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Project Title:

Understanding and Monitoring Abrupt Climate Change and its Impacts
PIN: DELS-BASC-12-01        

Major Unit:

Division on Earth and Life Studies

Sub Unit:
RSO: Dunlea, Edward

Subject/Focus Area: Earth Sciences; International Issues; National Security and Defense

Project Scope
This study will address the likelihood of various physical components of the Earth system to undergo major and rapid changes (i.e., abrupt climate change) and, as time allows, examine some of the most important potential associated impacts and risks. This study will explore how to monitor climate change for warnings of abrupt changes and emerging impacts. The study will summarize the current state of scientific understanding on questions such as:

1.     What is known about the likelihood and timing of abrupt changes in the climate system over decadal timescales? Are any of the phenomena considered by the committee currently embodied in computational climate models? The committee could consider relevant physical and biological phenomena such as:
·         large, abrupt changes in ocean circulation and regional climate;
·         reduced ice in the Arctic Ocean and permafrost regions;
·         large-scale clathrate release;
·         changes in ice sheets;
·         large, rapid global sea-level rise;
·         growing frequency and length of heat waves and droughts;
·         effects on biological systems of permafrost/ground thawing (carbon cycle effects);
·         phase changes such as cloud formation processes; and
·         changes in weather patterns, such as changes in snowpack, increased frequency and magnitude of heavy rainfall events and floods, or changes in monsoon patterns and modes of interannual or decadal variability.

2.     For the abrupt climate changes and resulting impacts identified by the committee, what are the prospects for developing an early warning system and at what lead time scales? What can be monitored to provide such warnings? What monitoring capabilities are already in place? The committee will consider monitoring capabilities that include both direct observations and the use of models in conjunction with observations.

3.     What are the gaps in our scientific understanding and current monitoring capabilities? What are the highest priority needs for future research directions and monitoring capabilities to fill those gaps?

The project is sponsored by the Intelligence Community, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Science Foundation, and the National Academies.
The approximate start date for the project is 3/16/2012.
A report will be issued at the end of the project in approximately 18 months.

Project Duration: 18 months    

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Committee Membership
Committee Membership

 Meeting 1 - 09/24/2012
 Meeting 2 - 11/05/2012
 Meeting 3 - 11/21/2012
 Meeting 4 - 02/03/2013
 Meeting 5 - 03/11/2013
 Meeting 6 - 04/25/2013


Reports having no URL can be seen
at the Public Access Records Office
Abrupt Impacts of Climate Change: Anticipating Surprises