Report details accomplishments of U.S. Global Change Research Program
Understanding how the Earth is changing, and how that change affects people, has advanced substantially thanks to investments by the federal government. That is the conclusion of a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine report issued this week, that includes the input of a Michigan State University (MSU) scholar.
Tom Dietz, MSU professor of sociology and environmental science and policy, joined other experts to review work on climate by federal agencies over the last 25 years. The review examined efforts to develop Earth-observing systems, improve Earth-system modeling capabilities, and advance understanding of carbon-cycle processes. The work was done as part of the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP
“It was very useful to look across a quarter of a century of research investments,” Dietz said. “We could see how the program both continued to make basic contributions, especially in building databases that are essential to understanding our changing planet. We could also see the pipeline that led from fundamental research to providing useful information to decision makers coping with real world problems.
“The program is also a nice example of how federal agencies, each with its own mandates from Congress, can also coordinate activities to better and more efficiently serve the public interest. This is a federal program that is giving taxpayers a lot of benefit for every dollar spent.”
Going forward, the program should continue to build its knowledge base for informing decision makers and the public about rising global challenges, the report recommends.
Created by the Global Change Research Act of 1990, the USGCRP provides coordination of global change research and activities in 13 participating agencies and departments and publishes synthesis and assessment products that present the results of the research agencies. Global change is defined as changes in the Earth's environment, for example relating to the changing climate, land productivity, ocean resources, atmospheric chemistry, and ecological systems — all of which can alter its capacity to sustain life.
The Academies' report identifies important contributions and achievements of the program since its inception in 1990. One of the first priorities for the program was to address the need for a global observational system. Twenty-five years later, there is now a large and growing portfolio of global measurements from space, guided by the USGRCP’s Integrated Observations Interagency Working Group, which coordinates observation capabilities and research within member agencies.
The report also notes the program’s accomplishments in making scientific knowledge more useful to decision makers. For example, the program has documented substantial increases in heavy downpours in most regions of the United States over the past 50 years, which can cause flooding that overwhelms the existing infrastructure of sewers and roads. This knowledge has led to the development of tools such as maps of risks for coastal flooding and other extreme hydrological events to inform local planning, zoning, and emergency preparedness.
Dietz said that while the report doesn’t focus on Michigan, the research program has been beneficial to Michigan. MSU co-hosts with the University of Michigan, The Great Lakes Integrated Sciences and Assessment Center (GLISA), with support from Michigan AgBioResearch, MSU’s Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies and the Center for Global Change and Earth Observation.
GLISA has worked with Michigan cherry growers to help them cope with the changing patterns of spring frosts; with the Michigan Department of Health to help cities plan for extreme heat events of the sort that killed over 500 people in Chicago in 1995; with marina owners who have to cope with fluctuating lake levels, with the Menomonee of northern Michigan in managing their natural resources and with many other groups around the state who are adapting to climate change and variable
In the face of increasing impacts from climate change and other global changes, the report recommends that the USGCRP build on its accomplishments by sustaining, expanding, and coordinating observations of the Earth system and maintaining a balanced program of discovery-driven and use-inspired research to support the needs of the nation at local, regional, national, and global scales.
Dietz is a member of MSU’s Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability and the university’s Environmental Science and Policy Program.