End-to-end Quantification of Uncertainty for Impacts Prediction (EQUIP)

Lead Research Organisation: Plymouth Marine Laboratory
Department Name: Plymouth Marine Lab


Society is becoming increasingly aware of climate change and its consequences for us. Examples of likely impacts are changes in food production, increases in mortality rates due to heat waves, and changes in our marine environment. Despite such emerging knowledge, precise predictions of future climate are (and will remain) unattainable owing to the fundamental chaotic nature of the climate system and to imperfections in our understanding, our climate simulation models and our observations of the climate system. This situation limits our ability to take effective adaptation actions. However, effective adaptation is still possible, particularly if we assess the level of precision associated with predictions, and thus quantify the risk posed by climate change. Coupled with assessments of the limitations on our knowledge, this approach can be a powerful tool for informing decision makers. Clearly, then, the quantification of uncertainty in the prediction of climate and its impacts is a critical issue. Considerable thought has gone into this issue with regard to climate change research, although a consensus on the best methods is yet to emerge. Climate impacts research, on the other hand, has focussed primarily on a different set of problems: what are the mechanisms through which climate change is likely to affect for example, agriculture and health, and what are the non-climatic influences that also need to be accounted for? Thus the research base for climate impacts is sound, but tends to be less thorough in its quantification of uncertainty than the physical climate change research that supports it. As a result, statements regarding the impacts of climate change often take a less sophisticated approach to risk and uncertainty. The logical next stage for climate impacts research is therefore to learn from the methods used for climate change predictions. Since climate and its impacts both exist within a broader earth system, with many interrelated components, this next stage is not a simple transfer of technology. Rather, it means taking an 'end-to-end' integrated look at climate and its impacts, and assessing risk and uncertainty across whole systems. These systems include not only physical and biological mechanisms, but also the decisions taken by users of climate information. The climate impacts chosen in EQUIP have been chosen to cover this spectrum from end to end. As well as aiding impacts research, end-to-end analyses are also the logical next stage for climate change research, since it is through impacts that society experiences climate change. The project focuses primarily on the next few decades, since this is a timescale of relevance for societies adapting to climate change. It is also a timescale at which our projections of greenhouse gas emissions are relatively well constrained, thus uncertainty is smaller than for, say, the end of the century. Work on longer timescales will also be carried out in order to gain a greater understanding of uncertainty. EQUIP research will build on work to date on the mechanisms and processes that lead to climate change and its impacts, since it is this understanding that forms the basis of predictive power. This knowledge is in the form of observations and experiments (e.g. experiments on crops have demonstrated that even brief episodes of high temperatures near the flowering of the crop can seriously reduce yield) and also simulation models. It is through effective use and combination of climate science and impacts science, and the models used by each community, that we will be able to quantify uncertainty, assess risk, and thus equip society to deal with climate change.
Description The EQUIP project developed methods for generating predictions of climate and its impacts that carefully quantify uncertainty.

EQUIP made both specific methodological advances and broader conclusions on best practice:

Marine hydrodynamic/ecosystem models provide continuous fields of a wide range of ecosystem characteristics. Using such models can help to overcome the lack of in situ data, and provide a powerful tool for ecosystem-based management and policy makers. We developed a methodology that uses a combination of model outputs and in situ data to assess the risk of eutrophication in the coastal regions of the North Sea. The risk of eutrophication can be computed for the past and present time as well as for different future scenarios. This allows us to assess both the current risk and its sensitivity to anthropogenic pressure and climate change. Model sensitivity studies suggest that the coastal waters of the North Sea may be more sensitive to anthropogenic rivers loads than climate change in the near future (to 2040).

Quantification of uncertainty, in climate or impacts, does not remove the need for expert judgement. Best practice: the assumptions made when quantifying uncertainty, and full range of expert interpretations, should always be reported
Exploitation Route Operational Oceanography. Using the methodologies developed in this project has the potential to provide better operational forecast of key marine eutrophication indicators, hence informing the environmental status of the regions in question.
Sectors Environment

Description In collaboration with LWEC, EQUIP has produced a policy and practice note on dealing with uncertainty in climate and impacts. http://www.lwec.org.uk/publications/climate-impacts-taking-action-face-uncertainty
First Year Of Impact 2013
Sector Environment
Impact Types Policy & public services

Description UKESM Mullticentre national capability
Amount £978,127 (GBP)
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 04/2016 
End 03/2021