Table of Contents | Director's Message | Executive Summary | ESIG Achievements
Education and Outreach | Community Service | Strategic Initiatives | Publications | People | ASR 2004 Home

ESIG Executive Summary


ESIG (Environmental and Societal Impacts Group) has been a program at the National Center for Atmospheric Research for more than three decades, and at the beginning of FY2005 (1 October 2004) expanded into the Institute for the Study of Society and Environment (ISSE). This final ESIG Annual Scientific Report thus serves both as an affirmation of the tremendous accomplishments of the ESIG staff over the last fiscal year and as a springboard into ISSE's future. “ESIG” will remain a subgroup within the institute.

The main focus of ESIG's FY2004 research falls within four categories:

(1) fundamental research;
(2) enhancing productivity and resilience of natural resources;
(3) protection of life and property; and
(4) education and outreach activities.

Highlights of ESIG's FY04 activities are summarized below and the full description of ESIG activities is available in this report under ESIG Achievements.

Fundamental Research

Climate and weather phenomena and their impacts create a variety of hazards as well as opportunities for societies across various spatial scales, from local to global. ESIG advances the science of impacts assessments, conducts climate variability studies, characterizes and communicates uncertainties in decision-making, develops climate scenarios, and performs interdisciplinary research in climate and human health. Also, ESIG (ISSE) is increasing its role in serving decision support needs in regards to the global carbon cycle. ESIG leads, as well as is involved with, several of the NCAR-wide Strategic Initiatives.

Major Highlights during FY2004:

The Weather and Climate Impact Assessment Science Initiative (herein referred to as the Assessment Initiative), with Director Linda Mearns, Doug Nychka (CGD), Acting Director for much of FY04, and Lisa Dilling as Project Manager, is based in ESIG. The Assessment Initiative brings together scientists from ESIG, CGD, RAP, UCAR's E&O, and several UCAR member universities to address the themes of climate uncertainty, extremes, and climate and health.

The Assessment Initiative's interactions with the university community include projects involving the Johns Hopkins University (JHU), University of Kansas, University of Colorado in Boulder, and the University of North Carolina. University involvement extends across several of the Initiative's projects, including the role of climate in human health, land cover forcing from the SRES scenarios in climate models, climate variability in past centuries, and the effects of extreme meteorological events in climate models. A comprehensive high-quality website ( was created during FY04 for the Initiative to provide extensive information on each of the subprojects and reinforces the Assessment Initiative as a bridge between regional assessments and global/regional modeling observations. The Initiative held a Summer Colloquium on Climate and Health (co-Chaired by Jonathan Patz (JHU), in collaboration with ASP. It is hoped that a Colloquium series based on this initial prototype will become an annual world-class training and capacity-building program in interdisciplinary climate and health studies.

The North American Regional Climate Change Assessment Program (NARCCAP) was also initiated by Linda Mearns during FY04. The main goals of this program are to explore multiple uncertainties in regional model and global climate model regional projections, as well as to develop multiple high-resolution climate scenarios for use in impacts models. Click on the thumbnail image at right for a larger view of US topography and GLCC (global land cover characteristics) vegetation.

The Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Strategic Initiative is co-hosted in ESIG and RAP, with Olga Wilhelmi as Director and Jennifer Boehnert (ESIG/RAP) as NCAR's GIS Coordinator. Terri Betancourt (RAP) was a co-Director in FY04. This initiative focuses on bridging GIS and the atmospheric sciences by developing infrastructure and methods to manage and distribute geospatial data on research in GIS technology, as well as supporting scientific research projects at NCAR/UCAR that use GIS technologies. In FY04, the GIS Initiative started a "GIS Climate Change Scenarios" project to serve a wide external community of GIS users interested in interdisciplinary issues of global climate change. A GIS data portal will allow for a web-based distribution of climate change model output data in a GIS format, which will be used in the upcoming Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) of the IPCC by the Community Climate Systems Model (CCSM). Click on the thumbnail image at left for a larger view of the CCSM IPCC data integration and distribution.

Other ESIG scientific staff contributed in FY04 to NCAR's Wildland Fire Strategic Initiative (Kathleen Miller, Robert Harriss, Seth McGinnis, and Olga Wilhelmi). Harriss and McGinnis collaborated with Brian Muller and Ernesto Arias (both of the University of Colorado at Boulder) on the development of computer-aided tools and methods for mitigation of wildfire hazards at the urban-wildland interface.

All these Initiatives received positive external reviews during FY04. The Review Committees assessed their relevance to national and international needs as well as their ability to cut across disciplinary and institutional boundaries.

In June 2004, Susanne Moser and Lisa Dilling co-hosted a groundbreaking three-day workshop entitled Communicating Urgency – Facilitating Social Change: New Strategies for Climate Change. The workshop brought together more than 45 experts from a wide range of academic disciplines as well as practitioners from local and state government, the business world, and the nonprofit civic sector to explore the effectiveness of communication strategies and ways to mobilize the public for stimulating behavioral, organizational and social change. This MacArthur-, NCAR- and NSF-funded project will produce several publications and new collaborations. An edited volume will be produced in FY05, and a paper was accepted for publication in Environment.

Linda Mearns, Claudia Tebaldi, Doug Nychka (CGD), and Richard Smith of the University of North Carolina developed a formal probabilistic treatment of super-ensemble experiments during FY04, by which different ocean-atmosphere models are run under the same scenario of future anthropogenic emissions. Probability density functions (PDFs) of climate change signals are produced at regional levels and are used as input for climate change impact studies. This newly developed method will be applied to the runs that will be produced by the IPCC's Fourth Assessment.

Enhancing Productivity and Resilience of Natural Resources

ESIG conducts research to enhance the conservation, promotion, and sustainable development of natural resources and to examine the effect of resource scarcity on limiting a region's or country's possibilities for economic and sustainable growth. For the past several years, ESIG scientists have undertaken studies on, among others, climate variability in the Alaskan North Slope coastal region, coral reefs and climate change, fisheries and climate variability, and the effect of climate change on water resources.

Major Highlights during FY2004:

For water utilities to plan effectively for the possible effects of global warming on water resources, they need timely, credible, and useful information about the scientific basis for climate change and its implications for hydrology. NCAR and the American Water Works Association (AWWA) Research Foundation convened a two-day workshop in FY04 that brought together members of the atmospheric and hydrological scientific communities with representatives of the water utilities industry to discuss the potential impacts of climate change on water resources. As a result, they jointly prepared an informative document on climate change to help water utility managers prepare for the potential impacts of future climate change on water resources and the implications for utility operations and planning. During FY04, Kathleen Miller and David Yates (RAP) completed the initial draft manuscript for the AWWA. The document will be published by AWWA for water resource and water utility managers in FY05.

Collaboration by Kathleen Miller with researchers at the University of Montana and Moscow State Lomonosov University focused on the impacts of climate variability on international marine fisheries and the implications for the design of cooperative fishery management agreements. Research during FY04 included development of game theoretic models applied to a comparative assessment of the role of climate variability in international fisheries, especially highly migratory tuna resources. Miller assumed leadership of Working Group 5 (Socioeconomic Impacts and Management Implications) of the GLOBEC Climate Impacts on Oceanic Top Predators (CLIOTOP). She also prepared two papers (accepted for publication) with researchers from the University of British Columbia and the University of Portsmouth (UK) on an assessment of the pressures created by climate-related uncertainty for international fishery management agreements. Miller also created a new website during FY04 to provide readers with access to recent research in the field of water resources and climate change at

Coral reefs are complex and important features of the marine environment and have the highest biodiversity of any marine ecosystem. The Pew Center on Global Climate Change commissioned Coral Reefs and Global Climate Change: Potential Contributions of Climate Change to Stresses on Coral Reef Ecosystems as the tenth in a series of Pew Center reports examining the potential impacts of climate change on the environment. Report authors are R.W. Buddemeier (University of Kansas), Joan Kleypas (ESIG), and R.A. Aronson (Dauphin Island Sea Lab). They found that (1) increases in ocean temperatures associated with global climate change will increase the number of coral bleaching episodes; (2) increases in atmospheric concentration of CO2 will drive changes in surface ocean chemistry; (3) the effects of global climate change will further degrade coral reef ecosystems; and (4) multiple strategies will be necessary to ensure their sustainability. The report is available in hard copy and on line at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change.

Protection of Life and Property

Natural systems vary naturally and – along with social environments – change over long time scales. Together with technological dependencies and interdependencies, these changing interactions pose lasting, and in some instances growing, challenges to the management of complex environmental disasters. Experience suggests that adverse effects of climate change and variability can be diminished through proactive and sustained risk reduction measures. ESIG scientists have studied ways to improve early warning systems of hydrological and meteorological hazards in order to alert at-risk people, communities, and governments about the possible onset of those hazards and impacts of extreme weather and climate events.

Major Highlights during FY2004:

Michael Glantz convened an international workshop on El Niño Early Warning for Sustainable Development in Pacific Rim Countries and Islands during FY04 in the Galapagos Islands to examine scientific and societal aspects of ENSO forecasts. The workshop also addressed the notion of “El Niño knowledge.” El Niño can spawn climate anomalies and climate-related hazards around the globe. The workshop brought together participants from marine biology, fisheries, oceanography, agriculture, communications, political science, economics, meteorology, anthropology, forestry, and history. They came from 11 countries and represented universities, funding organizations, and fisheries institutions. The workshop deliberations were placed on a website in audio format, with daily dispatches from an invited participant from the Exploratorium in San Francisco. A workshop report will be available in FY05 in both hard copy and on the websites. For more information, see or

Several ESIG scientists contributed in FY04 to a better understanding of the impacts of extreme heat on communities and human health. Olga Wilhelmi, together with ESIG Director Robert Harriss, developed a GIS-based urban heat warning system, while Claudia Tebaldi, together with CGD senior scientist Gerald Meehl, developed statistical methods to extract heat extremes information from global climate models. Susanne Moser worked with researchers from the University of Delaware, Kent State University, and the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory on new projections of heat-related mortality in five California metropolitan areas under various climate change scenarios. Wilhelmi and colleagues also published a paper in Natural Hazards Review during FY04 on "Designing a geospatial information infrastructure for the mitigation of heat wave hazards in urban areas." A website was created in FY03 about the heat wave project with more information at

Education and Outreach Activities

Outreach, defined as a proactive method of making connections and getting information to people, is a high-priority theme for ESIG researchers and visitors, who are committed to developing tools for research, applying their research to climate-related societal problems, and educating policymakers and the general public. Nearly all ESIG research produces far-reaching information materials that are communicated in user-friendly terms.

Major Highlights during FY2004:

ESIG convened six highly visible international and national conferences during FY04. These workshops brought together researchers from all over the world and from many different disciplines. Details of these workshops and their rationales are available in the longer section of this report.

Michael Glantz successfully launched his “Flip Side of Science” educational series during FY04 with two different versions of his book, Forecasting El Niño: Science's Gift to the Twenty-First Century, one for Africa ( in English and French) and one for Latin America ( in English and Spanish). The World Climate Programme of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) published the four books. Glantz geared the text in each book toward the regions in order to emphasize the impacts of El Niño on the different continents. Glantz is finalizing another version of his “flip book” on the Aral Sea that will be published by the WMO in FY05.

During FY04, Eric Scharff and Jeff Lazo (ESIG/RAP) began initial steps to create a Digital Library on Societal Impacts (DLSI), designed to be a Web-based resource for collecting and disseminating research findings related to the use and value of weather forecasts. The goal of this library is to make research results, including case studies, websites, decision support tools, and other resources accessible to the various user communities. Results will be synthesized so that they are useful to policymakers and researchers interested in the use of weather forecasts. Postdoctoral researcher Asim Zia began to assist in the development of the synthesis and library during FY04. This is a project under the auspices of the Societal Impacts Program (SIP), which was created in FY04, with Jeff Lazo as the leader of this NCAR US Weather Research Program's Collaborative Program, to study the societal impacts and economic benefits of weather information. More information about SIP is available in the Fundamental Research section of the longer report.


Table of Contents | Director's Message | Executive Summary | ESIG Achievements
Education and Outreach | Community Service | Strategic Initiatives | Publications | People | ASR 2004 Home

National Center for Atmospheric ResearchUniversity Corporation for Atmospheric ResearchNational Science FoundationAnnual Scientific Report - HomeAtmospheric Chemistry DivisionAdvanced Studies ProgramAtmospheric Chemistry DivisionClimate and Global Dynamics DivisionEnvironmental and Societal Impacts GroupHigh Altitude ObservatoryMesoscale & Microscale Meteorological DivisionResearch Applications ProgramNational Center for Atmospheric ResearchScientific Computing Division