More investments in observation crucial to prepare for climate change, Harvard report says


Climate observation capabilities suffer from declining budgets around the world while the need for better forecasts to predict climate change and natural disasters increases, says a report from the Harvard University Center for the Environment.

"We are losing data just at a time when it is of most importance," says the report (.pdf), released earlier this month. "Data not gathered today are lost forever."

The report lists several areas where current observation capabilities are insufficient. It says the primary need is an accurate and continuous measurement of the planet's total energy balance, the net change of energy flows in and out.

Sea level rise is sensitive to melting ice caps, but there is no systemic surveillance in place that can measure polar ice volume, the report says. Current capabilities also don't have a reliable way to predict when the Arctic Ocean will lack permanent floating ice. Additionally, the report calls for better models to monitor permafrost in the Arctic.

There aren't enough observations of the deep ocean, which affects heat storage and transport, the report also says.

Global precipitation receives limited coverage too, it says, though NASA's Global Precipitation Measurement mission is scheduled to launch in 2014. The agency plans to use an international network of satellites to provide next-generation global observations of precipitation.

NASA says the mission will improve understanding of the planet's water and energy cycles as well as forecasts of extreme weather events.

The Harvard report says there's also a shortage of data on North Pacific cyclones, especially compared to those of the North Atlantic. To better forecast those storms, "we need a long-term record of intensity as well as location," the report says.

Eventually, a country or group of countries is likely to experiment with geo-engineering--human efforts to intentionally modify the climate--and it's important to closely observe any such tests, the report says. "There are most likely to be both primary and secondary effects that cannot be predicted," it notes.

For more:
- download the report, "Climate Extremes: Recent Trends with Implications for National Security" (.pdf)

Related Articles:
GAO adds climate change to high-risk list
Climate change's rising water levels could directly affect half of Americans
More natural disasters could lead to donor fatigue