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Climate Change Science Institute Annual Report Highlights a Year at a Crossroads

Oak Ridge National Lab-led research provides knowledge to inform policy and action

This annual report highlights select accomplishments of the Climate Change Science Institute at Oak Ridge National Laboratory for Fiscal Year 2012, which ended Sept. 30. Just a few weeks later, Superstorm Sandy crossed seven countries in nine days, killing more than 250 people in its path and causing US damages estimated in excess of $60 billion. In Sandy’s aftermath, some political and business leaders identified climate change as a reason for a “new normal” in which once-in-a-century extreme events such as hurricanes, heat waves, droughts, and wildfires occur much more frequently. In November, participants at the United Nations climate conference in Qatar criticized failing efforts to curb greenhouse gases, a point emphasized in December in a paper in Nature Climate Change. Notably with Tom Boden of the CCSI as a co-author, the paper reported that the planet’s temperature rise would likely exceed a previously set goal of 2 degrees Celsius (4 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels. When all was said and done, 2012 went down as the hottest year in recorded history for the continental United States.

So begins the 2012 annual report of the CCSI at ORNL. The 28-page document, available at http://climatechangescience.ornl.gov/system/files/ccsi_fy12_annual_repor..., highlights Earth-system modeling on world-leading supercomputers to explore possible climate outcomes; managing climate data for the global community of scientists and stakeholders; conducting field projects of unprecedented scale in Alaska and elsewhere to understand the influence of rising carbon dioxide concentrations on land ecosystems; and exploring the risks of climate change to people, property, and ecosystems. “Today, we’re at a crossroads,” says CCSI Director James Hack. “World leaders have major decisions to make as greenhouse gas emissions slow in many developed nations including the United States but are more than offset by rises in developing nations. By providing knowledge to inform actions, CCSI may help turn jeopardy into opportunity to find solutions to one of the most pressing problems of our time.”—Dawn Levy, Feb. 27, 2013