Climate and Human Systems

Impacts and options for responding to change

Climate & Human Systems: Auckland, New Zealand skyline and waterfrontPrint-friendly PDF

Spring 2013

I. Description

Human response to the impacts of climate depends not only on how climate changes in the future, but also on future societal trends. A scientifically informed response to climate change therefore requires understanding of how socioeconomic factors might evolve in the future and how they interact with a changing climate. Models of human systems and interactions will help in developing this understanding, but many improvements are necessary to better account for the wide range of plausible human development pathways and their interactions with changing climate.

The NCAR Climate and Human Systems Project's mission is to:

  • understand and model how human systems influence—and are influenced by—the physical climate system;
  • evaluate climate change impacts, as well as mitigation and adaptation response options;
  • facilitate interactions and collaboration on the human dimensions of climate change among scientists working on these questions at NCAR and across the human dimensions research community.

II. Stage of Research

An NCAR-led team has developed a software tool to carry out analyses of human–Earth system interactions, called the Integrated Population-Economy-Technology-Science (iPETS) model. We have applied iPETS to questions of how societal development trends may affect both future emissions and vulnerability to climate impacts. iPETS links component models to merge demographic, energy, economic, greenhouse gas, and climate data into model outputs that yield insight on the many societal and physical dimensions of changing climate.

Current research focuses on interactions between land use and regional climate change, as well as risks to agriculture, urban areas, and coastal regions due to climate change, extreme events, and air pollution.

III. Applications

  • Improving those projections of societal trends that are relevant to assessing impacts and options for climate mitigation and adaptation.
  • Improving the capacity to link integrated assessment models to the Community Earth System Model (CESM) for the investigation of human–Earth system interactions.
  • Improving research and assessment of impacts, adaptation, and mitigation by better accounting for socioeconomic change and its interactions with the climate system.

IV. Advantages

  • Provides assessment of climate impacts across multiple sectors (agriculture, water, urban, coastal, health, etc.).
  • Accelerates progress on linking human and Earth–system models, and provides community modeling tools.
  • Extends expertise in modeling the Earth system into investigations of societally relevant questions about climate change impacts and response options.
  • Increases the capacity to collaborate with partners on interdisciplinary research across the physical and social sciences.

V. Funding and IP Status

Primary: NSF core funds through the NCAR Integrated Science Program

Additional: Department of Energy Integrated Assessment Program; NSF program on Decadal and Regional Climate Prediction using Earth System Models (EaSM)

Seeking additional funding to expand existing capacity.

VI. Research Partners

Arizona State University
Colorado School of Mines
NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
University of Kansas


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