Contribute to Climate Prediction on Your Home Computer

Are you interested in climate change prediction? Though a Pew Center poll from last fall put concern for climate change at the bottom of the list of most American’s environmental priorities, many profess an interest in determining the direction of climate in this century (regardless of their opinions about the sources of climate trends).

The key issues with climate prediction are complicated at best but can boiled down to three important themes:

  • Can we find the range of change that can be expected under various scenarios?  How warm can we get and where will that warming be most felt?  Will it be 1 degree Celsius or 7?  This is largely a question of understanding the physics of our planet, sun and atmospheric “skin.”
  • Can we determine the sensitivity of the planet’s various systems to change?  This is a question of where warming will occur and how it will impact ecosystems, agriculture, oceans, or specific weather patterns.
  • Can we get to climate prediction that balances appropriate scale against societal relevance?  This is an important question because most of the common climate change reports show results that are of fairly course resolution. That is to say, when you look at your home, community or even state on a climate change map, it is usually just a tiny dot on a big spot on the map that is different in 20, 50 or 100 years time.  Getting the spots–or more accurately, the grids–to be smaller is important for answering questions about local temperature, rainfall and other predicted changes. These grids have to be big enough, however, to encompass change information.

Answering these questions is done by modeling the climate system (solar energy inputs, clouds, heat-trapping gases, ocean absorption, vegetation, snow and ice, etc.) against the historical records–some really old such as ice core or tree ring data or more modern like weather records since 1870–and current trends in, for example, volcanic eruptions and greenhouse gas emissions. Until recently, most of that was done by enormous–“super”–computers that could make the millions–and billions–of different computations happen quickly and repeatedly. Continue reading

Ecotrust's N. Coast Mapping Tools

Portland-based Ecotrust has done some interesting things in its history. The non-profit organization focuses on applied ecological economics. In other words, they are interested in researching, describing and applying knowledge of how people value nature and natural resources.

The logic is simple: if you want to protect, restore, or maintain X-ecological function or X-species or X-ecosystem, you find out how much people will pay for that or conversely, what it will cost society if we don’t pay for it up-front. If a species such as coho salmon goes extinct, what is the direct and indirect economic cost? Likewise, what are the costs associated with protecting their habitat, water quality, or even individual organisms.  And beyond the single species perspective, what services do native ecosystems provide? The obvious ones most everyone knows: food, fiber, medicine, aesthetics, and recreation. There are other, less obvious benefits: clean air, clean water, fertile soil, protection from floods, spiritual solace, etc.  What do these cost us? What are they worth to us? Do the costs and benefits equate or can we pay for the difference if we loose something? And even more important, how do we distribute those costs and benefits across society?

Back to my original intent with this post: I wanted to point out some useful resources that the organization offers, mainly in the form of mapping tools, but also some great reports that catalogue coastal and coastal temperate forest issues.  These are the Oregon Estuary Plan Bookand the Watershed Locator. Ecotrust has also produced some useful information on ocean fisheries and marine reserves, all on their on-line atlas site called Inforain.

And speaking of tools, if you are reading this blog and see something I should know about (and tell others about), please let me know via the comments function. H2ONCoast has been on-line since July 2007. If there is something that it can do for you, please let me know.