Geographic Information System (GIS) Program
The Geographic Information System (GIS) program at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) is an interdisciplinary effort to foster collaborative science, spatial data interoperability, and knowledge sharing with GIS. Working toward the definition, standards and interoperability of atmospheric information for usable science, the GIS program is: 1) conducting research integrating the Earth system and social sciences through spatial analysis and interoperability of georeferenced information; 2) supporting the use of GIS as both an analysis, and an infrastructure tool in atmospheric research; 3) improving usable science and knowledge sharing between science groups, educators and stakeholders; and 4) addressing broader issues of spatial data management, interoperability, and geoinformatics within the geosciences. Research progress in integration of geographic and atmospheric information allows GIS staff to lead and participate in a variety of research projects at NCAR, where spatial analysis and accurate georeferenced data are critical to answering complex interdisciplinary questions. With more than one hundred GIS users in all NCAR laboratories, the projects range from atmospheric chemistry to societal impacts of climate change to homeland security.
Current research activities in the GIS program occur in three thematic areas:
- Integrating physical and social science data in GIS
- Improving spatial accuracy and usability of atmospheric models for terrestrial and societal applications,
- Conducting GIS-focused educational activities at the science-society interface.
Integrating physical and social science data in GIS
Integration of quantitative and qualitative data for spatial assessment of local level vulnerability and adaptive capacity to extreme heat
The study is focused on theoretical and methodological advancements for assessing local level vulnerability and adaptive capacity to extreme heat. A framework for assessing extreme heat vulnerability has been developed by Wilhelmi and Hayden (ERL, 2010). Results of the 2009 Phoenix survey have been presented in a research paper (Hayden, Brenkert-Smith and Wilhelmi, in review). Spatial and statistical analysis of social and ecological characteristics of the surveyed households In Phoenix, are currently underway.
Wilhelmi O.V. and Hayden M.H. (2010) Connecting people and place: a new framework for reducing urban vulnerability to extreme heat. Environ. Res. Lett. 5 014021. doi: 10.1088/1748-9326/5/1/014021
Hayden M.H., H. Brenkert-Smith, O.V. Wilhelmi, 2011. Differential Adaptive Capacity to Extreme Heat: A Phoenix, AZ Case Study. Weather, Climate and Society (in review)
System for Integrated Modeling of Metropolitan heat Risk (SIMMER)
This large, multi-disciplinary and multi-institutional project (Figure 1) addresses the critical need for information at regional to local scales that are pertinent to public health decision-making in the context of global change. The primary goals are to: 1) advance methodology for assessing current and future urban vulnerability from heat waves through integration of physical and social science models, research results, and NASA data; and 2) develop a System for Integrated Modeling of Metropolitan Extreme Heat Risk (SIMMER) for building local capacity for heat hazard mitigation and climate change adaptation in the public health sector.
The SIMMER model focuses on Houston, TX, however the methodology is intended to be transferrable to other urban centers. The robustness of the method and its transferability will be validated in Toronto, Canada. With the help of Canadian collaborators we will apply and validate the SIMMER model in assessing heat-related health risks and social vulnerability in Toronto. Involvement of public health sector stakeholders from Houston and Toronto ensures that relevant applications for the model in the context of climate change and human health are included.
Global assessment of urban heat island effect and future heat waves: GIS applications in urban climate modeling
Empirical studies and model simulations suggest increasing health risks associated with climate change and extreme heat events in cities across the world. Global simulations of present-day and future climates from NCAR’s Community Climate System Model, coupled with Community Land Model – Urban (CMLU) have been analyzed in a GIS with respect to the urban heat island effect and changes in extreme heat events. This project investigates spatial and temporal trends in future heat waves across the globe and examines potential impacts of combined effect of urban heat island and future heat waves on urban population. This project also involves development of methods for integrating climate model simulations with data on population projections, as well as geoprocessing techniques for working with the netCDF model outputs in a GIS. The goal of this analysis is to highlight potential changes in exposure of urban residents to extreme heat and the need for heat hazard mitigation and climate adaptation. A journal article is currently in preparation and will be submitted in early 2012.
Analysis of the UCRB water demand
With the goal to provide information useful for managing current drought risks and for adapting to changing climate, this project aims to fill the gaps in the knowledge about the variations in water demand patterns in the Upper Colorado River Basin (UCRB) in response to climate variability. Specific objectives of the project included: 1) assessing knowledge gaps in the UCRB water demand information at the local scale; 2) analyzing spatial and temporal patterns in water demand across the study domain; 3) examining topological relationships among water users and their respective sources; and 4) linking spatial (and non-spatial) information on water demand to water supply to assess potential impacts of drought on water users. A major component of this activity focused on development of a method and a set of tools for spatially modeling water demand with available data at spatial scales to support decision making. The study resulted in a geodatabase and a data model (i.e., NIDIS Water Demand data model) that provides a scalable, flexible approach for estimation of water demand. This data model also supports explicit topological relationships among water users and their respective source or sources of water supply. To ensure transferability, the geodatabase and automated geoprocessing tools for estimating water demand and highlighting vulnerable water users are currently being tested in other basins in the state of Colorado.
Improving spatial accuracy and usability of atmospheric models for terrestrial and societal applications
In 2011, the GIS program continued working to improve the spatial accuracy and usability of atmospheric models for terrestrial and societal applications. The GIS program researchers have been developing methods and tools to facilitate climate- and weather-related policy and decision making. Climate Change GIS data portal (http://www.gisclimatechange.org) provides GIS-compatible user access to CCSM AR4 global and the downscaled U.S. simulations. Over 4000 users from 137 countries have accessed the CCSM-3 climate predictions through the GIS data portal. With the focus on increased usability, the portal website has been redesigned in 2011. Climate change analysis products (e.g., seasonal and annual averages, climate anomalies) will be added for distribution through new GIS portal (v. 2.0) in early 2012. In our effort to make climate change data more useful and easily accessible, climate change anomalies and climatologies are being distributed as Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) web services. The distribution of data through these open protocols allows more flexibility in data retrieval and visualization. We are exploring the capabilities and limitations of using a THREDDS Data Server as the web server and Web Map Services (WMS) and Web Coverage Service (WCS) as the access protocols. Along with data distribution we are also exploring the appropriate metadata needed in order to comply with OGC and ISO metadata standards for data distribution and data discovery. Issues of uncertainty, data lineage, and statistical methodologies have all been explored in order to best explain the climate products to non-climate scientists.
To facilitate interdisciplinary research and decision-making on the scales of weather events, the GIS program ensured compatibility of WRF outputs, available in NetCDF format, with the GIS software. A successful pilot project led by J. Boehnert explored use of web services and web GIS technologies with regard to distribution of WRF model outputs in the context of societal impacts of weather. Methods of conversion between sphere-based models and ellipsoid-based data for GIS analysis have been tested, under the SIMMER research umbrella, to determine the full potential of the sphere-ellipsoidal shift and its impacts upon the output positional accuracy for numeric weather models as well as, the use of these models to determine impacts upon society, and infrastructure. The results will be presented at the Fall 2011 AGU conference, and in a research paper currently in preparation.
GIS education at the science – policy interface
In 2011, Wilhelmi, Boehnert and Hayden conducted an interdisciplinary, interactive training workshop focusing on the science of climate change, societal vulnerability and Geographic Information Systems (GIS). Workshop participants included faculty and students from Tribal Colleges. This training was part of the funded activity “Preparing Indian Country for Climate Change Through Technology, Education and Research”. The workshop included presentations, hands-on GIS exercises, and group discussions. The participants were introduced to climate change science, modeling and scientific uncertainty. They learned about climate impacts, vulnerability and adaptation. Workshop addressed top-down and bottom-up approaches to conducting integrated vulnerability assessments across geographic regions and economic sectors. Other efforts in GIS education and training included several NCAR-hosted workshops, including workshops on Climate and Health, RETI, and African Weather workshop.
Work will continue in the three focus areas described above. A new version of the climate change portal is expected to be released in FY12. We will continue making progress in developing research frameworks and spatial methods for integration of diverse, multidisciplinary datasets, which are both quantitative and qualitative and exist at different spatial and temporal scales. Ongoing, externally funded projects in this area of research are focused on extreme heat and human health, as well as on drought and water use. Previously developed educational materials that link GIS, climate science and societal vulnerability and adaptation will be adjusted for a variety of training programs and workshops, including workshops for the students and faculty from Tribal Colleges, HBSUs and HSIs. We will modify several training modules using open source GIS software (i.e., GRASS). Several papers are currently in preparation and are expected to be submitted for publication in 2012.