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FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions about Climate Change Shapefiles

<-- Return to Climate Change Shapefiles

What is the data format available for download?

Currently the datasets can be downloaded in a GIS shapefile format.

What GIS software I can use to work with shapefiles?

Shapefiles are common GIS format that can be used in ESRI and other GIS software. Shapefiles can also be imported into other commercial and open source GIS software packages. Check here for free and open source GIS programs. You may also be interested in free GIS shapefiles.

What if I don't know anything about GIS and digital mapping?

There are many resources available to you. Begin here with an introduction to GIS. You can also learn more about GIS with our free Learn2map GIS Tutorial and Atlas.

What is the projection and datum of the data?

When you download a shapefile there is an associated projection file (.prj). The Climate Change Model is a Geographic Coordinate System on a perfect sphere with a radius of 6371.22 KM.

Does the climate model used to generate the shape files available from GISCCS portray El Nino/ENSO events?

The control run for 1997 does not appear to show the last major El Nino event. Climate models are not like weather forecast models. What you see in the model is correct from the modeling stand point. Years in the Control Run do not go together with calendar years, therefore the control run of the CCSM-3 does not project specific events at the exact time these events occur (like the 1997 El Nino). The CCSM control runs are designed to illustrate internal model variability, by having fixed external forcings. Projections may show warming of the sea surface but in a generic sense. It is more random and statistical representation of such events rather than actual. Therefore a specific event like an El Nino is in the model only in a statistical sense, not that one could look at sea surface temperatures for a specific time period and see a replication of an observed event. CCSM modelers may perform additional runs where they supply ocean observational data, which forces the system to incorporate interactions between ocean and atmosphere and pick out specific events like El Nino.

How good is the model's representation of the Earth's surface? Is it like a digital elevation model of a certain resolution, or more approximate than that?

Elevation is an input in the model, however, it is not a DEM, the values are derived from the US Navy 10 global topography dataset.

What are we going to gain (from the scientific point of view) by averaging all 5 ensemble numbers of the climate model? Would the result of averaging be that much different from using lets say, the number "5"? From what I understand, the ensemble numbers represent different initial conditions resulting in different simulations. Is that correct? If so, would it be acceptable to apply the one with the "average" set of initial conditions? Would number "5" be a good candidate?

An ensemble average is preferable to use for general analysis rather than a specific ensemble member, however, whether or not to use the ensemble average depends on the analysis being done. Climate models are statistical representations of the Earth's climate, and are not intended to replicate specific weather events, nor should they be used that way.

What is IPCC?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been established by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to assess scientific, technical and socio-economic information relevant for the understanding of climate change, its potential impacts and options for adaptation and mitigation. IPCC produces assessment and special reports on climate change and related topics. The 4th Assessment Report (AR4) on Climate Change was released in 2007 and is available through the IPCC web site. In late 2007, participants in all the IPCC assessments since 1990 shared in the Nobel Peace Prize. You can learn more about the IPCC and download the latest IPCC 4th Assessment reports.

What are scenarios and why are they used?

Future greenhouse gas emissions are the product of very complex dynamic systems, determined by driving forces such as demographic development, socio-economic development, and technological change. Their future evolution is highly uncertain. Scenarios are not specific predictions or forecasts of future climate. Rather, scenarios are plausible alternative futures. Each scenario is an example of what can happen under particular assumptions on use of fossil fuel and other human activities. Scenarios assist in climate modeling, help to examine potential climate change and explore vulnerabilities of humans and ecosystems under a changed climate. For more information, check this detailed explanation of IPCC scenarios.

What are UCAR, NCAR and UOP?

The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and UCAR Office of Programs (UOP) are part of a collaborative community dedicated to understanding the atmosphere and the interconnected processes that make up the Earth system, from the ocean floor to the Sun's core. The National Center for Atmospheric Research and the UCAR Office of Programs provide research, facilities, and services for the atmospheric and Earth sciences community. NCAR and UOP are managed by the nonprofit University Corporation for Atmospheric Research. To learn more about UCAR, NCAR and UOP visit UCAR's web site.

What is the NCAR GIS Initiative?

The NCAR GIS Initiative is an interdisciplinary effort to foster collaborative science, spatial data interoperability, and knowledge sharing with GIS. The main goal of the GIS Initiative is to promote and support the use of GIS as both an analysis, and an infrastructure tool in atmospheric research and to address broader issues of spatial data management, interoperability, and geoinformatics within the geosciences. Working in collaboration with other NCAR strategic initiatives, divisions, and UCAR programs, initiative supports variety of science projects at NCAR, improves compatibility of atmospheric data sets with GIS tools, and creates bridges between atmospheric, geo- and social sciences. In 2004, the GIS Initiative launched "GIS Climate Change Scenarios" project to serve a wide community of GIS users interested in global climate change.

What is NCAR's involvement in IPCC?

As one of the world?s leading climate modeling and research centers, NCAR is a strong supporter of the IPCC scientific assessment process. NCAR scientists have served as lead and contributing authors in each of the four full IPCC assessment reports (1990, 1995, 2001, and 2007) as well as a number of special reports and technical papers that have focused on more specific issues. NCAR climate modeling and process study research has contributed to the peer-reviewed scientific literature that forms the basis of the IPCC's work. 40 NCAR staff served as coordinating lead authors, lead authors, reviewers, or contributors on the 2007 IPCC reports, with additional staff providing technical support.

What is the CCSM?

The Community Climate System Model (CCSM) is a community-wide effort led by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and is a key component of the National Science Foundation program on Climate Modeling, Analysis and Prediction. Composed of four separate models simultaneously simulating the earth's atmosphere, ocean, land surface and sea-ice, and one central coupler component, the CCSM allows researchers to conduct fundamental research into the earth's past, present and future climate states. The most recent version, CCSM-3, was released in 2004. The CCSM project played a major role in the IPCC AR4 through the completion and analysis of an extensive series of emission scenario experiments.

What version of the CCSM was used to generate climate change projections for the IPCC AR4?

CCSM3.0, the most recent release of the global coupled climate model produced by the CCSM community, contains new model physics, supports new model resolutions, and has new run scripts. Numerous multi-century control runs were conducted with CCSM3.0 at low, medium, and high resolutions and are available to the general public for examination and analysis.

What are the CCSM components?

CCSM software is based on framework that divides the complete climate system into component models connected by a coupler. Individual components - ocean, atmosphere, land, and sea-ice - can be exchanged for alternate models, thus allowing different configurations appropriate for different applications.

What is downscaling?

Downscaling is the general name for a procedure to take information known at large scales to make predictions at local scales. Statistical downscaling is a two-step process consisting of i) the development of statistical relationships between local climate variables (e.g., surface air temperature and precipitation) and large-scale predictors (e.g., pressure fields), and ii) the application of such relationships to the output of Global Climate Model experiments to simulate local climate characteristics in the future.

What is the spatial resolution of downscaled CCSM-3 temperature and precipitation projections?

Spatial resolution of downscaled CCSM-3 projections of temperature and precipitation for the contiguous USA is approximately 4.5 km.

Where can I get climate change projections produced by other global climate models?

The IPCC Data Distribution Centre and Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison (PCMDI) provide IPCC multi-model data and documentation. All IPCC CCSM-3 experiments are also available in NetCDF format through the Earth System Grid data portal.

Where can I learn more about climate change impacts research?

Much of information about climate change impacts can be found in IPCC Working Group II Report on Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Download the latest IPCC 4th Assessment reports. Excerpted from: gisclimatechange.org

<-- Return to Climate Change Shapefiles

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