Gulf Coast residents woke up to something abnormal last Friday morning when snow fell from Houston to New Orleans and beyond. What a greater surprise that would have been had meteorologists not predicted this wintry mix in advance. But how far out can we predict such events? Earlier last week, I sat on a panel at the fall meeting of the Committee to Advise the U.S. Global Change Research Program that focused on subseasonal (two weeks to three months) to seasonal (three months to two years) weather predictions (or S2S). The importance of improved S2S forecasting is highlighted in the Weather Research and Forecasting Innovation Act signed into law earlier this year.
An interesting point raised during this meeting was that, as our Earth system prediction skill is growing in terms of accuracy and period, potential larger variation in the overall Earth system dynamics as ocean and atmospheric climates evolve may obviate our anticipated future advances in skill. If there are increases in the variability of overall Earth system dynamics as we understand and parameterize them, it may well become harder to predict the weather – using both deterministic and probabilistic methods at various time scales. This potential conundrum with respect to predictive capability only emphasizes the importance of ocean and atmospheric observing – now and in years to come. The sooner and more accurately that we can observe changes in overall variability patterns, the better chance we have to account for them in our Earth system prediction schemes that inform decisions and actions related to our safety and security.
The rare snow in New Orleans has melted and will quickly be forgotten by most in the coming days. But maybe some of the 24,000 Earth and space scientists that descend on the city for AGU’s fall meeting will consider that more abnormal weather and ocean conditions might just be an indication of increased overall geophysical variability and resulting uncertainty. That uncertainty can only be lessened by understanding change on multiple scales, which requires continued increases and improvements in our observational capacity, as well as the investments that make them possible.
COL will be at AGU at booth #1618 – PLEASE stop by and pass long your thoughts on this and any other ocean matters!
RADM Jonathan W. White, USN (ret.)
President and CEO
Consortium for Ocean Leadership
Amazing diversity hides beneath the surface of the ocean where tiny microbes work busily; transforming carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into oxygen, converting sunlight into energy, and breaking down nitrogen gas to serve as food. University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science researcher Victoria Coles and her team have developed a new tool that advances our understanding of how these microbes maintain this complex ocean chemistry.