PROGRAM TITLE: Paleoclimatology Program ACTIVITY STREAM: Observations; Process Research SCIENCE ELEMENT:
Earth System History DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE NATIONAL OCEANIC AND ATMOSPHERIC ADMINISTRATIONDESCRIPTION: The reliable prediction of decade to century-scale climate variability requires knowledge of past climate variability and an understanding of how the climate system operates on time scales longer than a few decades. Most 50 to 150-year long instrumental records of past climate change are too short to obtain this knowledge. Although many paleoclimatic time series exist, these records are limited to a few geographic regions, are generally not readily available, and do not adequately resolve decade- and century-scale climatic variance. The NOAA Paleoclimatology Program is working systematically to fill this large void by providing the research funding 1) to generate key new time series, 2) to synthesize these series along with existing records, and 3) to use arrays of paleoclimatic data to study the patterns, processes, and causes of natural decade- to century-scale variability. The NOAA Paleoclimatology Program recently established the ICSU World Data Center for Paleoclimatology and has subsequently built the largest public-domain databank of global paleoenvironmental information. In addition to yielding critical insights into the most recent patterns of decade to century-scale climatic variability, the NOAA research program also uses the paleoclimate record to understand how this variability can be affected by large abrupt changes in global climatic boundary conditions. An understanding of how the climate system responded to altered forcing in the past will be key to predicting how climatic variability will be affected by future greenhouse warming. This understanding may also help anticipate some types of climate system responses ("surprises") that are not apparent in the relatively benign record of climate change over the past 150 years. While the NOAA paleoclimate research is global in scope, it also supports development of needed "paleo perspectives" for other program elements in NOAA and the USGCRP. Development of centuries-long records of North American drought, ENSO-related changes, Asian monsoon variability, North Atlantic climate change, and marine ecosystem dynamics all receive high priority. Equally important are efforts to establish a paleoclimatic framework for testing the ability of predictive models to simulate the observed decade- to century-scale patterns of past climate, ocean, biosphere, and trace-gas change. The NOAA Paleoclimatology Program is backed by an enthusiastic research community, and is guided by strong national and international advisory structures. STAKEHOLDERS: The NOAA established ICSU World Data Center for Paleoclimatology serves to coordinate paleoenvironmental data generated by US agencies (NOAA, NSF, USGS, and USNPS), as well as data associated with the activities of the IGBP PAGES Core Project and the NATO/DOE-sponsored International Paleoclimate Modeling Intercomparison Project (PMIP). In turn, PAGES and PMIP are focused on meeting NOAA's goals of improving our ability to predict future climatic change. The NOAA Paleoclimatology Program contributes to the IPCC process via NOAA and IGBP PAGES channels. SHORT-TERM POLICY PAYOFFS: The NOAA Paleoclimatology Program contributes the long paleoclimatic time series needed, as a baseline, to identify the extent to which recent climatic change is driven by human activity. The NOAA program also advances predictive skill by providing critical insights into the dynamics and causes of natural decade to century-scale climatic variability, as well as a validation framework for predictive models. This understanding of long-term climatic variability is critical to intelligent policy formulation. PROGRAM CONTACT: Dr. C. Mark Eakin; NOAA/GP, 1100 Wayne Ave., Suite 1225, Silver Spring, MD, 20910-5603; 301-427-2089 x710 (voice); 301-427- 2073 (fax); M.Eakin (OMNET).