IRI Climate Scientist Appointed to NAS Advisory Panel

Lisa Goddard, a climate scientist at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society, has been appointed to the National Academies of Science’s prestigious Climate Research Committee. She will be helping to promote progress in her field and give advice to government agencies on the scientific aspects of climate and climate change. The CRC also represents the United States in the World Climate Research Programme, an international body tasked with determining the impacts to which climate can be predicted as well as the impacts humans have on climate.

“What motivates me is developing climate information, from understanding to prediction, that can ultimately impact climate-related decisions,” Goddard says. “This alone isn’t enough to enable most decision making. There are many important actors in between-from the communication experts to the sector experts-but it is a necessary starting point,” she says.

It’s this motivation that made her a good fit for the CRC, says the committee’s chair, Gerald A. Meehl, from the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado.

“We look forward to Lisa’s contributions to the committee, given her strong science background and her work at the interface between climate science, climate impacts and applications,” he says.

Goddard currently leads the IRI’s work on near-term climate change. She oversees research and product development aimed at providing climate information at 10 to 20-year time frames, which can be useful for allocation and development decisions related to water, agriculture and energy, for example. At these time frames, scientists need to consider all the possible influences on climate.

“The problem is that the long-term models from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, for example, capture only the anthropogenic drivers, and that’s only part of the picture,” says Goddard. “There is most likely natural variability acting on top of the man-made influences. This natural variability could serve to amplify or dampen the trends associated with man-made climate change.”

In order to get a more accurate and useful model of what near-term climate change will look like, Goddard and her colleagues are working to develop climate information that considers both influences on climate over the coming decade.

Goddard has also been working with a CRC-commissioned panel of experts to asses the U.S government’s current capability to predict climate on short time scales, ranging from weeks to years. With her help, the panel will document the present capabilities and how best to strengthen them. The panel’s findings will be available later next year.

“The IRI staff deals with applications of climate information and forecasts on a daily basis. We focus on communicating the real, usable skill of forecasts in practical settings around the world, not just theoretical skill. So the IRI is very much seen as a neutral broker of information, which I think appeals to the Climate Research Committee,” says Goddard.

As if a busy research schedule, five scientific advisory panels and co-chairing two working groups on Decadal Predictability (U.S. CLIVAR) and Applications and Outreach for the IntraAmerica Seas Climate Process Study (within VAMOS and International CLIVAR) aren’t enough, Goddard is also an adjunct associate professor in Columbia University’s Earth and Environmental Sciences department. She teaches a class on the dynamics of climate variability and climate change to the students in the Masters in Climate and Society program each year.

“I make a big deal about climate variability in the class because most of the students and most of general public are very much focused on climate change. It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that the impact of variability in many places in the world dwarfs climate change, at least in the near term future,” says Goddard. “It is also how climate change will be experienced — through specific year-to-year events rather than as just a slowly unfolding monotonic trend. I feel compelled to make this part of the story understood — where it comes from, how we can predict it and how we interpret it in the face of a changing climate.”

There’s another benefit to teaching, Goddard adds. “It makes my job in climate prediction research easier if I know that [more and more] its interpretation and application will be guided by the quality students that come through our masters program. It is extremely worthwhile to be a part of that.”