Northwest Fisheries Science Center

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Document Type: Journal Article
Center: NWFSC
Document ID: 4488
Title: Choosing and Using Climate Change Scenarios for Ecological Impacts Assessments
Author: Amy Snover, Nathan Mantua, Jeremy S. Littell, Michael A. Alexander, Michelle M. McClure
Publication Year: 2013
Journal: Conservation Biology
Volume: 27
Issue: 6
Pages: 1147-1157
DOI: 10.1111/cobi.12163
Keywords: climate change,uncertainty,impacts assessment,climate change,freshwater,marine,risk assessment,threatened species

Increased concern over climate change and its implications for human and natural systems is demonstrated by the many efforts to assess climate impacts and develop adaptation strategies.  Scientists, resource managers and decision makers are increasingly expected to use climate information in assessment and planning, but struggle with the uncertainty associated with this information. We identify and debunk a number of common myths and misperceptions about the real and potential ability of climate – and climate impacts – scientists to predict future conditions relevant to ecological systems. We argue that uncertainty in future climate scenarios, frequently cited as a major hurdle for linking climate information to decision-­making, need not stall efforts to evaluate climate-­related vulnerabilities and carry out impacts assessments. We propose a hybrid approach to climate impacts assessment that begins with an assessment of the climate sensitivity of the biological system of interest, examines how variability in local climate drivers relates to larger scale climatic processes, and uses characteristics of the associated decision context to guide the choice of climate scenario(s) considered in the ultimate (top-­down) impacts assessment. In this approach analysts can identify a subset of future climate scenarios that characterize what is currently known about potential future climate outcomes in a way appropriate for the specific system and decision context. 

Theme: Ecosystem Approach to Management for the California Current Large Marine Ecosystem
Foci: Characterize linkages between climatic conditions and biotic responses.