Climate change a focus of new NSF-supported research on how decisions are made in a world

September 28, 2004

Arlington, Va.-- Five interdisciplinary research teams will share some $25 million from the National Science Foundation (NSF) over the next five years to study important aspects of problems associated with understanding climate-related decisions under uncertainty.

Research centers will be located at Arizona State, Carnegie-Mellon and Columbia universities. Other interdisciplinary teams will be conducting research at the University of Colorado at Boulder and Rand Corporation in Santa Monica, Calif.

The increased knowledge generated by recent scientific research on the causes and consequences of climate change and variability has led to a growing need to better understand how decision makers make choices among the alternative courses of action.

According to Cheryl Eavey, NSF's program officer for the Decision Making Under Uncertainty (DMUU) projects, "NSF expects these teams to produce new insights of interest to the academic community, generate significant educational benefits and develop new tools that will benefit policy makers, decision makers and many different stakeholders."

The Decision Center for a Desert City (DCDC) at Arizona State University will use nearby Phoenix as a laboratory for studying adaptation strategies, particularly related to water management in an arid climate. The city's past successes in managing its water supply are being challenged by current drought conditions. The DCDC will seek to engage scientists and decision makers in studying research questions and experimenting with new methods to better understand how to make decisions that reduce this urban region's vulnerability to climate uncertainty. Results are expected to provide support to decision makers in similar situations all over the world.

At Carnegie Mellon University's Climate Decision Making Center, researchers will focus on how to deal with irreducible uncertainties, or the current limits that exist to accurate predictions of climate change and its impacts, including costs and policy decision implications. The center will create, illustrate and evaluate decision strategies that incorporate uncertainties. It will focus on the real problems of several groups:
  • insurance managers exposed to the risks of climate change and low-carbon energy technologies
  • forest, fisheries and ecosystem managers in the Pacific Northwest and Western Canada
  • Arctic-region decision makers trying to balance economic development and preservation of traditional lifestyles
  • electric utility managers facing investment decisions affected by climate change risks.

    At Columbia University, a new Center for the Study of Individual and Group Decision Making Under Climate Uncertainty will study decision-making processes on multiple scales. The focus of the center will integrate psychological insights with those of other social sciences - from individuals' mental processes to the interplay of individual and group decision making, to how individuals and groups interact with organizations. Research on these topics will feed directly into designing and testing decision tools, as well as institutional strategies and educational interventions (including segments for the Weather Channel) that will help people to better understand the impacts of climate change and their response options.

    The University of Colorado at Boulder's Science Policy Assessment and Research on Climate (SPARC) team will examine decision makers' expectations about what science can deliver, whether policy makers can use available information, and what future information might be useful to them. SPARC will seek to expand the available policy options by exploring what actions make sense under climate change.

    The Rand Corporation research team will conduct fundamental research on different characterizations of uncertainty and develop quantitative tools on decision making, drawing upon interactions with decision makers from long-term management of water supplies in California, and in the design of observation systems to provide warning of abrupt climate change.

    NSF's DMUU program is providing the funding for the research efforts as part of NSF's priority area in Human and Social Dynamics. Results will contribute to the president's multi-agency Climate Change Research Initiative.
    For more information on the Climate Change Research Initiative, see:
    For more information on NSF's Human and Social Dynamics priority area, see:

    NSF PR04-XX

    NSF Program Officer: Cheryl Eavey, 703-292-7269,

    NSF is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering, with an annual budget of nearly $5.58 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives about 40,000 competitive requests for funding, and makes about 11,000 new funding awards. NSF also awards over $200 million in professional and service contracts yearly.

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