DOE grant joins climate modeling with local, regional empirical data

February 24, 2011

Local and regional researchers collect large amounts of high quality data on climate change and its effects, but the researchers that create the economic and climate models do not always have access to this information. Now, thanks to a $2 million grant from the Department of Energy, the on-the-ground information will get to the modelers through the Penn State Institutes of Energy and the Environment.

The DOE-funded project, led by Karen Fisher-Vanden, associate professor of environmental and resource economics, seeks to bring empirical analysts and modelers together to improve the empirical underpinnings of models used in climate change policy analysis. Fisher-Vanden will create an integrated assessment modeling research program for interdisciplinary collaboration.

"Our goal is to devise a way to bring these two communities together, recognizing that the reason why we lack model-relevant empirical work is because this type of work has not been rewarded historically in the journal publication world, especially in the area of climate change impacts and adaptation," said Fisher-Vanden. "The purpose of this research is to identify and exploit synergies between empirical and modeling analyses in five key areas by bringing applied empirical researchers in the natural and social sciences together with modelers through joint research and workshops that foster communication and cross-fertilization of ideas between the two groups."

The five major scientific challenges the program will address are science and technology, impacts and adaptation, regional scale integrated assessment modeling, key intersecting energy-relevant systems and uncertainty.

It is important to understand and communicate the uncertainties in the model predictions for climate change and its impacts, according to Chris Forest, associate professor of meteorology.

"These uncertainties must be grounded in observational data and be incorporated into the models," he said. "This project puts us on the right path for bringing these broad complex issues together."

Klaus Keller, associate professor of geoscience, will focus on improving the representation of potential climate threshold responses. This includes abrupt changes in the ocean circulation or ice sheets and the associated impacts in integrated assessment models.

Patrick Reed, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, and Thorsten Wagener, associate professor of civil engineering, will apply state-of-the-art sensitivity analysis to understand sources and implications of uncertainty in integrated assessment models. Their diagnostic analysis will bring a new level of insight into the working of these complex models.

Jim Shortle, Distinguished Professor of agricultural and environmental economics, will focus on improving the regional representation of climate impacts and adaptation in integrated assessment models.

The three-year grant is administered by the Penn State Institutes of Energy and the Environment and is part of a larger $6 million grant administered through Stanford University that will establish an integrated assessment modeling research community focused on model development, inter-comparisons and diagnostic testing, and multi-model ensemble-like analyses.

In addition to Stanford and Penn State, the grant includes researchers from Boston University, University of California-Berkeley, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Purdue University, Syracuse University, University of Illinois and Yale University.

A variety of Penn State graduate students and post-doctoral fellows will also participate in the project.
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Penn State

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