Fellow Highlight: Understanding Climate Projections: Guidance for Climate Change Adaptation Planning

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Example output generated from the Regional Climate Model (RegCM) developed by the International Center for Theoretical Physics (ICTP).

Learn about our new project led by NE CASC Postdoctoral Fellow, Alex Bryan.  Got a question about climate information?  Give Alex a call!

Climate change threatens our lands and seas, our wildlife, and our natural and cultural resources. To conserve our natural environment, managers rely on climate model projections to determine where to take action, what type of action to take, and how much action to apply. Ecologists and biologists depend on these projections to better understand how natural ecosystems will respond to the changing climate. A variety of climate models have been developed, and managers and environmental scientists often need guidance to determine the most likely future conditions and the range of possible alternatives. Alex Bryan, postdoctoral fellow and climate scientist for the NE CASC, provides such guidance to NE CASC stakeholders to help them better anticipate and prepare for future climate. As leader of the Evaluation of Downscaled Climate Modeling Techniques for the Northeast U.S. project, Alex investigates how the climate is changing with respect to our natural ecosystems and resources, assesses the predictability of those changes, and educates managers on those predictions. Additionally, Alex provides technical support for users of climate model data and guides potential users to data sets that best fit their needs.

Alex has had a long standing interest in applied climate science and, in particular, the link between climate and the environment. While earning a degree in meteorology from Valparaiso University, Alex studied air pollution as part of two NASA field campaigns. Both campaigns investigated natural sources of pollution, such as tropical convection and forest fires. Alex measured atmospheric profiles of ozone using balloon-borne ozone sensors as part of these campaigns. During one campaign, he observed ozone formation from lightning after one balloon became trapped in a storm cloud, inspiring his interest in the intersection between climate and environmental health.

Wanting to know more about naturally-occurring pollution, Alex pursued a graduate degree at the University of Michigan studying the role of forests in air quality and regional climate. Among his projects, Alex applied a downscaled regional climate model to the Great Lakes region to study how heavier rains after climate change might affect algal bloom formation in western Lake Erie (see top image). In addition to conducting and analyzing the climate simulations, he assisted with integrating the data into hydrologic and ecologic models. Through this work, Alex became interested in the utility of climate models beyond the study of atmospheric processes and toward real-world applications. In other words, he desired to make climate model data actionable.

With the NE CASC, Alex makes climate science actionable through his efforts to guide conservation planning. He assists on projects funded by the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCCs) and serves on technical teams for their landscape conservation design (LCD) efforts. He has presented on climate modeling techniques and model projections tailored for a range of audiences, from forest managers in West Virginia to research ecologists studying climate change impacts on moose in the North Woods. Currently, Alex is leading the development of a chapter on climate projections as part of a consortium-wide effort to integrate climate change into the State Wildlife Action Plans. Alex is also set to visit with tribes in Michigan to get to know their communities, learn about their connection with their environment, and share how climate change might impact their environment.

In his research, Alex continues to examine downscaled climate data, but with an eye to conserving our landscapes and wildlife in the face of climate change. He is engaged on a cross-CSC effort to assess the reliability of various types of climate models at capturing critical thresholds that threaten a species’ survival. In addition, Alex is investigating changes in the frequency, intensity, and duration of late-spring freezes and their timing relative to certain biological transitions (e.g., leaf-out, migration, and winter coat removal). Over his time with the Center, Alex hopes to examine changes in many other biologically-relevant climate indices in order to help guide conservation planners and managers.

Evaluation of Downscaled Climate Modeling Techniques for the Northeast U.S.​ project page >>

NE CASC Fellow Profile >>


Top image: Example output generated from the Regional Climate Model (RegCM) developed by the International Center for Theoretical Physics (ICTP).