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Targeted investments in climate science could present enormous economic savings for UK and Europe

A joint press release issued by the UK's National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS) and the Walker Institute, University of Reading

Targeted investments in climate science could lead to major benefits in reducing the costs of adapting to a changing climate, according to new research published by scientists from the UK's National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS). Published in the scientific journal, the Bulletin for the American Meteorological Society, the study shows that investments made now, can lead to as much as 10-20% improvement in climate predictions for the UK and Europe in the coming decades, and up to 20% across the rest of the globe.

This is good news for businesses and policy-makers currently seeking predictions to aid planning for adaptation to climate change in the coming years, and for whom such improvements could present enormous economic savings: uncertainty in climate forecasts means that adaptation measures have to be designed with greater resilience, making them more expensive.

The results came after the researchers, based at the Walker Institute, University of Reading, used data from a suite of state-of-the-art climate models to identify the main causes of uncertainty in predictions of temperature change over different space and time scales. Although this type of study had previously been done on a global scale, this is the first time it has been attempted on regional scales (2000 km) across the globe.

Results showed that for all regions for the next four decades, the main uncertainties in climate predictions are dominated by: (i) differences between the climate models themselves eg in the way they represent different atmospheric processes; (ii) the natural variability of the climate (ie changes in the climate not brought about by human influences). Fortunately, both types of uncertainty are reducible through investment and progress in climate science.

An important issue for planners and funding agencies, therefore, is how climate science can best deliver improvements in such predictions, and so reduce the costs of adaptation to a changing climate.

Dr Hawkins, lead scientist on this project said: "A certain amount of climate change is inevitable, and we will need to adapt. This work has highlighted the need for a debate about where best to target investment in climate science and to consider the return we get in terms of better climate forecasts and reduced adaptation costs."

"Our work suggests that investments in ocean observations, for example, and their use in setting the initial conditions of climate models and in verifying predictions, could give some of the best returns in improved models and climate forecasts for the next 5-50 years. It is not until the 2050s that the dominant uncertainty is in the unknown future emissions of greenhouse gases. "

Issues such as these will also be debated at the World Climate Conference-3 in Geneva at the end of this month, where the focus will be on climate predictions and information for decision-making. Senior scientists, including Professor Rowan Sutton, Director of Climate Research for NCAS and a co-author on the study, will be attending to provide scientific advice and expertise, and stakeholders and government representatives will all meet with the aim to create a global framework to link scientific advances in climate prediction with the needs of users such as farmers and water managers. The conference is only the third of its kind in the last 30 years.

1. Contacts:

Dr Louisa Watts, National Centre for Atmospheric Science
Science Communications Manager. Mobile (+44) (0)7795061124 or Desk +44 (0)1793 411609. Email: e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

Dr Lucy Chappell, Research Communications Manager, University of Reading. Mobile 07515 188751 or Desk: +44 (0)118 378 7391. Email: e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

2. Available for Interview:

Dr Ed Hawkins, lead scientist of this study and climate scientist at the National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS) is available for interview. To set up an interview please contact Dr Louisa Watts or Lucy Chappell on contact numbers above.

3. The published paper has the following reference and is available online:

Hawkins E.and Sutton R, 2009: (Title) The potential to narrow uncertainty in regional climate predictions, Bulletin for the American Meteorological Society doi: 10.1175/2009BAMS2607.1

The paper is available online from the following link and the results webpage .

4. The World Climate Conference-3 is being held between 31st August and 3rd September 2009, in Geneva, Switzerland. Organised through the World Meteorological Organization, the overarching theme of the Conference is "Climate prediction and information for decision-making: focusing on scientific advances in seasonal to inter-annual time-scales, taking into account multi-decadal prediction". It includes the application of climate prediction and information to societal problems enabling adaptation to climate variability and change in various sectors such as agriculture and food security, forestry, energy, water, health, urban and rural settlements, infrastructure, tourism, wildlife, trade and transport that contribute to sustainable socio-economic development.

World Climate Conference-3 website

Professor Rowan Sutton, Director of the NCAS Climate research programme will be attending to provide expertise in climate variability on decadal timescales.

5. The National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS) is a world leader in atmospheric science. With an annual budget of £9M, NCAS carries out research programmes in climate change science, atmospheric composition (including air quality), weather (including hazardous weather) and state-of-the-art technologies for observing and modelling the atmosphere (including a world-leading research aircraft). We have over 170 research scientists, including UK and world experts to work on our research programmes and provide support to the academic community. These programmes are distributed throughout the UK, at 15 UK universities and research institutes. NCAS is a research centre of the Natural Environment Research Council with its headquarters at the University of Leeds.

6. The Walker Institute for Climate System Research, University of Reading
The Walker Institute is a world-leading multi-disciplinary climate research centre based at the University of Reading. Over 100 scientists from internationally renowned research groups and centres across the University collaborate on research projects worth over £20 million. The research aims to understand the processes and feedbacks that operate within and between components of the climate system and which govern climate variability and change. We strive to improve predictions of climate for the coming decades by building better models and making better use of observations. Our research also assesses the impacts of climate change on the economy and society and the implications for adaptation and mitigation. Associates of the Walker Institute work in such diverse areas as agriculture, biological sciences, chemistry, construction management, business, environmental science, maths, meteorology and physics.

Dr. Louisa Watts | EurekAlert!
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