counter-clockwise winds (in the Northern Hemisphere) that pile up ocean water at the coast. This is the storm surge. Higher winds make for larger surge. Long duration winds make for a larger surge. And a long fetch (the distance over which the winds blow) makes for a larger surge. Sandy offered all three. A huge, slow-moving low-pressure storm barreling straight into the coast for several days over the vast North Atlantic with winds exceeding 90 miles per hour.

What else could you ask for in a ‘perfect storm?’ It turns out Sandy offered more. Sandy’s surge did its greatest damage at the time of high tide in New York City. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicts tides for about 3,000 locations along the coastlines of the US including seven in New York harbor. The station at The Battery is a primary location where the harmonics used in these models are calculated directly from historical records. The tidal forecast at the time of Sandy’s landfall looks like this (Figure 1). Just as winds were piling up water, the tides rose too.

Figure 1. Calculated tidal range at The Battery in New York harbor during the storm surge of hurricane Sandy.
Two high tides occurred on October 29. The first, at about 8am, was the greater of the two. With a more than five-foot variation in water level, these tides make a huge difference in the storm surge extent and damage. New Yorkers, especially those in Manhattan, were rudely reminded just how close they live to sea level as water flowed into subway systems and tunnels.

Figure 1 reminds us that tides vary. In this case the second tide was not quite as high and did not contribute as much to the damage. These variations are predictable results of the gravitational influence of the sun and moon. I say predictable in the sense that NOAA uses the record of how tidal elevation varies with time to make the predictions. Few attempt the torturous task of actually calculating the tidal influence of the sun and moon (let alone the other planets) because it is so very complicated.

Scientists give names (tidal terminology is nicely explained here) to the different tidal extremes such as the neap tides and spring tides. The latter give larger tidal ranges (and higher high tides) since the sun and moon are aligned and their gravitational effect is additive. So we can talk about ‘higher high tides’ such as spring tides.

And tidal range is complicated by another factor, the configuration of the basin where the tides occur. Everyone is familiar with this effect if you’ve ever seen pictures of the tidal range in the Bay of Fundy. There the tidal range is the largest in the world and can reach 50 feet. New York is fortunate in comparison!

But that brings me to the interesting effect of climate change and what things might be like when we get the next ‘hundred year storm.’

Figure 2. Change in mean tide (cm) in the North Sea from a sea level rise of 50 centimeters.
Because tidal range varies with the configuration of the tidal basin (whether it’s the North Atlantic, the Pacific, or the Bay of Fundy) and with the depth of water, it makes sense that anything that changes the water depth or configuration of that basin might change the tides. What could do that? A rising sea level will have a measurable and potentially damaging effect on tidal extremes.

Science has not yet studied this very much so we are a long way from knowing what the effect will look like in the case of New York City but one study that was done in the North Sea (Figure 2) suggests that a 50 cm rise in sea level (much less than that now considered by the US National Research Council) could change the range of the high tide by as much at 10cm.This is a big deal when your house is within a foot of mean sea level.

Scientists thought that planning for the worst case of coastal flooding required you to consider the worst-case storm surge, occurring at highest high tide. And if you wanted to get an idea of the worst case in the future you needed to add one more component: sea level rise. Now we must add another unknown that is far more difficult to understand; how will the extreme tides change as the sea level rises and changes the configuration of basins?

All of this science is little consolation to those who have lost loved ones or had to abandon their homes in Manhattan or elsewhere along the East Coast of the US this week. But let’s hope our preparations for what is to come will help prevent even worse losses in future.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

CO2 at Halloween – Trick or Treat?

It’s a spooky time of year, but I can’t help but be distracted by the climate change issue, even as costumes and candy take center stage. It’s that there’s something about the theatrics involved that remind me what’s at stake regarding the climate change issue.
Some background - I love Halloween and was pleasantly surprised at our first Halloween in our neighborhood when about six score ghosts and goblins, witches, princesses, and supermen descended on our house cackling ‘trick or treat.’ So it’s fun to prepare the house, dress in costume, and set the stage with pumpkins and all sorts of ghoulish decorations.
Something that always gets kids excited is the low billowing smoky fog that descends along the sidewalk from the dry ice we hide in bushes by the door. Oh dear does that get them in the bewitched mood!
And of course for the scientist and professor in me, it’s great fun hearing the young ones trying to figure it all out and answering their questions.
No, it’s not from a machine. It’s not a ghost. No, the house isn’t really haunted. Yes, it looks like regular ice but don’t touch!
And long about 9am, when the smallest are already home in bed, the teenage goblins come a callin’. Then we get into the serious questioning.
Why does it keep so low to the ground [the very question reminds me of T.S. Elliot and the fog that “seeing that it was a soft October night, Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.”]. Well, I just have to explain the molecular weight of CO2 compared to the nitrogen and oxygen molecules in the air. Which goes a long way to putting them to sleep. Or I could just say, well it’s heavier than air so it gathers in the lowest places. It will even make pools in hollows if you watch closely.
But it’s usually the more timid schoolchild that asks ‘will it hurt me?’ Oh, that one really tears at my heart. Does she mean directly, and now? Or is she asking me about a couple of decades from now as we continue to add more and more to the atmosphere?
I could give the answer OSHA gives … only if it exceeds 5000 ppm. In that case it’s a ‘simple asphyxiant’ that affects the lungs, skin, and central nervous system with symptoms like headaches, dizziness, restlessness, paresthesis; dyspnea; sweating; malaise; increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, pulse pressure; coma; asphyxia; convulsions. None of these are particularly appealing. Let’s not go there.
Why do we so frequently hear that CO2 is necessary for life and can’t harm you? Well, 5000 ppm is pretty high and only occurs when you have a concentrated source of CO2, either an industrial source or a natural one (a tragic example occurred at Lake Nyasa in Cameroon and killed several thousand people in 2009).
But we don’t have to worry about that. Do we?
Recently, as part of a monitoring system designed to help the city track major sources of CO2, the city of San Francisco installed sensors for CO2 on school rooftops. The program has only been running for a few months but some data are now available. You might be surprised to learn that the highest recorded value is 1166 ppm.
Remember, globally averaged CO2 levels have been rising rapidly but still only reach about 390 ppm. How does it get to so large a value?
Well, if you are near a concentrated continuous source the gas will not have dispersed by the time it wafts past your school (or home, or workplace). There’s an interesting study (Project Vulcan) done by Kevin Gurney and his colleagues at Arizona State University that shows the many large sources of CO2 in the US and how the gas is concentrated far above those average values over a large region surrounding the source.
Los Angeles' visible effects of a CO2 dome
And there are so many sources of CO2 in a large city that scientists like Mark Jacobson at Stanford have identified CO2 domes, large masses of the concentrated gas, that are nearly permanent features over major cities in the US and that enhance mortality in those cities.
So I think about her question, ‘will it hurt me?’ If the concentration of CO2 in cities already reaches levels above 1100 ppm now, when the average is 390 ppm, what might it reach if the global average CO2 level continues to rise, as it has been rising at about 2% per year, and reaches the global average 1000 ppm as assumed in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change scenario A1FI?
How about the long-term effects of elevated levels of CO2 on children, or the old, or sick, or pregnant women? Do we know what those may be? Do we know what we’re in for? For example, the ‘acid-base imbalance’ noted by government scientists, what will that do to my bone density?
So I can only look into her questioning face, the little princess before me, and hope we don’t get there. I hope she has a Happy Halloween. I hope we all give her treats, not dirty tricks, in this scary new world she faces with a strange and chilling fog swirling around us.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Managing Climate Risk

Brendan Harrison's Down to Earth landscaping company had to stop planting in St. Louis this summer. But he’d already hired workers for the season back in spring. How could he know he’d face the most extreme drought in at least a generation?

USDA's running tab of states and counties experiencing drought conditions.
This drought represents an interesting challenge in climate change that intrigues me. Prudent business leaders know they must treat climate change as a risk they manage in the same way as other risks. Thinking of climate change this way gives them access to the impressive resources of the risk management community (See for example, the Institute of Risk Management), and provides a framework in which to discuss the issues in a business-like fashion with their colleagues and subordinates. The challenge I face is helping these business leaders understand and properly address climate change risks.

At the most basic level, risks can be systematic or unsystematic. A systematic risk applies to a broad category of assets. Seems like a good description of climate change. For example, if temperatures are rising globally (a hazard risk), all of our facilities may be at risk of higher costs for air conditioning or cooling (a financial risk). Or if I am in the agricultural industry, all of my crops, in all locations may suffer productivity losses. Risk managers remind us that systematic risks are hardest to manage mostly because they can’t be avoided by diversification.

Complexities of climate change. Source: IPCC 2007
But can climate change create unsystematic risks? An unsystematic risk is one that may be specific to a particular industry or location. How can it be that climate change can create both systematic risk and unsystematic risk?  The answer lies in the hugely complex system affected by climate change. It involves everything from weather patterns, to sea level rise, and crop failures, and from heat stress on vulnerable populations to changes in disease patterns.

As an example of an unsystematic risk, consider the last item in that list, disease patterns. Higher temperatures can dry out some areas like the drought in over half the US; but makes others more humid, particularly areas near water bodies. And the increased humidity can help microbes that infect humans. The effect is local and is limited to certain times of the year, such as the hottest part of summer. That is an unsystematic risk.

If my company happens to have a factory nearby and my workers live in areas exposed to those microbes then it’s a risk for me. So climate change can create systematic risk that is hard to manage corporate wide, and unsystematic risk that may be off the radar screen of headquarters but can wreak havoc on the whole supply chain if my plant is a bottleneck and employees call in sick for an extended period (an operational risk).

These risks are widely appreciated in the financial community. For example, the Financial Times reports that two-thirds of asset managers consider climate risks in portfolio management. This proportion is likely to grow. Just this June, the British Government announced that firms listed on the Main Market of the London Stock Exchange would be required to report their greenhouse gas emissions.

The reasoning is that those emissions constitute a policy risk if they are subject to nationally or internationally imposed limits. Is it a systematic risk? It will be hard for individual corporations to address that risk since most of the emissions are inherent in the energy production system of the nation, and the world.

But it is possible. For example, many IT companies that are so dependent on huge energy supplies have diversified their energy sources away from fossil fuels towards wind, solar, hydro, and other renewable sources. Just switching from coal to natural gas can cut your greenhouse gas emissions in half. This would constitute a strategic risk for the coal company. So IT companies face a risk that, on the surface appears systematic but when approached imaginatively may turn out to be not so systematic, and become a differentiator among companies.

It may also become a differentiator among business leaders. Those who fail to deal with these risks will no longer be deemed prudent. Brendan Harrison may plan differently next year.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Planning for the Worst is Job One

The dog days of summer seemed to start a bit early this year. With fresh memories of “super derecho,” DC metro blackout, and lack of A/C in sweltering heat, I found myself enjoying some well-deserved leave time in Eastern Europe despite some unusually warm weather there as well. The good news is that there were no massive blackouts due to A/C loads, but the bad news is that there really wasn’t any A/C to speak of in the village. However, India didn’t have the same luck, with its residents, business, and economy enduring the “worst blackout in India’s history.” Reports of the transportation snarls, banking disruptions, and doubt over economic prospects seemed to surface rapidly. Returning last week, the news of US drought, call for disaster relief, and prospects of higher food prices seems to reinforce the universal lesson that brutal weather and climate impacts can have both very personal and national economic implications.
While many of us in the lower to middle latitudes are just trying to stay cool, keep the power on, and calculating corn futures, the Arctic ice pack extent numbers seem to be on track for record year, smaller than even 2007’s record.
Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center
This summer’s season’s record ice melt seems to validate the Navy’s call to develop their Arctic Road Map and war game the national security implications emerging from greater Arctic access.  Earlier this March, the Naval War College (NWC) released the findings report from the multinational Fleet Arctic Operations Game (FAOG), which held last September. Prior to its release, Admiral Jonathan Greenert, Chief of Naval Operations, suggested that the war game emphasized the need for international maritime cooperation. However, just this week, the NWCs’ Weekly Maritime News Survey referred readers current articles discussing Russian and Chinese interests in the Arctic.
If the FAOG war game enhanced multilateral collaboration, recent discussions on the Air-Sea Battle (ASB) framework have certainly not enhanced our mil-to-mil relationships with the Chinese military. While this reported ASB scenario focuses on a hot conflict with China, the DoD’s Office of Net Assessment's model may hold promise to help inform the capabilities need for the Arctic operational needs identified in the FAOG war game. These professionals are paid to think through the worst case scenario so our military services can make the case for balanced capabilities that can mitigate the impact of low probability, high-consequence security risks.  
In my chapter on Climate and National Security, I’d emphasized the need to use scenarios and war gaming to not only think about a changing climate’s known unknowns but supporting our national security professionals in identifying the needed capabilities, gaps, and solutions, such as multilateral collaboration with our arctic allies (and competitors) who have those assets. Incorporating climate implications into our national security scenarios and war games is timely and needed to think about the threats of a 21st Century future security environment.

Credit: DiGirolamo, SSAI/NASA GSFC and
Allen, NASA Earth Observatory

For example, a friend sent me an article during my leave about the rapid melt event in Greenland during the second week in July.
While current science can’t definitively tell you whether this rapid melt was a result of 150-year cycle, climate change, or some combination of both, the implication is that our military scenario makers can use such phenomena as inspiration, particularly when considering “worst-case” scenarios. As with the Arctic, war games focused on mild (0.5-meter sea level rise), moderate, or worst-case (7-meters) Greenland ice sheet melt can be valuable in thinking through the enormous national security implications, needs, capabilities, and gaps from such sea level rises. Regardless of nature of the threat, our military’s planning and preparing for the worst is job one.

Once we’ve done that, it brings us to early warning systems but that is a post for another day.