Speaker Info

Michael Kolian
Environmental Scientist
United States Environmental Protection Agency

Email: Kolian.Michael@epa.gov


Michael Kolian is an Environmental Scientist at the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Climate Change Division, where he has worked for 16 years and specializes in climate change science and impacts.  He currently manages and authors EPA’s Climate Change Indicators in the United States report and is co-chair of the U.S. Global Change Research Program’s Interagency Indicator Working Group.  He has a Master of Science in Public Health from Tulane University’s School Public Health and Tropical Medicine.


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Seminar Abstract

EPA’s Office of Atmospheric Programs (OAP) compiles and publishes a set of key indicators related to the causes and effects of climate change into a peer-reviewed report entitled: Climate Change Indicators in the United States and as an online resource.  EPA partners with over 40 data contributors from various government agencies, academic institutions, and other organizations to gather these data and analyses.    

The primary purpose of this effort is to track and document climate change in the U.S., and to provide a tool to communicate to broad audiences, including policymakers and the public. The indicators in this report are designed to help readers understand observed long-term trends related to the causes and effects of climate change.  EPA leverages peer-reviewed and publicly available data to identify metrics and indicators that help characterize climate change in the US. EPA chooses its indicators using a standard set of criteria that includes data quality, transparency of analytical methods, ability to meaningfully communicate, and relevance to climate change.

EPA currently presents 37 indicators, each describing trends related to the causes and effects of climate change at multiple scales. They focus primarily on the U.S., but some present global trends to provide context or a basis for comparison, and others have a regional focus. EPA plans to continue to work in with other agencies, organizations, and individuals to collect and communicate useful data to more fully capture the range of impacts and effects associated with climate change.  


Seminar Transcript

>> Mike Kolian: Thanks. Thanks for having me. This is great, and it was actually great to hear a little bit of this morning's discussion. I might be a little bit distracted as I move through this, but I'll try to get through these slides pretty quickly. This is -- this will be high level sort of overview of EPA's indicators efforts as well as this new report that we just came out with. So we juste released a new -- it's not a new set but another version of this report, which has some new indicators in it and so that just happened August 2, so real fresh and everything's on the website now. So it's a little bit of that, but there's a lot of topics I think that will be relevant for folks here and thinking about indicators. Again, so we just released this report. This is a longstanding effort that we have. It seems ambitious here. We have four different editions here. But there's a lot of motivations behind this. This allows us to sort of keep fresh with the data, the most recent science and additional years of data to these indicators add dimension, depth, fill gaps indicator sets. So we keep publishing as part of the effort here. We'll go through some of the indicators that are new just this year and then preview a few indicators just as a way of how we put these together, where the data is coming from and then we'll just take a look at some of the resources that are available. So we can kind of think of the effort of having these three prongs. We're tracking, compiling, assembling, getting indicators in place and these are -- this is the report and indicators themselves -- there is a national focus here, although we do have global -- we're talking about climate change so there's a lot of global indicators and metrics to provide that context. So there's tracking. There's a publication component, and this is important. This is how we get it out there. This is usually -- the material is peer reviewed and put on to the website, and we're updating that website on the fly usually every six months to a year with new data and new information that comes available. And then the last component is in between sort of in the off season of putting this stuff together we're out there doing research, getting the word out, working with partners and trying to get additional indicators and getting the word out I think is really key, and it does consume a lot of time. Incidentally, the publication too consumes a lot of the resources and a lot of the effort. So taking that on -- don't forget about that. It is an important piece, especially if you're peer reviewing and going through all of those different steps. So about the report -- again, this is the fourth edition. It has 37 indicators now. The primary purpose here is to communicate the causes and effects of climate change. And so it is geared toward the public, but it's accessible to multiple audiences here. We partner with over 40 agencies and organizations mainly federal, but many others and so this is highlighting additional data. This topic sort of came up earlier. I think there is a win-win situation when you have an indicator set and people are contributing to it. You can point to it. Our work is going there. Our data is being used by EPA. So there is benefits to having an indicator set and having these organizations participate. It makes it credible. It makes it diverse. It is credible and vetted. It is consistent with the latest climate science assessment reports like the National Climate Assessment that USGCRP puts out. And again, we do discretionary peer review of the information in the report and all of the new indicators. So highlights. Here's just -- in the bottom right an indicator of the indicator's effort. Over time, we're just adding additional indicators and metrics each time around. There is a growing body of evidence that climate change is happening now in the U.S. and so really leveraging this information and highlighting it. One of the new features in this report is linking to climate -- human health. There is a recent USGCRP report on climate and health, a big national assessment. So we had the ability to say a lot more there, and it's one thing to just compile these indicators and people don't understand why this matters to me, but we're trying to make that connection and see -- inform people why this might matter, how it affects human health and who might be the most vulnerable. So -- and again, new partners and new indicators came along with this latest edition. This is just to give a bird's eye view -- this is sort of dated information, but it was important at least to say that we -- I think EPA could do a better job of tracking who is using this information, but it's -- we have an email box of people requesting the report and various things. And so we're just sort of compiling that information. A lot of educators use this. A lot of other government, local state governments are requesting this information. The general public is consuming it both on the web and the report. And so a variety of folks, and I think -- again, I think we could do a better job of just teasing this information out and really getting a handle on it, especially on the heels of this latest release. What makes a good indicator? This harkins back to Peter's discussion. Very, very similar criteria that we use, and this is how we describe -- or what governs, what makes it into the report or what makes a good indicator. There is a set of criteria that we document. Incidentally, it also helps with that documentation and the meta documentation. It's all about transparency and listing all of these pieces of information to your indicator, even if it's the most established, well established one out there. It still allows you to fill this information in. So these -- I wouldn't rank them necessarily. Some are a little bit subjective, but it allows you to work through these and ensure that all of the indicators possess this and have these characteristics. Here is the suite if you're looking at say the table of contents of the website. We bin them just logically into sort of these categories. We are trying to tell the climate change story. So we're including greenhouse gas information, emissions, atmosphere concentrations, climate forcing, all the way down to [inaudible] ranges, stream flow and ecosystem changes with the indicators there. So this is very -- just an easy way to sort of bend these. There's also -- anything in red is a new indicator this year. We have a few features where it's like a closer look into a regional area into a specific data set maybe in that area and sort of telling a bit of a story. So there are different kind of ways to feature these long term data sets. The box at the bottom there is just to indicate that section that talks about climate change and human health and making those connections. It's a little breather in the report that allows us to do that in the middle right before health and society. Just a few observed changes. CO2 continues to climb. We went over the 400 parts per million just recently, which is sort of a symbolic milestone there. And you can go all the way back 800,000 years in the record that we're documenting. Average temperatures -- we'll see temperature -- the temperature indicator in just a minute. But again, this is temperature sea level, coastal flooding, which is a new one. You probably heard about this one. I'll show this in just a minute. Arctic [inaudible] very -- pretty typical climate variables we would be tracking. Ragweed, pollen season. This is just sort of a health-related indicator showing the frost-free season expanding and therefore the ragweed pollen season expanding in sort of a northward direction. And we'll see that as well. So here is the U.S. and global temperature just to give you an example here. 2015 was the warmest year on record, and 2016 is tracking to be even warmer. But the last 30 years we've really seen a rapid increase in temperatures. We show the global version here, anomalies from a very long term baseline 1900 to present. Anything going up is an anomaly, a warmer year. Anything going down in blue is a colder year. The U.S., we have incidentally temperature we have the luxury of over 100 years of data and a pretty good data rich way in which we can show the U.S. temperature across a map like this. This is coming from NOAA, former NCDC data set -- or NCDC, a data set that they provide here. So this is temperatures. Sea level, you have to have sea level. And this is relative sea level. And we have much of the mid atlantic you see increasing sea level rise. This is, of course, in relation to land elevation, movement as well and so there is some variation along the west coast and Alaska where things are going down. But again, [inaudible] data from NOAA is 67 sites, cumulative rise over time in this time period, 60-70 years of data. Coastal flooding somewhat related to this. Also using the same [inaudible] data looking at a different threshold, and this is the nuisance level threshold, which you probably have heard about as well. Thisis a level in which there would be minor level flooding. It's usually a coastal advisory issued at this point. But there's -- here we're just looking at 27 long term [inaudible] gauges which have this defined threshold from the weather forecasting office, and the trends in the frequency of flooding from back in the 1950's to present. And when you compare the two, there's a dramatic increase in this minor flooding -- these flooding events per year. Some sites you would think would have more flooding do not. There's usually some armor of sea wall protection already in place so it's not as evident. But in other places, you did not have that. There's also health concerns when cities do flood. There's actually been quite a few issues with what to do with that water once it is. You have to pump it out. It's usually polluted. Where does it go? So there's some city planning and community planning aspects to this impact. Heating and cooling degree days. I'm just showing another just -- this is based on temperature data, but you can get the data at the state level, and you have sort of interactive maps showing this change over time. It, too, just like the temperature is very long term time record. Cooling degree days -- heating degree days going down. Cooling degree days going up. This is just based on threshold temperature of 65 degrees. West Nile Virus -- through this -- and this is sort of the health-related indicator and maybe a third take on the direct, indirect discussions that we were having this morning. With health outcome, epidemiological data, it is hard to sort of trace that back to climate changes, changes in climate. Plus we're working with a very short time record, 2002 to present. West Nile was first discovered or first reported rather in 2000. So we don't have a whole lot of data, but the science is pretty strong that mosquitoes, defectors, are influenced by climate, dry seasons, winter temperatures, drought will lead to outbreaks. So it's important to track this indicator even though we don't have a super strong signal to the climate variables, and this is sort of independently looking at just the cases of West Nile Virus. So it's -- we're making progress in this area. It represents one of those cases where if you're trying to -- an indicator detecting a climate change signal versus one that's related to climate change and may bear out in the future but yet we're tracking. This is that section on climate change and health sort of plotting the indicators along a pathway of climate impacts. It's important to track extreme temperatures. It's important to track sea level rise, hurricane and then there's an exposure of component and then there's the health outcome component. We have indicators in each of these areas. We could fill this out a little bit better, but it also helps the user, the people of this information, understand the connections here a little bit better. How it's going to change, effect human health? What indicators can tell us about human health and who specifically might be at risk? The stream temperature indicator, this is a new one this year. This came across Mark Bennett actually 1.5 year ago or something, and we started a collaboration with USGS to sort of get this information into the form of an indicator. So I worked with Karen Rice and John Jastrom [assumed spelling], and we put together sort of an operational set -- data set together to allow us to put this information out. And this is 55 years or so of data on stream temperature trends and throughout the Chesapeake Bay region. 90 -- I'm sorry 80 percent of the sites are so -- are seeing an increase. There's some variation across the north, but sort of a really good regional depiction of stream temperature where we just haven't had that information out there before. So this is a nice edition. Nice collaboration, partnership. Marine species distribution. This is also a new one. We were working with NOAA here at the fishery service. This is based on data from the bottom trial surveys they do off the continental shelf. And this is northeast. In the right, you're looking at the northeast, and the movement of species -- so they tag and identify these. This is sort of like the center of abundance for these species. We're seeing a change in latitude and a change in depth over time when you look across a composite of all these species from 1982 to 2015. Again, this is sort of a -- analogous to the bird [inaudible] ranges where you see a [inaudible] shift in these species over time. We can break these out individually and show it as sort of a composite indicator as well. And it's been really useful. I encourage you to go to Ocean Adapt. That is where the data is kept. And it's really easy to work with and use. But it's been a nice edition and good effort by NOAA to get this data available. Some of the resources that are out there again. The website comprises everything. We do a print report version. This is the third edition. We don't have the fourth edition quite yet, but it'll be something like this. And the website again -- you can download all the figures. You can get the data that went in to create those figures. You can get the technical documentation that sets up and describes as to how it was derived, where the data comes from, even links back to the original data. You can order copies and there's plenty of things to play with and open up [inaudible]. Some of the maps. So a lot of -- lot of information [inaudible] there. What are we thinking of and doing next? There's plenty. There's plenty out there, and I think one of the things we'll continue to do and still have ongoing is work on additional new indicators. We're continuing to expand the suite. How far do you go? How big do you get? It's sort of dependent on resources, but we're just going to keep adding. It is helpful to have partners making these data sets operational to just leverage and just fold in. Give them a call each year. Give us the updated data set and then we can add it. It's helpful to have that partnership. So facilitate the application of these indicators. Make sure people are understanding how they can be used, how they can set context, whether it's adaptation, any kind of planning that's going on. The report again -- it is nationally focused. We don't have any single constituency, but there is -- there's enough information in there, we think, that can be used at many different scales and again sort of set that foundational climate background. And then continuing to engage. Going to meetings like this has been great, and again, I appreciate being here this morning because there were so many things that came up that we went through, and I'd be happy to share some lessons learned about how we operate and came together. I think it was mainly -- build a core -- get a core set. Stand that up, and then you can build around it and then perhaps when you build it, people will come and help and add and you kind of go from there. But with that, I'll just stop there and happy to take questions or talk about anything that you'd like.

Seminar Discussion

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