UMD Researcher Leads National Climate Indicators Project

By: Abby Robinson, 301-405-5845,
Publisher: College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences
Published: May 14, 2015

The U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) released on May 6, 2015, a web-based prototype of a climate indicators system to track over time nationally relevant climate change and impact indicators.
“We recommended to USGCRP the development, over time, of a system of physical, ecological and societal indicators that can help communicate and inform decisions about key aspects of climate changes, impacts, vulnerabilities and preparedness,” said Melissa Kenney, a research assistant professor in the Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center (ESSIC), a joint center of the University of Maryland and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.
Kenney and Anthony Janetos, a professor and director of the Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer-Range Future at Boston University, guided the vision and development of the indicators system. They developed recommendations over a four-year period based on the expertise of more than 200 scientists and practitioners from federal agencies, businesses and universities. USGCRP considered the recommendations and decided to produce a proof-of-concept system to support its sustained climate assessment effort. The prototype was released exactly one year after the 2014 National Climate Assessment was published. 
The prototype includes 14 indicators, which are observations or calculations that can be used to track conditions and trends. The indicators visually communicate some of the key aspects of the changing climate, such as temperatures over land and at sea, greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere, the extent of Arctic sea ice, and related effects in sectors like public health and agriculture. Some of the indicators show physical climate changes over time, whereas others show impacts on the natural environment, businesses or communities of importance to the United States.
The pilot version of the system will allow users to beta-test the functionality and usefulness of its Web interface and underlying content. Feedback received will be used to make the indicators more understandable, to increase their utility as assessment tools, and, ultimately, to inform the development of a broader and more complete indicators system. Kenney’s team will be conducting research on the understandability and use of climate decision support and indicators to help groups like USGCRP prioritize Web features and scientific information needed by decisionmakers. 
“Releasing the indicators at this stage is a great opportunity to understand the way that people want to use indicators for communication, scientific inquiry or climate-resilient decision-making,” said Kenney, who was also a lead author of the decision support chapter of the 2014 U.S. National Climate Assessment.
Kenney’s work on indicators was supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Program Office through ESSIC’s Cooperative Institute for Climate and Satellites.

Reprinted from College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences with permission.