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.

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