Now that remarkable headway has been made into understanding the physical science of climate change, there’s a feeling among climate experts – including those of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – and among funding agencies of the need to shift the focus of climate research from identifying the cause to assessing the impacts, whether hurricanes, oceanic dead zones or forest fires.
A case in point is the new study just launched by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) is the US to examine how climate change will influence hurricane activity in the coming decades.
In an excellent news feature in Science magazine, Eli Kintisch takes up the issue by looking at how the $1.8 billion available for the US Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) is likely to be reoriented towards climate impacts research under a new administration.
But evaluating climate impacts will require more than a shift in CCSP’s vision. As Kintisch points out, the research budget available to CCSP has declined from $1.9 billion in 1994, whereas climate research advocates estimate approximately $4.5 billion will be needed by 2014 to sustain the needs of both academic and federal climate scientists. The widening gap between escalating costs and narrowing research budgets is placing a strain on basic earth monitoring and means that fewer scientists are tackling increasingly complex issues, such as the impacts of aerosols, writes Kintisch.
Aside from making do with less money, another challenge that scientists will face is the need to reach across disciplinary divides to fully understand the societal, as well as physical, impacts of climate change. In the US, this could involve a reshuffling or merging of government agencies, as we reported here previously. And though on both sides of the Atlantic, research institutes and specific science training programmes are emerging to address this challenge, as Zoe Corbyn reports in the Times Higher Education Supplement, on the whole interdisciplinary studies are cited less often than studies in single disciplines (in some areas 4 times less often), suggesting it could be some time before they get the recognition they deserve.
The backing of viable research programs through bodies such as the US CSSP, with sufficient funds, would be a good starting point.