Community Climate Charts help Northerners see changes

A web tool developed by SNAP helps residents of communities in Alaska and western Canada to see how global climate change could affect their regions.

A team at the Alaska Climate Adaptation Science Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks created the tool, which transforms predictions from global climate models into more detailed information about local conditions.

The team created the Community Climate Charts tool to help people see and interpret the data. The tool displays temperature and precipitation projections through 2100 under three scenarios for more than 4,000 communities in Alaska and western Canada. The scenarios are based on three different levels of greenhouse gas emissions linked to the burning of fossil fuels.

“We recognized that these global climate models by themselves cannot be used at face value. The raw output is not suitable for what many users or decision-makers want. That recognition was the motivator.”

John Walsh, Project Lead

Interactivity is a key feature

The tool can be customized. For instance, users can ask questions, such as “Which winter months may transition to above-freezing temperatures?” Season lengths can affect transportation, subsistence hunting and fishing, and other activities.

“You can get an output at the SNAP website for your community based on the work of thousands of people in the climate modeling enterprise around the world,” Walsh explained. “We’ve distilled all of these efforts down to tools that will get you the information you really want for your location.”

The tool uses data from a process called statistical downscaling, which transforms global climate models into models with finer resolution.

Researchers considered 30 global models and identified five that worked best for Alaska and the Arctic. They compared what the models said should have happened from 1958-2004 to actual historical data from that period.

“Since climate in Alaska varies considerably from year to year and decade to decade, we want to use the longest record possible. Averages for 50 or 100 years are more reliable than 10 or 20 years.”

Co-author Jeremy Littell, a climate center researcher with the USGS in Anchorage.

Climate model evaluation tool

The SNAP team also developed a tool for modelers and climate experts to better identify useful models. Of the roughly 30 global climate models to select from, each has strengths and weaknesses when considering different regions and variables.

“The community charts tool is something very useful that came out of this, but so is the companion tool that was created to help others in the research and modeling community to better identify accurate models to help their future projections.” said SNAP Operations Lead Tom Kurkowski.

Tom Kurkowski, SNAP Operations Lead

The researchers described their work in a recently published paper in the journal Environmental Modeling and Software.

tool screenshot
Screenshot of the web tool.

Related SNAP Work

Web Tool: