March 19, 2014
Serving up climate data in usable formats
NOAA and CIRES scientists, collaborators improve climate data access
When a city’s transportation infrastructure needs work, city planners can’t just look at yesterday’s traffic figures—they need to take into account long-term trends: How are driving patterns changing? Roads and mass transit projects last for decades, after all.
Likewise, planners are increasingly trying to take future weather patterns into account. “They’re often planning expenditures for things that will last 50 to100 years, and we know the climate will be changing in that 50 to 100 years,” said University of Michigan professor Richard Rood. “We’re trying to include that element of climate change in planning.”
With NOAA funding, Rood and colleagues, including lead developer Ben Koziol, a CIRES researcher in NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory, have built an open-source Python package, OpenClimateGIS, that aids users in the interpretation of climate data. OpenClimateGIS serves users already familiar with GIS systems, letting them work with data subsets for specific regions. A transportation expert, for example, can explore changes in freeze-thaw cycles, which might affect construction methods within her area.
Today, Rood and Koziol will attend the launch of the White House’s Climate Data Initiative. Their new software, still in development, is showing promise for serving many sectors, including stormwater planning (sewers get overwhelmed by intense rainfalls, which are on the rise in some areas) and emergency planning around dangerous heat waves (also on the rise in some areas).
“There are all these people working in forestry departments, ecologists, transportation people, water managers. They want to understand the impacts of climate on their work,” Rood said.
Rood said he was motivated to develop the GIS-based application because he found that students in a professional master’s-level course he taught couldn’t import climate data into the analysis systems that they relied on daily.
“They’d go to data archives climate scientists built, and either they couldn’t use the data or there was a high barrier to using it,” Rood said. “So they’d use old, outdated data.” His and Koziol’s work now allows GIS-based exploration of the latest climate data, such as outputs from the climate models used in the Climate Model Intercomparison Project (CMIP).
The package is customized to let planners explore data on the scales that matter to them—such as county-level, or municipality—and users can create “thresholds” that are important to them, not guessed at by scientists. In some parts of North Carolina, for example, planners worry about increasing frequency of heat waves. One of Rood and Koziol’s colleagues is using OpenClimateGIS to explore how two “downscaled” climate models project changing intensity and frequency of heat waves in two NC counties.
The software package is only one “product” of a suite of climate analysis tools planned by the broad community of climate scientists and developers that comprises the National Climate Predictions and Projections Platform. Another product in the works, ClimateTranslator, will let users explore climate data, using a graphical mapping interface, to better understand the impacts of climate on their systems and make more informed choices.
CIRES, the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, is a partnership of NOAA and the University of Colorado Boulder. OpenClimateGIS development is funded by the NOAA Climate Program Office, and collaborators include the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the University of Michigan and the U.S. Geological Survey.