This image shows a simulated atmospheric river event impacting California. Image Courtesy of Paul Ullrich/UC Davis
A mid increasing demands for accurate climate projections, a new grant to the University of California, Davis, from the U.S. Department of Energy Regional and Global Climate Modeling Program aims to help make better use of regional climate datasets.

The grant will fund a three-year, multi-institution initiative led by UC Davis professors Paul Ullrich and Richard Grotjahn, called Project Hyperion. The project seeks to build a standardized procedure for assessing datasets that is inspired by stakeholder needs, explain why certain differences arise in regional climate modeling systems, and better understand human impacts on the climate system.

The project will allow the scientists to evaluate regional climate data and better understand which datasets provide the greatest value for assessing the regional impacts of climate change, particularly as it relates to water resources.

“Although we have absolute confidence in the large-scale signature of global climate change, observations at the local scale are less readily available and require us to use different strategies to make them relevant for regional decision makers,” Ullrich said. “We aim to be the Consumer Reports of regional climate data, providing expert guidance for adaptation planning over the coming decades.”

Bridging the gap in climate data

Stakeholders, policymakers and researchers increasingly have been demanding precise climate datasets at scales they can use to make decisions. There is particular interest in high-resolution projections incorporating extreme weather, droughts and floods.  

In response, the last several years have seen rapid growth in the number of regional climate datasets. But with little guidance on how to choose among them, chosen datasets are not always appropriate for the given problem. For instance, a strategy best suited for wind power may not work as well for streamflow.

Case studies of complex U.S. waterways

Project Hyperion plans to incorporate broad coverage of the continental U.S., along with four diverse case studies that include the Sacramento-San Joaquin watersheds, Colorado River headwaters, Susquehanna River and the Kissimmee River, where water management systems are complex and highly influenced by climatic variability.  

Regional climate datasets will be scored on how they represent an array of meteorological, hydrologic and anthropogenic features, including atmospheric rivers, mesoscale convective complexes, sea breeze, coastal storms, the North American monsoon, streamflow, flooding and water demand. Throughout the project, stakeholders from the case study regions will help inform the development of datasets and metrics that will be most useful to the broader community.

The scientific team includes researchers from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, National Center for Atmospheric Research, Climate Readiness Institute, Utah State University, Stony Brook University, University of Delaware, Penn State University and UCLA.