Climate Change and Extreme Events Research Showcased at American Geophysical Union Meeting

By Dr. Michael Hiscock

Satellite image of large storm approaching the eastern United States

“Sandy” approaches the U.S. east coast, October 28, 2012. NASA Earth Observatory image by Robert Simmon with data courtesy of the NASA/NOAA GOES Project Science team.


Derechos. Blizzards. Polar vortexes. Superstorms. Whatever you call them, you’re probably aware of the extreme weather events that have occurred with increasing frequency the past few years. What you may not be aware of is their complicated relationship with climate change, air and water quality.

Although science will probably never be able to pinpoint the specific cause of any extreme weather event, there is rising evidence that human-caused climate change is increasing the probability of future such events. This will have astounding societal and environmental impacts, as climatic and meteorological extremes can affect the hydrologic and atmospheric processes that in turn impact water availability, and water and air quality for people around the world.

This week, at the American Geophysical Union’s (AGU) Fall Meeting, I had the pleasure of convening a technical session focused on the complex interaction between climate change, extreme events, air and water quality. The session, Extreme Events and Climate Change: Impacts on Environment and Resources, was the largest global environmental change session at the meeting, and featured scientists and research teams from 20 different countries. Over two days, we saw more than 70 presentations on how climatic and meteorological extremes have changed and what their impact on resources and the environment will be.

In 2011, EPA released its first grant solicitation (“Request for Applications,” or RFA) to support research exploring the topic of extreme events and climate change. The request, Extreme Event Impacts on Air Quality and Water Quality with a Changing Global Climate, sought research proposals designed to provide the information and capacity needed to adequately prepare for climate-induced changes in extreme events, in the context of air and water quality management. We were looking to support research institutions that demonstrated the ability to develop assessments, tools and techniques, and demonstrate innovative technologies to achieve that.

The 14 institutions we supported, all of which presented at the above mentioned session, are currently seeking to better understand extreme events and establishing ways for climate scientists, impact assessment modelers, air and water quality managers, and other stakeholders to co-produce information necessary to inform sound policy in relation to extreme events and their impact on air and water quality within a changing climate.

The session provided an international networking event for top researchers to showcase their results: to better understand how local and regional extreme events will change in the future; to identify the impacts of extreme events on local and regional
water and air quality; and finally, how to disseminate the information effectively to stakeholders. Collaboration opportunities like this one will lead to comprehensive analyses of extreme events to better form sound policy for preserving and improving air and water quality and protecting human health for generations to come.

About the Author: Dr. Michael Hiscock is a project officer in the Applied Science Division at EPA’s National Center for Environmental Research. He supports scientists and engineers through the Science to Achieve Results (STAR) grants program to improve the scientific basis for decisions on air, climate, water and energy issues.

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