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Our Climate Science Program

Climate Science

Climate Central is a leading authority on climate science. Our science team cuts through the hype with clear-eyed analysis of climate change, delivering just the facts and findings. We dig deep into the the data to produce reports on climate trends and impacts, from state level temperature trends, to wildfires, heat waves, drought, precipitation and more. Our reports make climate change interesting and meaningful to people where they live, and provide policy-makers with objective, relevant facts on the issue.
 

New Project: Southern Ocean Carbon and Climate Observations and                                      Modeling Program (SOCCOM)

Climate Central will take the lead role in communicating results from the new, federally funded Southern Ocean Carbon and Climate Observations and Modeling program (SOCCOM) to scientists, policymakers and the general public.

The Southern Ocean, which encircles Antarctica, plays a crucial role in the Earth’s climate system, both by absorbing about half of the heat-trapping carbon dioxide humans have pumped into the atmosphere and by temporarily soaking up much of the excess heat generated as a result. 

Yet despite its importance, the Southern Ocean is poorly understood by scientists, largely because it is remote and has some of the most violent and dangerous seas on Earth.

The SOCCOM project, a six-year, $21 million program funded by the National Science Foundation’s Division of Polar Programs, with additional support from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and NASA, will attempt to change that. Using hundreds of robotic floats deployed around Antarctica and an expanded computational capacity, scientists from 10 institutions will build an understanding of how the biology, geology, oceanography and chemistry of the Southern Ocean work together to affect Earth’s climate system.

“The scarcity of observations in the Southern Ocean and inadequacy of earlier models, combined with its importance to the Earth's carbon and climate systems, means there is tremendous potential for groundbreaking research in this region," said SOCCOM director Jorge Sarmiento, George J. Magee Professor of Geoscience and Geological Engineering at Princeton University.

While the science itself is central, communicating the results to scientists outside the SOCCOM collaboration will be a crucial part of the program. So will explaining the research and its importance to the broader public, without whose support science such as this would not exist.

In order to accomplish these goals, Climate Central will create a web portal where scientists can find technical information about SOCCOM research, and where data from the project’s floats will be made available for anyone to download. There will also be a public web portal where SOCCOM science will be presented in the form of stories, images, videos, graphics and other media that will be engaging and enticing to non-scientists.

“Climate Central is excited to introduce audiences to this critically important but enigmatic part of our planet,” said Heidi Cullen, Climate Central’s Chief Scientist. “We are incredibly lucky to be working with the world's leading scientists and oceanographers, and we're thrilled to be giving voice to their stories and research.”

In addition to Climate Central, the institutions participating in the SOCCOM project include Princeton University; NOAA's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory; the University of Arizona; the University of Miami; the University of Washington; Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute; NOAA’s Climate Program Office; the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California-San Diego; and Oregon State.

NASA will support a complementary project involving researchers at the University of Maine and Rutgers University that will equip the floats with bio-optical sensors intended to gather data about biological processes in the water column.
 

New Project: World Weather Attribution

Climate Central is pleased to announce a new initiative called World Weather Attribution that will seek to perform “extreme weather autopsies” immediately after an extreme weather event occurs, when the world’s media is still asking “was this event caused by climate change?” With our partner at Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute, we are working on a tool that will look at the role of global warming in extreme weather events around the globe — not months later, as has been the case; but in real-time using the citizen science distributed infrastructure climateprediction.net.

Identifying a human fingerprint in individual extreme weather events — a field known as attribution science — has been a goal of the scientific community for more than a decade. In 2004, Stott et al. published a paper in the journal Nature showing that climate change at least doubled the risk of the record-breaking European heat wave that killed more than 70,000 people in the summer of 2003. Since the publication of that paper, improvements to climate models have led to tremendous advances in the field of attribution science.

Since 2012, the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (BAMS) has published an annual review of extreme weather events from a climate perspective, further solidifying that scientific thinking on this issue has evolved and it is now widely accepted that attribution statements about individual weather or climate events are possible, provided proper account is taken of the probabilistic nature of attribution.

The World Weather Attribution project aims to identify the human fingerprint in certain types of extreme weather events, including sea level rise and its contribution to storm surges, extreme heat events, heavy rainfall events/flooding, and drought. And it will do so using volunteers’ computing power. The simulations provided by volunteers around the world and designed by the climateprediction.net team at the University of Oxford will be part of a tested communications and outreach effort led by Climate Central.

Oxford’s climateprediction.net is one of largest research projects studying the Earth's climate and climate change. For the past 10 years it has performed a large number of research projects using distributed volunteer computing and moved from the studies of understanding the climate system to the study and attribution of the changing risk of extreme weather and climate-related events.

Weather@home is the regional climate-modeling project of climateprediction.net, which uses crowdsourced computing to run very large ensembles of regional climate simulations to determine whether the risk of recent extreme weather events had been altered by climate change.

“We are now planning a more ambitious project using seasonal forecasts to compare extreme weather events as they happen with the very same weather events in a world that might have been without climate change,” said Heidi Cullen, Climate Central’s Chief Scientist. “The goal is to give a first, scientifically based answer to the question whether and to what extent climate change played a role in the probability of occurrence of the event in real time.”

The World Weather Attribution project aims to build the capacity to identify 1-in-50-year and 1-in-100-year events around the world and determine whether climate change increased the likelihood of that event. By adding this real-time capability, we hope to better answer pressing questions about the role of human activity in extreme weather. There are four possible outcomes of our attribution analysis. First, global warming increased the likelihood of the event. Second, global warming did not play a role in the event. Third, global warming reduced the likelihood of the event. And fourth, our model was unable to reproduce the event. Our goal is to objectively and transparently assess the event in question and equip journalists and scientists with the tools to provide the larger global warming context when it is available. 



Selected Reports

Surging Seas:
Floods Threaten Coastal U.S.

This report, complete with an interactive map tool, is the first major national analysis of sea level rise in 20 years.
 
The Heat is On:
U.S. Temperature Trends

This report uses a state-by-state interactive map to illustrate where the U.S. has warmed the most, and the least, over the past 100 years
 

Hybrids Better for Climate than Leaf, Tesla in Most States
A look at the most climate-friendly cars on the market today and how that list varies depending on where you live.
Hurricane Sandy’s Untold
Filthy Legacy: Sewage

New report illustrating how sea level rise & storm surge threatens infrastructure and the environment.
 
Natural Gas & Climate Change
An extensive review of the potential global warming impacts of switching U.S. power generation from coal to natural gas.

A Roadmap to
Climate-friendly Cars

America's high-carbon energy grid is short- circuiting efforts to give consumers climate-friendly, electric-vehicle options.
U.S. Shows Rapid Rise
of Temps Since First Earth Day

A state-by-state analysis of temperature trends since the first Earth Day in 1970.  
Can U.S. Carbon 
Emissions Keep Falling?

An analysis illustrating how the current downward trend in U.S. carbon emissions is unlikely to continue in the years ahead.
The Age of Western Wildfires

A scientific review of the observed link between climate change and wildfires in the western U.S.
 


Selected Interactives

Sea Level Rise and Coastal Flood Threats in the U.S. The Top 11 Indicators of a Warming World One-Year Later: The Aftermath of Hurricane Sandy
2012 Was Warmest and 2nd-Most Extreme Year on Record 2012 Record Temperatures:
Which States Led the Nation
You Want Records? Search!
Interactive Temp Tracker
Interactive Wildfire Map
Shows Outbreaks in Real-Time
Twisters Past and Present:
Interactive Tornado Tracker
State-by-State Look at How
Early Spring Has Arrived


Our Climate Science Team

Ben Strauss, Ph.D. 
Vice President for Climate Impacts,
Director of the Program on
Sea Level Rise
Bernadette Woods Placky 
Meteorologist, Climate Matters 
Program Director
Heidi Cullen, Ph.D.
Chief Climatologist
Dennis Adams-Smith
Senior Data Analyst
Claudia Tebaldi, Ph.D.
Science Fellow
Alyson Kenward, Ph.D.
Senior Scientist, Research Director
Eric Larson, Ph.D.
Senior Scientist, Energy Systems
Todd Sanford, Ph.D.
Climate Scientist


Climate Central in the Media

Selected Examples:


Heidi Cullen's Senate Testimony
on Climate Change, July 18, 2013

Ben Strauss Talks Hurricane Sandy,
Rising Seas with Anderson Cooper

Heidi Cullen Tackles Extremes
on MSNBC

Mike Lemonick on "Wake Up With Al" talks Global Weirdness

Ben Strauss' Senate Testimony
on Sea Level Rise, April 19, 2012

Coverage of our report,
Surging Seas, Inundates the Nation


Our Other Programs


Energy

Meteorology

Sea Level Rise