2012 Freeman Lecture: "Climate Change and Water Resources: Characterizing Uncertainties for Decision Makers"
Richard N. Palmer, Ph.D.
Department Head and Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering,
University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Scientific evidence tells us that global climate is changing. However, precise impacts on natural and man-made systems are less certain. Estimating climate change impact on river flow, water supply reliability, and ecosystem response requires careful application of global or regional circulation models, hydrologic models, and ecosystem response models. This presentation addresses each type of model, but focuses on characterizing climate information uncertainty when advising large-scale, public decision making. We begin by describing forecasted impacts of climate change on the US. Next, techniques to translate these broad climate shifts to the watershed scale in a fashion useful for decision making are described. We then address how best to frame this information for decision makers.
The presentation contains examples of the use of general circulation model output in past water resources studies. The examples highlight how stakeholder engagement in evaluating potential climate change impacts significantly improves the understanding of uncertainty, increasing the likelihood that the results will be used in real decision making. The presentation concludes by discussing limits of these techniques and suggests how such limits may be overcome by the next generation of engineers and scientists.
Civil and Environmental Engineering