Beginnings of OpenClimate

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Introduction

The predictions of climate change provide us knowledge of the future. These predictions are not like those from a crystal ball; they are not magic. Neither are the predictions speculation nor are they opinion. The predictions are based on scientific investigation of the physics of the Earth's atmosphere, ocean, land, and ice. The predictions include the role of chemistry and biology. There are uncertainties in the predictions, but the core of the predictions, that the Earth will warm, that sea level will rise, and that the weather will change are of little doubt.

The predictions are grounded, ultimately, in observations. The quest to explain the behavior of the observations and their relation to each other leads to the development of scientific hypotheses that are formed into theory. These hypotheses and theories are testable; they change with time; they are not speculation nor are they opinion. The theory can be expressed as mathematical expressions, and the mathematical expressions are solved to provide predictions. The collection of mathematical expressions which represent the theory are called models.

As representations of theory, models are both founded in observations and testable. The tests sometimes reveal that the models are fundamentally correct; sometimes they reveal that the models are incorrect. When a part of the model is incorrect, then attention is focused on observations, the further development of theory, the improvement of models, and the generation of new predictions. If the observations, predictions, and validation of the predictions form a coherent and convergent body of evidence, then the confidence is increased that the predictions are of sufficient accuracy to be actionable.

The models used to describe and predict the Earth's climate have been evaluated and validated in many ways by many people. Of specific relevance, the models have been used to reproduce the variability of the observations of the past. The models are repeatedly tested with the modern set of observations that have evolved with the availability of satellites. Predictive experiments are carried out, and the predictions are evaluated with new observations. There have been useful predictions of the Earth's climate for at least three decades. As we see the core of these predictions come true, the Earth is warming and sea level is rising, we substantiate the quality of the predictions.

The models can assist in the attribution of cause and effect. That is, if we observe a change in, for example atmospheric temperature, can we determine what caused that change? In many instances the convincing answer to that question is yes. In some cases it is difficult to attribute cause and effect. The observations, the theory, and the models lead to the conclusion that the Earth is warming and that a major cause of that warming is the increasing concentration of greenhouse gases in the Earth's atmosphere. This increase is directly related to the activities of humans, and in particular, the combustion of fossil fuels: coal, oil, and natural gas.

If the warming does not directly follow from our combustion of fossil fuels, then we are left with a vast gap in our knowledge. If the warming is not a consequence of our changing the atmosphere, then we require the identification of missing mechanisms that are of a nature that defy our ability to observe. The existence of an unobserved or alternative explanation of the warming of the Earth is unlikely.

The existence of an explanation other than, primarily, human-made changes to the composition of the atmosphere is unlikely because the underlying physical principles are simple. At the foundation of the quantitative description of the climate is the conservation of energy. Specifically, the energy that exits the Earth to space balances the energy received by the Earth from the Sun. Otherwise, the climate of the Earth would not be stable. Humans do not change the principle of energy conservation; humans change how long the energy is held near the surface of the Earth. The physical principles that govern the climate of the Earth are simple. How energy flows through the atmosphere, the ocean, the biological creatures, and the chemical reactions is complex. This complexity challenges our ability to observe and the precision of our predictions, but it does not challenge the fundamental, simple physical principles that describe the Earth's climate.

Scientific-based prediction of the climate produces knowledge of two types. There is a prediction of environmental parameters such as temperature and wind and moisture. There is also an estimate of the uncertainty of that prediction. To the scientist the estimate of the uncertainty is a measure of how probable it is that the prediction is accurate. Scientists often pursue the quest to reduce uncertainty, to make the predictions more accurate, and hence, more useful.

The science of climate change and the use of science-based predictions has, however, extended far from realm of science. If the predictions of climate change are fundamentally correct, then the change in the climate will impact every continent, every region, every nation, every person on Earth. If the attribution of climate change to the combustion of fossil fuels is correct, our use of energy and our economic success contribute directly to a changing climate. Therefore every component of human endeavor has a vested interest in the climate change problem. Therefore, every component of human endeavor has a vested interest in the predictions of environmental parameters and the uncertainties of those predictions.

Uncertainty will always exist in scientific investigation. It is part of the process. Investigation of complex systems will often lead to new sources of uncertainty. Challenging and re-challenging models and theory with observations will not uniformly lead to reduction or simplification of uncertainty. When the uncertainty is used in the development of arguments or policy that lie outside of the realm of science, the uncertainty can always be used to keep the argument or policy from converging. Always.

We have knowledge of how the climate will change. We know that this change will prove to be one of risk for many people. We have the responsibility, therefore, to act to reduce this risk. We know that this change will offer opportunity. We must evaluate that opportunity in context with our self interest and with regard to the risk.

Openclimate.org

Openclimate.org: Vision

The vision of Openclimate.org is to engage the intellectual and analytical resources of society to meet the challenges of global warming by focusing on actionable projects today. Openclimate.org is based on the principles of open communities, open innovation, and open access to information.

Openclimate.org: Goals

The goals of Openclimate.org are:

  • To contribute to the evolution of the infrastructure that supports access to and application of state-of-the-art climate information that has been developed by the scientific community.
  • To share algorithms and information from those who are addressing real-world problems.
  • To provide an environment for generation of new knowledge.

Openclimate.org adheres to the principle that the information needed for problem solving should be based on the best scientific investigation of the Earth’s climate. Questions that contribute to decisions of resource planning, business investment, and adaptation motivate new applied research.

The motivations for Openclimate.org are several. The 2007 IPCC Report changes, in a fundamental way, the field of climate change research. There will be broad-based need for climate information to be incorporated into resource planning, business investment, and adaptation policy. This information will be needed in the next few years; indeed, many would say it is needed now, and the demand will grow exponentially over the next few years.

Openclimate.org: Why Now?

Open communities follow from the success of open source software development, and the culture associated with open source software development. To be explicit, open source, to some, refers specifically to a type of software license, and, to others, has taken on the broader notions associated with the culture of successful community-built software activities that are licensed as open source. More recently, theories are being developed about the efficacy of open communities to organize and address complex problems. Open communities function under the umbrella of the community’s values, with known processes.

There is available, today, a large base of climate information. This knowledge base was developed by the scientific community for use by the scientific community. Access to much of the raw data is open and free. However, the data services that have been developed are primarily to serve the scientific community. This community is evolved in its use of these data and holds an intuitive understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the information held in the data. The information in this knowledge base has far wider applicability than the scientific community.

Most of the scientific investigation of climate and climate change in the United States is funded by the federal government. In recent years the agencies that fund climate research have set aside funds for education and outreach. There have been efforts of the scientific community to build relations with “decision makers,” “the business community,” “stakeholders;” i.e., external communities. These efforts have had limited success, and there are lessons to be learned from these efforts. These include:

  • the external community is far too large and diverse for the science community to expand to reach
  • the science community is not aware of evolved external communities that are actively confronting climate change
  • the culture of investigation and communication within the scientific community is not conducive to the communication of needed information to the external community
  • the role of science-based information relative to other factors that influence the decisions of the external community is not well understood by the scientific community


Going forward from the 2007 IPCC report these external communities will be posing questions, and the answers to these questions should be informed by the best science-based information available at any given time. Therefore, requirements for climate science will not be solely the purview of the science community; they will also be posed by the external, non-scientist, community. These questions are best answered by applied research and analysis posed directly to address those questions. This stands in contrast to the current situation where information developed for scientific purposes is recast for the applications posed by the external community.

Openclimate.org will build a community that links existing assets. Federal investments of the past 15 years have built up a system of data centers that provide both observational and model-generated data. The model-generated data includes both simulations of past periods, for validation, and predictions that range from a few days to centuries. Less well known, however, is that federal investments have also supported the building of tools to organize this information and support access. These tools are components of a potential system infrastructure, and one focus of Openclimate.org will be to weave together these components to support the community.

Openclimate.org: Implementation

It is the goal of Openclimate.org to support an open environment for community innovation to address problems of climate change. There are two primary classes of tasks that are central to the development of Openclimate.org.

Tasks, Class 1: These are the tasks needed to weave together and test the elements of the infrastructure that is needed to support access to information, management of information, application of information, and generation of information.

More on Information Technology Infrastructure

Commentary on Infrastructure and Sustainability

Tasks, Class 2: These are the tasks needed to execute specific actionable problems, and to use those problems to build the infrastructure and accumulate a portfolio of tools and methods that contribute to the next generation of actionable problems.

Actionable problems:

  • Climate Change Adaptation:

The response to climate change is often cast into the framework of mitigation and adaptation. Mitigation is represented, for example, by reducing carbon dioxide emissions to limit the amount of warming caused by burning of fossil fuels. Adaptation is represented by the actions we take to respond to climate change or in anticipation of climate change. Adaptation will be required, and it involves, for example, engineering to manage water resources, policy to affect societal behavior, land-use to contribute to energy security, and business practices that account for the cost of management of carbon dioxide. Adaptation is moving to the forefront, and Openclimate.org targets actionable problems of adaptation.

Examples of adaptation problems come from many places; for example, public health, forestry, water resource management, regional resource management, and energy. With the prospect of local, regional, and federal market-based policy to govern the emissions of greenhouse gases every business in America needs to integrate the true cost of energy and the management of energy waste into their business models. There is opportunity to be had, and risk to be avoided. The purposes to Openclimate.org are

  • to build a knowledge base that serves these communities with the best available climate information
  • to evolve an infrastructure that allows the generation of customized information with state-of-the-art models

Looking forward, there will be questions of geo-engineering; that is, taking conscious steps to manage the energy and water budgets on regional and global scales. Environmental impact will evolve to understanding the consequences of our enterprise on the climate. A mechanism to configure models to address these questions will be needed.

These problems of adaptation will need to be addressed in time frames prescribed by businesses and projects and decision makers and funding organizations. Openclimate.org will aim to provide a vehicle to answer these questions with the best possible science-based information and analysis.

The evolution of the infrastructure, the building of the knowledge base, and the development of new tools will be carried out through specific projects. One such problem that is being pursued as a pilot project for Openclimate.org is developing heat wave warning systems and evaluating the future requirements the United States will have for adapting to heat-related health impacts. The heat wave application is summarized in this figure, and more completely detailed in this evolving project site. (Heatwave Project)

  • Education Mission

Problem solving in climate change will require the development of trained people with trans-disciplinary expertise. (This description of class projects discusses problem solving in climate change. Project Description) The ability to balance science-derived information with priorities and information from other non-science sources will be required. Contradicting priorities will need to be ordered and rationalized in order to develop adaptation strategies, policy and business plans. An actionable problem for Openclimate.org is to serve to cross discipline and departmental boundaries to development a work force trained in climate change problem solving.

The applications described in the previous section, when investigated in an academic environment, will serve to benefit both educational and research activities. Openclimate.org, however, aims to go beyond this to support, directly, the educational mission. As a pilot project, a Carbon Management Initiative at the University of Michigan is proposed. This project targets the development of a graduate certificate in carbon management. Graduates with this certificate will preparing students for careers at the intersection of carbon management, science, and policy. This figure maps the groups that must be engaged in climate change problem solving to schools at the University of Michigan. Carbon Management Initiative @ Michigan This document is a draft document from a student project defining the elements of a Carbon Management Initiative.

Openclimate.org: Community Values

Openclimate.org: Governance

Openclimate.org: Resources

Commentary on Infrastructure and Sustainability

AOSS 480, SNRE 501: Climate Change: The Move to Action (Winter 2008)

Motivation for Open Climate Community presented at Department of Energy, October 29, 2007

Openclimate.org: Richard B. Rood, Founder

Openclimate.org is being developed by Richard B. Rood and a community of associates. While at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Dr. Rood was commended for both his accomplishments as a scientist and as a manager of scientists. He has served on advisory panels to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Department of Energy (DoE), and the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). In 2000 he was the lead author of a strategic document on climate modeling and high-performance computing requested by the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

After a sabbatical at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Dr. Rood moved to the University of Michigan. In the Winter Semester of 2006 he initiated a graduate course on problem solving in climate change. This course focuses on the intersection of science-derived knowledge, business, policy, law, ethics, indeed, all of the fields that will contribute to coping with climate change. The course features lectures by experts in their disciplines, with specific emphasis on the interface between disciplines. Strategies are developed to reconcile the conflicting ideas that emerge as interests intersect; it is a pursuit of rationality convergence.

The course has attracted students from several of the University’s Colleges and more than ten Departments. Each year the students work on trans-disciplinary problems that are influenced by climate change. Several of students have started businesses or started careers that address climate change.

Dr. Rood’s Openclimate.org associates include students from these classes, scientific colleagues, software specialists, and application experts. They all share in the belief that there are better ways to generate, to access, and to use climate knowledge. They believe that open communities stand at the basis of that better way.

Openclimate.org follows from these experiences. There is a compelling need and much opportunity in facing the challenges of climate change. There is an enormous intellectual resource available; people with highly evolved plans for addressing climate change. Openclimate.org seeks to develop a community to integrate these communities, to bring the creative, intellectual resources together to address climate change. It seeks to accelerate this extension to society as a whole, recognizing this as the most effective way to organize solution paths. (Short resume, with a link to full resume.)