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News Release 11-232

Earth System Models at Decadal and Regional Scales Critical to Understanding Climate Change Effects

New NSF grants seek to improve predictions of climate change and how it will affect Earth's future

a simulation of one month of 20th century climate.

Simulation of a month of 20th century climate, using the Community Climate System Model.

October 26, 2011

This material is available primarily for archival purposes. Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.

What will Earth's climate be like in a decade--or sooner? And what will it be like where you live and around the globe?

National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded scientists are working to find answers.

NSF and other federal agencies recently awarded more than $38 million to study the consequences of climate variability and change. The awards, made through the interagency Decadal and Regional Climate Prediction Using Earth System Models (EaSM) program, include more than $20 million allocated by NSF's Directorate for Geosciences.

Among the subjects addressed by the awards are:

  • Atmospheric chemistry and Asia's climate
  • Climate in international negotiations for Earth's resources
  • Climate and humans: how vulnerable are we in urban environments
  • Agricultural planning in South America for the coming decades
  • Weather responses to climate variability, and
  • Constructing a regional Earth system model of the U.S. Northeast Corridor: analyzing 21st century climate and the environment

According to scientists, the EaSM program addresses one of the most pressing problems of the millennium: climate change and how it is likely to affect the world--and how people can plan for its consequences.

That challenge calls for the development of next-generation Earth System Models that include coupled and interactive representations of ecosystems, agricultural working lands and forests, urban environments, Earth's biogeochemistry, atmospheric chemistry, ocean and atmospheric currents, water cycle, land and sea ice and human activities.

"The EaSM projects will expand the limits of our quantitative understanding of the Earth's climate system," says Tim Killeen, NSF assistant director for Geosciences. "They will lead to better ways of predicting climate change. The knowledge being developed will lead to improved, science-based decision-making about our common future."

The consequences of climate variability and change are becoming more immediate and profound than previously anticipated, scientists believe.

Prolonged droughts on several continents, increasing stresses on natural and managed ecosystems, loss of agricultural and forest productivity, degraded ocean and permafrost habitats, global sea-level rise and the rapid retreat of ice sheets and glaciers and changes in ocean currents have shown that climate variability and change may have significant effects on decade and shorter time scales.

Those effects, researchers have found, for humans and other animals, plants and physical systems such as the oceans, may be far-reaching.

Among the goals of the EaSM program is achieving reliable global and regional predictions of decadal climate variability and change through an understanding of the coupled physical, chemical, biological and human processes that drive the climate system.

Awardees are working to quantify the effects of climate variability and change on ecological, agricultural and other human systems, and to identify and quantify "feedback loops" through which humans affect the environment.

Scientists are maximizing observational and model data for impact and vulnerability/resilience assessments, and translating models results, and their uncertainties, into the scientific basis for well-informed human adaptation to and management decisions for climate change.

Decisions that need to happen, says Killeen, in the coming years, not decades or centuries.

Support for these awards also comes from NSF's Directorate for Biological Sciences; Directorate for Mathematical & Physical Sciences; Directorate for Computer & Information Science & Engineering; Directorate for Social, Behavioral & Economic Sciences; Office of Cyberinfrastructure; and Office of Polar Programs.

Other participating agencies include the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which will announce their awards in respective DOE and USDA news releases.

The 2011 NSF EaSM Awards can be viewed in this PDF (41 Kb).


Media Contacts
Cheryl Dybas, NSF, (703) 292-7734, email:

The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2023 budget of $9.5 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

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