Organization: Department of Interior (DOI)

Research Title: Paleoclimate Research

Funding Level (millions of dollars):

FY94 7.6
FY95 6.8
FY96 6.8

Committee on Environment and Natural Resources (CENR) Component:
(a) Subcommittee: Global Change Subcommittee (100%)
(b) Environmental Issue: Climate Change (100%)
(c) Research Activity: System structure and function: Understanding (50%), Observation (8%); Assessment (20%); Data Management (22%)

Organizational Component:
U.S. Geological Survey
104 National Center
Reston, VA 22092

Point of Contact:
Michael Carr
Phone: 703-648-4408

Research Goals:
The program addresses goals of the USGCRP to establish the record of natural climate variability, including the rates, magnitudes, and frequencies of climate change, the links between different components of the climate system, the sensitivity of the climate system to different forcings, and the consequences of climate change on the environment and ecosystems.

Research Description:
This program supports interdisciplinary studies 1) to document and establish the rates, magnitude, and frequency of natural climate variability, 2) to understand the consequences of climate change on the environment, especially in sensitive areas such as polar regions, and 3) to improve General Circulation Models by providing integrated regional to global scale data sets and detailed climate records of past conditions for initializing and testing model experiments to "hindcast" past climates. The program obtains records with resolution ranging from decadal to Milankovitch cycles over the late Cenozoic. Major areas of focus include long terrestrial records of western North America, paleoclimate and paleoceanography of the Arctic, the last interglacial record in North America, and global scale environmental reconstruction of mid-Pliocene warm intervals. The program activities result in high-quality continuous records of past change and integrated synoptic views of conditions during selected intervals when climates were warmer or colder.

Program Interfaces:
USGS paleoclimate research effort has collaborative links with U.S. academic researchers and the international community including workers in the former Soviet Union, Canada, Japan, Iceland, and the U.K. USGS research and data management activities have been incorporated into IGBP PAGES. USGS is involved with paleoclimate and paleohydrology studies in several LTER's in the western US. USGS has been a leader of PACLIM, an interdisciplinary group studying past and present climate patterns in the Pacific region and USGS cooperates with NOAA in paleoclimate data management, including the World Data Center A for Paleoclimate data at NGDC in Boulder. The USGS cooperates with NASA GISS and academic modeling groups in paleoclimate hindcasting experiments. This program contributes to process research to understand links between different elements of the climate system and mechanisms for past climate change. The program contributes to modeling research by providing site specific and synoptic summaries of environmental conditions during past climates.

Program Milestones:
Accomplishments include initiation of a long-term coring program for climate records in western North America and the Arctic, completion of a Northern Hemisphere environmental reconstruction for mid-Pliocene warm interval, completion of well dated 500,000-year paleohydrologic record from southern Nevada, and establishment in cooperation with NSF and Univ. of Colorado, a National Ice Core Laboratory in Denver, CO. Selected Milestones include: FY 1994: Complete global reconstruction of mid-Pliocene warm interval and participate in first set of GCM simulations of this past global warming FY 1995: Complete initial reconstruction of environmental conditions for the Arctic and subarctic regions of North America during the last interglacial FY 1996: Completion of coring transects to obtain high-quality terrestrial records of long-term climate variability in western US, Alaska and Arctic Ocean. Data and reports are peer reviewed and results are published in USGS reports or scientific journals. This program is reviewed annually by an external panel of specialists from universities and other government agencies and their recommendations are used to make program adjustments.

Policy Payoffs:
Documentation and understanding of natural climate variability is needed to clearly identify any human related change and understand how the climate system works. Paleoclimate data are needed to identify regions and ecosystems that are most sensitive to anticipated changes. Quantitative and better integrated paleoclimate data for use in model simulations of past climates will lead to improved models and increased confidence in model predictions of future changes. The program contributes to policy issues concerning climate change and natural variability, biodiversity, and desertification.