Kudos to Tom Karl and NOAA For Recognizing That Climate Involves an Integrated Earth System Perspective and the Consequences to NCDC As A Result

The mission of the National Climate Data Center is given as,

The National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) is the world’s largest active archive of weather data. NCDC’s mission is to manage the Nation’s resource of global climatological in-situ and remotely sensed data and information to promote global environmental stewardship; to describe, monitor and assess the climate; and to support efforts to predict changes in the Earth’s environment. This effort requires the acquisition, quality control, processing, summarization, dissemination, and preservation of a vast array of climatological data generated by the national and international meteorological services. NCDC’s mission is global in nature and provides the U.S. climate representative to the World Meteorological Organization, the World Data Center System, and other international scientific programs. NCDC also operates the World Data Center for Meteorology, Asheville. ”

In the Testimony of Tom Karl to the House Committee on Government Reform Hearing on Climate Change Understanding the Degree of the Problem on July 20, 2006, Tom Karl accepted the broadening of the definition of climate. This recognition, however, has important implications for the mission of NCDC. He, and thus NOAA which he represents, acknowledged that climate is much more than long term weather statistics.

In his testimony, he stated

“Figure 2 shows schematically the kinds of processes that can be included in climate models. Among these are many earth system components such as atmospheric chemistry, ocean circulation, sea-ice, land-surface hydrology, biogeochemistry, atmospheric circulation, etc……”

” ….Coupled climate models can include mathematical equations describing physical, chemical, and biogeochemical processes, and are used because the climate system is composed of different interacting components.”

The caption to Figure 2 on page 16 in his testimony reads,

“Figure 2. Components of the climate system and the interactions among them, including the human component. All these components have to be modeled as a coupled system that includes the oceans, atmosphere, land, cryosphere, and biosphere.”

This is a significant movement to recognize that climate involves more than long term weather statistics, as was recommended in the 2005 National Research Council Report “Radiative Forcing of Climate Change: Expanding the Concept and Addressing Uncertainties”, where it was written

“FIGURE 1-1 The climate system, consisting of the atmosphere, oceans, land, and cryosphere. Important state variables for each sphere of the climate system are listed in the boxes…..”

Part of the text that Tom Karl used is verbatum from the National Academy Report.

This acceptance of climate as an integrated Earth system has important implications for the National Climate Data Center (NCDC). NCDC primarily archives atmospheric (i.e. weather) data as explained in the NCDC Mission statement. With the recognition that climate is much more than long term weather statistics, NCDC needs to broaden its reponsibilities to include all aspects of climate data collection and archiviing, which includes ocean, land and cyrsospheric data.

Tom Karl also states that,

“There is no doubt that the composition of the atmosphere is affected by human activities. Today greenhouse gases are the largest human influence on atmospheric composition.”

This is a more precise statement than concludng that greenhouse gases are the largest human climate forcing. As we have shown in
Measurement-based estimation of the spatial gradient of aerosol radiative forcing” in terms of the atmospheric forcing of the climate system due to the spatial gradient of climate forcings, aerosols have a significantly larger impact than well-mixed greenhouse gases.

With the recognition, that climate modeling requires the inclusion of all of the components of the climate system, and that, according to Tom Karl in his testimony,

“The physics of many, though not all, of the processes governing climate change are well understood”,

the reliance of the multi-decadal climate predictions to provide accurate forecasts is further shown to be unjustified, since all of the important climate processes are not included accurately in the models, as acknowledged by Tom Karl.

Thus there are nationally and internationally important consequences from the testimony of Tom Karl. NCDC needs to either assume responsibility for archiving all types of climate data, or needs to work with other agenicies to accept this responsibility. Otherwise, the climate community will not have access to all of the data that are needed for policymakers to make the most informed decisions regarding climate issues. Also, if NCDC does not accept a broader mandate of its mission, its name would need to be changed to the National Center for Weather Data (NCWD).

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