Scripps climate researcher conducts fieldwork in the southern Sierra Nevada.
California Climate Change Center
The California Climate Change Center (CCCC), established in 2003, was the first major state-sponsored research institution in the United States devoted to climate change research. The center organizes core research activities at UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography and UC Berkeley and is complemented by efforts at other research institutions, including many UC campuses and laboratories.
The center uses science funded through the California Energy Commission’s Public Interest Energy Research (PIER) program to generate publicly accessible climate data, projections, and analyses for other state agencies, public works agencies, dam operators, utilities, and natural resource managers at all levels of government within California. PIER has funded a series of informative, regionally specific climate assessments and studies as well as ongoing field projects.
Pairing State and Federal Science Interests
PIER researchers are studying how aerosols and atmospheric phenomena affect hydropower generation, precipitation, water supply, and flood-generating weather systems in California in an effort called CalWater. The project, which includes Scripps atmospheric chemistry researcher Kim Prather among its principal investigators, is a collaboration of the California Energy Commission with NOAA, the U.S. Geological Survey and other federal agencies.
Bringing Research to Stakeholders
Scripps climate researcher David Pierce and colleagues at Scripps, Santa Clara University, UC Berkeley, and UC Santa Cruz create probabilistic estimates of future temperature and precipitation changes over California. These changes could affect electrical energy demand, water supplies, temperature-sensitive crops, and increase the prevalence of damaging pests. The report includes analysis of daytime maximum temperatures on a scale fine enough to aid preparation even at local levels for peak energy demand during heatwaves. Like most CCCC researchers, Pierce has presented this research to numerous civic organizations, press clubs, and citizens’ groups as a means of bringing PIER-funded science directly to the public. CCCC researchers have also provided advice at strategy sessions of key organizations including the Western States Water Council, the Delta Stewardship Council, the federal Climate Change and Water Working Group, and the National Hydrologic Warming Council.
CCCC climate researchers have produced a series of studies that demonstrate conclusively that snowpack, streamflow, and temperature in California and the western United States have undergone significant changes in recent decades beyond what would be expected from natural climate variability. Scripps scientists Mike Dettinger, David Pierce, Tapash Das, Mary Tyree, Sam Iacobellis, and Dan Cayan are extending this work to investigate how these changes have unfolded over sensitive zones such as the complex mountainous landscape of California. The signal will orient concerns about which western watersheds, including those in the Sierra Nevada and the Colorado basin, are most sensitive and where resources for future monitoring and modeling should be placed.
Extreme Heat in the West
An analysis led by CCCC researcher Alexander Gershunov found that humid heatwaves are becoming more common in a changing climate regime. Amid a series of historical heatwaves, the study examined an unprecedented deadly heatwave that lasted from mid July to early August 2006 throughout California and elsewhere in the southwestern United States. The scientists found that heat waves in the region often fall into either of two types: the typical “daytime” events characterized by dry daytime heat and rejuvenating nighttime cooling, or the less typical “nighttime” heat waves characterized additionally by high humidity and hot muggy nights. Heatwaves can have serious impacts on California’s electrical load. Moreover, they produce dangerous public health consequences, causing a variety of added stresses on the body. Investigation of the mechanisms driving this regional anomaly indicates that the trend towards more frequent and larger-scale muggy heat waves may likely continue in the region as climate change evolves in coming decades.
Science for California's Benefit
The CCCC is tasked with producing climate information that would help the state manage its energy and water resources, wildfire hazards, vulnerability to sea-level rise, and public health. The center, including Dan Cayan as a co-author, has addressed this charge through biennial science reports on the potential impact of climate change on the California economy. Center research has informed legislation curbing greenhouse gas emissions and is being used to assess the future management of the state’s water and energy resources, wildfire hazards, sea-level rise vulnerability, and public health. The team’s second report released in 2009 included new assessments of warming impacts, precipitation changes, and sea-level rise that would affect energy and other sectors as well as land-use changes and demographic shifts and the possible economic consequences of these potential changes. A new assessment of vulnerability and climate adaptation is underway.
A Winning Partnership
The broad scope and effectiveness of the PIER climate change program is well-known nationally and internationally. PIER has been vital in propelling California’s progress, and demonstrates why the state is a leader in in climate change vulnerability and adaptation planning for climate change, ahead of other states and other countries.