American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program

Report on NRC Climate Change Studies (8-5-98)

In areas of scientific debate, the National Research Council is often tasked with providing analysis for policy decisions. Climate change is no exception. The two main NRC divisions that address climate research are the Policy Division's Board on Sustainable Development (BSD) and the Commission on Geosciences Environment and Resources Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate (BASC). The BSD is tasked with evaluating the US Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) and the BASC evaluates a variety of research relating to climate change, and serves more to evaluate specific aspects of the USGCRP rather than the whole program. This update provides information on the NRC framework and specific projects of these two panels. More information on NRC activities is available from the NRC website.

Board on Sustainable Development

The relevant structure of the Policy Division follows:

The Board on Sustainable Development was created in November 1994 as a Board in the Policy Division. According to the NRC website, "The BSD is initially focusing on development indicators for sustainability and a research agenda for the transition to sustainable development, improvement of mechanisms for science-policy integration, and formulation of a coherent national strategy for monitoring and observation relating to sustainable development. Because of the importance of global change research to sustainable development and the mission of the CENR, the Board absorbed the responsibilities of the former Board on Global Change for providing guidance to the USGCRP, and acting as a focus for supporting efforts by a group of NRC activities."

Currently, the Board is focused on two main projects. The BSD recently finished and will soon release an evaluation of the past decade of work by the USGCRP and ways to refocus for the next decade. The other report -- which should be out by the end of the year -- addresses how to deal with a doubled population and how to use science in development. It does not specifically focus on climate change, but does address it.

Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate

The relevant structure of the Commission on Geosciences, Environment, and Resources follows:

The Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate is under the Commission on Geosciences, Environment and Resources. It has two subcommittees: Committee on Atmospheric Chemistry and Climate Research Committee. The Climate Research Committee has four subcommittees. The first, Global Energy and Water Cycle Experiment Panel (GEWEX) focuses on high-frequency processes related to climate change, such as weather and short-term climate. It is charged to consider the role of energy and water in climate. It also reviews US contributions to the International Global Energy and Water Cycle Experiment. On June 8, this panel released a report on regional experiments to look at climate that focused on a study on the Mississippi River. The next report will review the Global Water Vapor Program.

The second panel, Global Ocean-Atmosphere-Land System Panel (GOALS), evaluates seasonal to interannual climate events. The panel has been following up on the results of the TOGA (Tropical Oceans and Global Atmosphere) program, which provided insight into El Nino. In the future, the panel will focus on climate variations in regions beyond the Pacific and phenomena beyond the El Nino Southern Oscillation. The panel also evaluates US participation in the GOALS portion of the World Climate Research Programme on Climate Variability and Predictability (CLIVAR) and released a review of that participation in July.

The third panel, Climate Variability on Decade to Century Time Scales (DECCEN), examines ocean-atmosphere-land interactions and long-term climate changes and evaluates national and international long-range policy and progress in these areas. The panel also evaluates US participation in the DECCEN portion of CLIVAR. It will release a report on the science strategy for US involvement in this subject this fall.

The final panel, Climate Observation Systems, will examine the current and near-term prospective status of operational and research observing networks and related data systems that are essential to documenting climate variability and change.

A new report on areas of atmospheric research for the next century will be released soon. It is meant to serve as a "vision" for atmospheric research. It does not focus on climate change but addresses some related research needs. Another report, Climate Modeling in the US to Support Assessment Activities, will be released soon. Future studies will address the effects of climate change on health and infectious disease and also the effect of climate change on air quality.

The Polar Research Board, Ocean Board, and Atmospheric Board are teaming up to hold a September workshop on Abrupt Climate Change. Geoscientists are encouraged to share their ideas on discussion topics for this forum.

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program at

Contributed by Kasey Shewey, AGI Government Affairs Program
Last updated August 5, 1998
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