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U.S. Visualizes Data to Spur Action on Global Change

In April, about the same time as the release of a draft report on the connection between climate change and health by the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), President Obama drew a personal if not entirely direct line between global warming and his daughter Malia’s asthma. Charged with researching human-induced and natural processes of global change, USGCRP has operated at the epicenter of the climate change “debate” since 1990. On May 6, the one-year anniversary of its seminal 2014 U.S. National Climate Assessment, USGCRP unveiled a pilot web tool that brings years of climate data to life with the hope that visualizing data will spur greater understanding of and local actions on global change. The new set of climate change indicators are intended to communicate how the environment is changing, spotlight risks, and inform decision-making on policy, planning, and resource management.

Melissa Kenney

Kenney in a research meeting with her team at the University of Maryland.

Based on an extensive collaborative process, Melissa Kenney (2010-12 Executive Branch Fellow now at University of Maryland) and Anthony Janetos (Boston University) led the development of the indicators. They are the product of more than four years of effort initiated during Kenney’s fellowship. It encompassed collaboration between scientists and practitioners from across federal agencies, universities, nonprofits, and the private sector.

Chris Weaver (2005-07 Executive Branch Fellow) is the acting executive director of USGCRP; Ilya Fishoff (2009-10 Executive Branch Fellow and 2010-11 Congressional Fellow) is program coordinator on the National Climate Assessment staff; and Glynis Lough (2005-07 Executive Branch Fellow) is chief of staff of the NCA. Other STPF alumni who were involved in developing the recommendations of the indicators system include: Rebecca Aicher (2011-13 Executive Branch Fellow), Richard Pouyat (1996-97 Congressional Fellow sponsored by AIBS), Kevin Rose (2012-14 Executive Branch Fellow), Marlene Cole (2012-14 Executive Branch Fellow), and Jennifer Howard (2011-13 Executive Branch Fellow). Allison Leidner (2010-12 Executive Branch Fellow) worked with USGCRP to consider the input and inform the decision of an interagency indicator system.

“Tony and I worked with over 200 scientists to scope and develop a system of physical, ecological, and societal indicators that communicate and inform decisions about key aspects of climate changes, impacts, vulnerabilities, and preparedness,” said Kenney.

Kenney’s current work draws a clear line to her fellowship days. She was an STPF fellow at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), hosted in the Climate Program Office and the USGCRP. As for the future, she will continue to conduct actionable, multidisciplinary climate decision support and indicators research for USGCRP.

Users of the pilot indicator system are encouraged to beta test the tool’s functionality and usefulness. Feedback from testers will be used to help expand the system and to make the indicators more useful.

Climate indicators graphic

The White House blogged about the indicators in "Connecting America’s Communities with Actionable Climate Science" (May 6, 2015).