The Future of Southwest Climate Science
What science is needed to meet the climate challenge in the Southwest? What science solutions are necessary to help managers solve problems? These questions were posed to a large group of scientists, managers (of ecosystems, natural resources, and wildlife), tribal leaders, and scientists at the Southwest Climate Summit in Tucson June 12-14, 2012. The summit was hosted by the Southwest Climate Science Center (SWCSC), with additional support from USGS and CLIMAS.
The summit was the first big event of the SWCSC, which was established in the spring of 2011, and is still in the development stages. It is one of eight regional Climate Science Centers around the country established by the Department of the Interior to “provide scientific information, tools, and techniques that managers and other parties interested in land, water, wildlife and cultural resources can use to anticipate, monitor, and adapt to climate change.” The SWCSC is hosted by six academic institutions in the western states, with the University of Arizona serving as the administrative center (see figure 1).
The summit drew more than 100 participants and included talks by distinguished scientists about how climate change will impact the Southwest, as well as smaller breakout sessions where participants could discuss the questions mentioned above in a more informal setting. Since the SWCSC is still developing, the questions were posed to gauge what the participants believe the center should focus on in the next one to five years. The breakout sessions led to some very interesting discussion as each group determined what it thought should be the top priorities for the SWCSC. Not surprisingly, the groups reached similar conclusions:
- Expand and improve research in the areas of climate variability, ecology, regional climate models, ocean and coastal issues, land-use change, monsoon predictability, climate extremes, invasive species, U.S.-Mexico border management, and climate change impacts on people and societies in the region.
- Improve communication with managers, stakeholders, and tribal communities. Within this, develop approaches to better determine and communicate uncertainty; be sensitive to the audience’s preferred method of receiving and imparting communication.
- Improve climate monitoring by providing standardization and guidance on where and how to monitor.
- Improve data management and provide access to datasets, as well as integrate climate data into existing decision support tools.
- Conduct vulnerability assessments at the local scale.
- Gather and document tribal issues and needs with respect to climate and identify areas that will be important to tribes in the future.
Another important aspect of the summit was the release of the Southwest Climate Assessment: Summary for Decision Makers. The summary is a peek into the full assessment report—Assessment of Climate Change in the Southwest United States: A Technical Report Prepared for the U.S. National Climate Assessment—expected to be released by the SWCSC in the fall. The purpose of the report is to provide information on the past, present and future climate of the region, and to assess observed and projected impacts, vulnerabilities and opportunities related to ecosystems, urban areas, economic sectors (such as energy and agriculture), and unique populations such as tribal and U.S.-Mexico border populations. The Southwest region covered by the report includes Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah.
The summary document released at the summit will be made publicly available on the CLIMAS website later this month. I’ll post a blog summarizing the document when it’s publicly available, so keep your eyes open for it!