National Climate Assessment, Convening Lead Authors Meeting
Tuesday, June 12, 2012 Washington, DC

Jane Lubchenco, Ph.D. Under Secretary of Commerce
for Oceans and Atmosphere & NOAA Administrator

June 12, 2012

Thanks Jerry [Melillo], John [Holdren].

It’s a pleasure to have this opportunity to say thank you to all of you who have put so much thought and effort into this important assessment. 

Kudos to your chairs, Jerry Melillo, Terese Richmond, and Gary Yohe; the talented NCA staff; and all of the lead authors for your leadership and the great work to date.   Despite numerous challenges, you’ve adhered to the timetable – an impressive feat in light of the number of authors and breadth and depth of information that needed to be synthesized.  And, as John reminded us, the public, Congress, and the President await, so we must be equally diligent in keeping to the appointed schedule.

At this juncture in the process, I take the opportunity to remind you how much is riding on this assessment.   From what I’ve seen, most people--communities, and businesses, managers, across all sectors—are hungry for information.  They know they need to prepare for the future, but they seek more tailored information do so – at regional and sectoral levels. 

Weird weather and climate-related extremes continue to dominate the headlines.  To wit:

These stats remind us that we need to know what changes are taking place now and what’s likely in the future, on regional and sectoral levels. 
Some extreme events are better understood and easier to detect than others.   For example, changes that lead to heat waves are relatively well-understood and our data are fairly adequate to detect changes over time.  However, with smaller-scale events such as ice storms or tornadoes, both our understanding of the physics influencing the phenomena and our ability to measure their frequency and intensity are inadequate. 

And despite our growing understanding of single types of events, Tom Karl points out to me on a regular basis that we have a glaring gap in understanding the occurrence of multiple, overlapping events.

And of course, climate interacts with and exacerbates other local/regional/global changes in biogeochemical cycles, land and ocean-use, biodiversity, etc.  Last week’s Nature featured work by Barnofsky et al. that concludes we are fast approaching a planetary-scale tipping point:  a state shift in the Earth’s biosphere.  What’s needed are improvements in our ability to understand, detect and avoid transitions on global and local scales.

Early warnings monitor for transitions.  Ocean acidification provides an excellent example of the value of early warnings.  Since 2007, we’ve known that corrosive water from the deeper ocean upwells onto the coastal shelf.  In 2005, the US Pacific Northwest, oyster hatcheries began experiencing massive failures.  Scientists and the aquaculture industry worked together to diagnose the problem.  The culprit?  Ocean acidification.  Monitoring water chemistry now enables shellfish farmers to know when to turn off inflowing seawater to protect young oysters.  This example shows the value of monitoring and early warning systems.  It also gives us insight into the challenges to come.  Intermittently more acidic waters today are likely to become persistent corrosive waters in the future. 

Let me also emphasize the importance of the decision to move forward with the web-based format for the NCA.   It’s a great tool to give as many people as possible what they need in a readily accessible fashion.

Our jobs with the National Climate Assessment are to make sure that people, communities, and businesses have the information they need to make informed decisions.  You are the National Climate Assessment.  I thank you again for your commitment to this body of work and look forward to a useful and usable web-based product.


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