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

Lead Research Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Department Name: Sch of Geosciences

Abstract

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.

Publications

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Christidis N (2013) The role of land use change in the recent warming of daily extreme temperatures in Geophysical Research Letters

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Hegerl G (2011) Comment on "Climate Science and the Uncertainty Monster" J. A. Curry and P. J. Webster in Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society

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Hegerl G (2011) Elusive extremes in Nature Geoscience

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Hegerl G (2014) Atmospheric science. From past to future warming. in Science (New York, N.Y.)

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Hegerl G (2011) Use of models in detection and attribution of climate change in Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change

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Mahlstein I (2012) Emerging local warming signals in observational data in Geophysical Research Letters

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Solomon A (2011) Distinguishing the Roles of Natural and Anthropogenically Forced Decadal Climate Variability in Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society

 
Description Decadal predictions of European summer mean and extreme temperatures have been analyzed. It has been found that external forcing causes predictability on decadal timescales, particularly in years 5-10 of the forecasts, in many of the analyzed regions (Europe, Mediterranean) but not to the same extent over the UK. Identifying further predictive skill due to initialization has proven difficult and is not robust across models and regions. This resulted in one publication based on a single modelling system, determining the method and results; in one publication using the multimodel archive looking at how robust results are across models; and in one publication focusing on the application of such results to predicting impacts of climate change. While the latter is accepted for publication, the first two are printed.
Exploitation Route through user interactions at project workshops Publication in scientific journals
Sectors Environment

 
Description Results have been used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 5th Assessment report (chapter 11; WGI) and also communicated to users such as health sector, agriculture and transport in the context of the EQUIP consortium. A special issue of a journal distributes findings to the applied climatology, and meetings have been held to disseminate the findings to users.
First Year Of Impact 2012
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Societal,Economic

 
Description Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Lead Author and member of Synthesis report writing team.
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Membership of a guideline committee
Impact PI was involved in Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)'s fifth Assessment report, as a Lead Author and in the Synthesis report, released 2015, as a writing team member. These reports arguably form the basis of the Paris Agreement on climate change, and authors are chosen for their scientific contributions to the area they are chosen for. Hence this relates directly to my publications under these grants.
URL http://www.ipcc.ch
 
Description Climate Change: Science and Society 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Climate Change: Science and Society: This was a half day conference under the auspices of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. I was a coorganizer and speaker see website report. It was well attended and well received and communicated the state of climate science, impact and mitigation knowledge on climate change to the wider public
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.rse.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Climate-Change-Science-and-Society.pdf