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OSU: A new climate change hub for policymakers

Ecotrope | Sept. 27, 2010 1:38 a.m. | Updated: Feb. 19, 2013 1:46 p.m.

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Two big news items for Oregon State University last week: Corvallis will be the headquarters for one of eight Climate Science Centers in the U.S. as well as a new Northwest Climate Decision Support Consortium.

Suddenly, OSU’s atmospheric sciences professor Philip Mote is looking awfully busy. He already heads the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute. Now he’ll have two more climate science hubs to oversee. The new centers are aimed at helping government policymakers find the climate science they need to plan ahead.

One climate center, funded by the Department of the Interior, will pool the region’s scientific expertise and guide federal agencies in planning for climate change. OSU will partner with the University of Washington and the University of Idaho to launch the center with $3.6 million over the next five years.

That center is part of a new push by the Obama administration to look at climate change problems at a national level. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced plans for the centers and regional Landscape Conservation Cooperatives last fall.

In announcing the plans last week, Salazar explained why he wants a regional center keep an eye on climate change in the Northwest.

“In the Northwest, changes in temperature, rain and snowfall will have significant impacts on streams and the salmon they support, and on our forests and agriculture as well,” Salazar said. “The consortium of University of Washington, Oregon State University and University of Idaho provides enormous and complementary capabilities and familiarity with issues across the Northwest.”

OSU also got a $3.5 million grant from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to launch the Pacific Northwest Climate Decision Support Consortium.

The consortium will join NOAA’s Regionally Integrated Sciences and Assessment network and connect scientists with policy decision-makers who need specific data on climate change.

The key, Mote said, is apply science to get a grasp of the possible impacts and start planning for them.

“One example is to look at how precipitation in the Pacific Northwest may change and the impact that would have on stream flows,” he said. “If stream flows become higher in the spring and lower in the summer, what impact could that have on community drinking water, agricultural irrigation and salmon and steelhead migration?”

OSU already has the Envision project, which uses geographic information systems to model possible outcomes for specific communities, that could be helpful in this area.

There is an important difference between the two new climate centers.

The NOAA center will include municipalities, utilities, emergency management organizations, and state and federal agencies, while the Department of Interior Climate Science Center will focus primarily on science supporting decisions related to agencies within the Department of the Interior.

“It is the agencies that create action plans to adapt to climate change,” said Mote. “What the Climate Science Center will do is provide the science needed to help the agencies make the best decisions. There also is a role for training students on climate change-related issues and preparing them to work in the organizations the center will serve.”

The Department of the Interior selected the climate center leaders through a competitive bidding program, and OSU showed well for a reason, Mote said.

“OSU brings to the center the nation’s top-ranked conservation biology program as well as nationally ranked programs in fish and wildlife research, and the strengths and connections of a land grant university. The university also boasts rapidly growing programs in applied climate research, and extensive connections to landscape and species management agencies in the Northwest.”

The federal side of the center will eventually bring three or more scientists to both OSU and UW, and allow the University of Idaho to house the computing infrastructure. Additional funding will provide competitive grants for which researchers may apply.

The next steps are to hire a director and administrative staff, convene a council of stakeholders as an advisory group, and identify the scientists who will come to OSU and UW.

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