Climate Impacts Modeling 101: Interpreting What Models Say About the Future of Our Region Under Climate Change

By Liz Allen

Reprinted from: WSU CSANR Perspectives on Sustainability

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As a PhD student with CSANR interested in improving communication about climate and agriculture between the academic and decision-making spheres, I’ve had a lot of conversations about climate models with agricultural producers, industry representatives, policy makers and regulatory officials (as well as with modelers themselves!). In the course of those conversations it has become clear that accessible explanations of how climate models are developed and how the results from climate change projections ought to be interpreted are lacking.

A team of us affiliated with WSU’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources and the BioEarth research project set out to create a guide to climate modeling intended for agricultural and natural resource decision makers in the Pacific Northwest and beyond. Using examples from the 2011 Columbia River Basin Long-Term Water Supply and Demand Forecast, we describe:

  • What process-based models are
  • How global climate change projections are downscaled and applied in regional climate impacts analyses
  • The importance of understanding scale
  • How uncertainty is handled and communicated in model outputs
  • Applications of results from process-based models

This concise overview guide is the product of collaboration between modelers who specialize in agricultural, hydrological and economic systems and science communicators. We hope this will be a valuable reference resource to a wide range of people interested in understanding and using climate models. So go grab yourself a cup of coffee, give it a read and let us know what you think and what questions you have.


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