Conveying Climate Change and Variability

Project ID: 3533
Principal Investigator: Deena Larsen
Research Topic: Water Resource Data Analysis
Priority Area Assignments: 2015 (Climate Change and Variability Research)
Funded Fiscal Years: 2015
Keywords: climate, editing, analysis, reporting, plain language

Research Question

Climate change and variability is a sensitive and complex topic. It is difficult to convey the science and analyses to
a lay audiences such as stakeholders and decisionmakers. Yet this audience needs to understand the basic terms,
assumptions, science, and analytical processes involved in climate change and variability. If lay people do not
understand climate forecasts and modeling analyses, they can not take informed and balanced actions.
Understanding the most effective way to communicate climate change and variability "basics" could provide a
foundation for Reclamation's reports. Moreover, providing common definitions or explanations of common
elements (e.g., global climate modeling, downscaling, CMIP3 and CMIP5 projections, climate change scenarios
used in projections)that report authors can use could help clearly and consistently communicate results of
research and analyses. Climate change analyses constantly evolve, and thus we need to develop communication
strategies for future research, analyses, and planning.
This scoping research seeks to answer:
* What are the issues involved in communicating complex climate analyses and results to a wide variety of
* Are there areas where "plug in and adapt" definitions and explanations, and graphics would aid in developing
Reclamation reports? What portions of Reclamation's research, analysis, and planning documents could benefit
from a "library" of common terms and explanations?
* What are some good definitions, explanations, and graphics that others use and have these been effective in
conveying the complex concepts behind climate change and variability science and analysis?
*Who can we partner with to develop and use scientifically sound language which is still understandable to a lay
*What are ways that we can develop and present standard language so that climate analysts, other analysts,
planners, etc. would be able to use effectively?

Need and Benefit

This scoping effort to identify areas where consistent and clear language and graphics for common research
elements could be developed will have benefits on its own:
1. Help Reclamation's and partners' climate change analysts and other analysts know about and use existing
resources more effectively
2. Identify areas where further communication about climate change analyses methods and results could help
Reclamation plan and adapt more effectively
3. Identify and network with potential partners
If this scoping-level analysis finds that there are no areas to address--or no way to address these, that
information will also be valuable, as it could help:
1. Ensure that all involved in a study are aware of the need to clearly explain the analysis on a study-by-study
2. Plan and estimate writing and communication efforts on each climate change project to address the need to
bridge the understanding gap on a study-by-study basis
If this analysis finds that there are areas to address and there are potential partners, then recommendations
could be made for a further study that would help develop language and graphics that could serve as foundations
for studies and analyses. This would:
1. Help strengthen Reclamation's partnerships
2. Save researchers', planners', and analysts' time by not requiring them to reinvent explanations of basic concepts
and definitions
3. Showcase consistent methods of analysis
This effort will help inform a future research effort to produce narrative and graphic tools to explain complex
climate science analysis and results to a lay audience (e.g., stakeholders, decisionmakers, and other non-climate
change analysts such as hydrologists, biologists, and economists). A wide variety of communication vehicles
might benefit from these tools, including:
* Environmental compliance efforts (e.g., NEPA, CERCLA, Section 404, ESA and FWS coordination) that require a
climate change impact analysis as part of an overall decision analysis
* WaterSMART efforts (e.g., Basin studies and Westwide climate analyses) that examine water supply and demand
* Climate change research efforts (e.g., Science and Technology Program and CCAWWG)that need to summarize
research results for a lay audience
Jim Prairie (planner, Western Colorado Area Office)"When working with stakeholders, we have found that clearly
communicating the analysis and research is critical to avoid conflicts and come to agreements. Clear and
thoughtful understanding of these complex issues allows stakeholders to go back to their principals and convey
this information accurately. This helps decisionmakers in their processes, as they are typically not climate
Created on 06-26-2014 at 03:20:05 PM Page 2
Original Proposal Submitted in 2014
Conveying Climate Change and Variability experts."
Victoria Bahls (climate change analyst, TSC) "Sections explaining climate change should introduce terminology and
analytical processes and should be easy to understand in plain language."
Katharine Dahm (policy analyst, Office of Policy) "For people in Reclamation who are not familiar with climate
change data and tools that are available, a set of basic explanations and standard graphics for Reclamation to use
would be extremely helpful. "

Contributing Partners

Contact the Principal Investigator for information about partners.

Research Products

Bureau of Reclamation Review

The following documents were reviewed by experts in fields relating to this project's study and findings. The results were determined to be achieved using valid means.

Conveying Climate Change and Variability (final, PDF, 773KB)
By Deena Larsen
Publication completed on September 30, 2015

Climate change analyses and results may incorporate concepts that are difficult to convey to various audiences. This Science and Technology Program scoping project interviewed over 60 people to identify communication needs and determine potential solutions to meet those needs. This project was coordinated with Reclamation's Office of Policy to formulate a Climate Change Communication Toolbox to address some of these needs. This report summarizes interview responses as a foundation for further research and coordination for effective climate change communication.

The following documents were not reviewed. Statements made in these documents are those of the authors. The findings have not been verified.

Making It Easier to Talk About Climate Change (final, PDF, 1.2MB)
By Deena Larsen
Publication completed on September 30, 2016

This bulletin summarizes the research results and potential application to Reclamation's mission.

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Last Updated: 6/22/20