The National Academy of Sciences has chosen Tom Wilbanks, a corporate research fellow at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, to serve a two-year appointment on its newly established Roundtable on Risk, Resilience, and Extreme Events. According to Wilbanks, who previously served as a research director for the formerly ORNL-based Community and Regional Resilience Institute, the Resilience Roundtable’s goal is to find out what it means to “be resilient to, or be able to respond to and bounce back from, risks associated with droughts, wildfires, hurricanes, and other extreme events, which are low probability but high impact, which can occur with little notice, and which affect some places but not others.”
Left: Tom Wilbanks
To that end the roundtable will identify and evaluate strategies and actions that could be employed by anybody—from members of local communities to international corporations—to build resilience to extreme events. It will also help decision makers decide how to invest resources to mitigate risk and build resilience and to justify those investments. Wilbanks and other appointees gathered for the first time in January to create a strategy for the next three years.
Thomas Wilbanks and Benjamin Preston, both of the Climate Change Science Institute (CCSI) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), are among the 309 coordinating lead authors of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC’s) Working Group II (WG II) report. The report, which was released in Japan on March 31, found that climate change isn’t just a problem for future generations, but also impacts humans in the present day.
“Approximately every five years leading scientists like Tom and Ben convene from around the world to assess the scientific, technical, environmental, economic and societal vulnerabilities to a changing climate,” said CCSI Director Jack Fellows. “These assessments have made important contributions to climate policies, and the IPCC and its scientists were recognized with the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.”
The Climate Change Science Institute’s Forrest Hoffman has written the most downloaded paper of February at the Journal of Geophysical Research: Biosciences. In it, he demonstrates that most Earth system models project a higher amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide near the end of their historical simulations than what has actually been observed. He also shows how such biases affect simulations of future climate by persisting and growing over time. Read more about his findings at onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/2013JG002381/abstract
Expertise from the Climate Change Science Institute, part of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, is sought after worldwide. Deputy Director Benjamin Preston, who leads the institute’s Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability Science Group, has been appointed a visiting fellow by the Victorian Center for Climate Change Adaptation Research (VCCCAR) in Australia for the first quarter of 2014.
Left: Benjamin Preston
User-inspired research at Oak Ridge National Laboratory can advance discovery and innovation and serve society
“With respect to the climate, this is an uncertain time. This report covers a period during which the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration reached a milestone of 400 parts per million—a level exceeding both the 350 ppm posited as safe by many prominent climate scientists and above the worst case scenarios explored by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide drives a warmer world and possibly weather extremes like this past year’s deadly destruction from Sandy, the second-costliest hurricane in U.S. history, and Haiyan, one of the most intense tropical cyclones ever, which devastated parts of Southeast Asia. Despite positive developments in the U.S. federal government during this period—notably President Obama’s Climate Action Plan and Department of Energy Secretary Moniz’s focus on domestic climate and energy policy—much remains to be done.”
Tianyu Jiang, a postdoctoral researcher at Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Climate Change Science Institute, achieved 3rd place in the Chinese-American Oceanic and Atmospheric Association’s “best dissertation” competition. Jiang, a member of CCSI’s Earth System Modeling Group, received the award February 5 in Atlanta during the 94th annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society.
Jiang said what gave him the upper hand in the competition was a summer spent as a part of ORNL’s Higher Education Research Experiences program, under the supervision of Kate Evans, leader of the ORNL Computational Earth Sciences Group and a member of CCSI. “My experience here was world class,” said Jiang. “I had the chance to use high-performance computers and collaborate with the entire team to do cutting-edge work.”
Left: Tianyu Jiang
On January 29 the National Council for Science and the Environment presented its Lifetime Achievement Award to Jack D. Fellows, director of the Climate Change Science Institute at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, for his part in co-founding the U.S. Global Change Research Program in 1990. The USGCRP consolidates global change research across 13 Federal departments and agencies to advance research on climate change in the United States and use that knowledge to inform policy and the public.
As long as there is more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than in the surface waters of the ocean, the ocean “sucks” carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, acting as a carbon sink. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true—if there’s more carbon dioxide in the water than the air, then the ocean releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. That’s why scientists at the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center at Oak Ridge National Laboratory are interested in studying the distribution and origin of carbon dioxide in the ocean.
Left: The Australian research icebreaker Aurora Australis braves Antarctic waters in search of carbon and other oceanographic measurements. PACIFICA merges data from locations all over the Pacific, including the Pacific sector of Antarctic waters. Photo credit: Alex Kozyr
Earth system models—computer simulations that run models of specific climate scenarios—require an immense body of knowledge against which to “check the answers.” The sheer volume of data requires sophisticated methods for archiving and distribution, a need which the Department of Energy’s Atmospheric Radiation Measurement Data Archive program excels at meeting.
“Climate change is a very complex science, and to successfully conduct research, we need a long time series of observational data, which we can use to improve climate change models,” said Giri Palanisamy, senior information analyst for ARM and head of the Data Distribution, Dissemination, and Informatics group at the Climate Change Science Institute at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
By understanding changes in the Earth’s past and present climate to improve projections about the future, researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Climate Change Science Institute are helping local stakeholders better prepare for a future likely rife with unexpected, and unpleasant, climate surprises.
Specifically, Moetasim Ashfaq, an atmospheric physicist and computational climate scientist with the institute, is using a suite of regional and global climate models to determine how future temperatures and precipitation will change as a result of climate change and how those changes will impact society.
“Once we know how the temperature and precipitation change, then we can try to answer how this affects our everyday lives,” said Ashfaq.
Ashfaq is pairing the model suite with Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Titan supercomputer, America’s fastest for open science. Titan’s hybrid architecture, which employs state-of-the-art central processing units as well as energy-efficient graphics processing units, enables achievement of a head-turning 27 petaflops of peak computational power, the type of muscle necessary to tackle one of mankind’s greatest challenges.