The tools needed to provide information for adaptation to future climate conditions


Sarachik, E.S.  2010. The tools needed to provide information for adaptation to future climate conditions. Prepared for the 2nd International Conference: Climate, Sustainability and Development in Semi-arid Regions, August 16 – 20, 2010, Fortaleza – Cear’a, Brazil.


The spatial scale of adaptation is based on the entities that can perform adaptive actions and can range from national scale (for large nations, continental scale) to watershed scales as small as a few kilometers. The time scale of adaptation to global warming is not the time scale of global warming (order 50-100 years) because the year-to-year variability increases as the space scale decreases. It would make no sense to slowly adapt to an anticipated impact in year 2100 if larger impacts occur in many intermediate years along the way.

In particular, the climate of next year offers a particularly attractive target since recent advances in seasonal-to-interannual prediction now offers real, but limited, skill in many areas of the world. Furthermore, the decision calendar of most entities capable of performing adaptation activities occurs on one year time scales-in particular, one year is the time scale on which governments, non-governmental organizations, private organizations, and individuals formulate their plans and budgets. The problem therefore is to get to year 2100 (say) one year at a time and adapt to both next year’s climate and the long range simultaneously.

It is perhaps not too simplistic to say that while mitigation is about climate trends, adaptation is about climate variability. Two questions naturally arise: 1) What will the climate be in a given region a few years in advance? and 2) How will the climate variability in that region change as the world warms?

To answer these questions, the following tools are needed: a sustained global observing system supplemented by appropriate regional observations; an ongoing monthly climate analyses; a global climate model accurate enough to be downscaled to the region of interest; a downscaling system, and a prediction system. A necessary adjunct to these operational tools is an associated research program dedicated to developing and improving these tools and to defining and understanding the modes of long term climate variability.

An assessment of the current status of each of these tools is given and, by and large, found wanting. Some suggestions for future development of these tools are given.