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Responses to Climate Change Program

The Responses to Climate Change (RCC) Program recognizes that USACE and its partners have reached a "tipping point" where we now have a sufficient understanding of climate change processes to apply adaptation measures at a local to regional scale. Building on existing science and knowledge, the Responses to Climate Change Program is developing methods, policies and processes for effective adaptation of our projects, systems and programs to climate change. We must also develop methods, policies and processes to assess the effectiveness of climate change adaptation. We anticipate that assessment will include an evaluation of how well alternative adaptation measures improve system flexibility to perform well over a wide range of future scenarios.

The Program will provide immediate knowledge transfer to the FY11-20 Reducing Civil Works Vulnerability Program which addresses different classes of projects (e.g., of authorized but not yet constructed), additional classes of change (e.g., demographic, social values, land use, political values), and climate change mitigation. The RCC will also identify knowledge and technology gaps to guide research and development activities, and will transfer knowledge and technology to other USACE programs. RCC Program team members will remain actively engaged with global climate change discussions and investigations inside and outside the USACE as they begin to implement adaptation projects. RCC Program demonstration projects will allow USACE to start the process of adaptation while continuing to test and refine analyses supporting climate change adaptation.

Team Identification

The RCC Program Management Team is headed by Drs. Rolf Olsen and Kate White of the USACE Institute for Water Resources. They will bring a broad corporate and interagency overview to the program due to their participation in numerous interagency climate change activities such as the publication of the interagency report "Climate change and water resources management: A federal perspective"  (Brekke et al. 2009) (U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), USACE, Bureau of Reclamation) and the Climate Change and Water Working Group (Bureau of Reclamation et al., in review). In addition, Dr. Olsen represents USACE on the Water Resources Working Group, one of five interagency working groups established by the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) to develop a national strategy for adapting to climate change. Dr. Kate White represents the USACE on the Agency Adaptation Process Working Group. The other working groups are Adaptation Science Inputs for Policy (Dr. Gene Stakhiv), International Resilience Efforts (Dr. Will Logan), and Insurance.

The RCC will include a core team of advisors with specific objectives and deliverables. A program support team will provide reporting, communications, financial and technical support. Advisors will include experts from other agencies, academia, non-governmental organizations and the private sector. Advisors will be selected based on their expert knowledge of climate change science and climate change adaptation experience.

Each team consists of a wide cross-section of USACE personnel, including subject matter experts and other execution staff from USACE districts, divisions, IWR, Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC), other Federal agencies, universities, and other stakeholders. Team members will include water managers, planners, regulators, engineers, economists, operators and environmental specialists, as well as subject matter experts in climate change, climate change adaptation and mission areas which will be impacted by climate change. Team members will be selected by the RCC Program Management Team Leads based on the knowledge, skills and abilities required to complete the planned work.

Brief Description of Projects

  1. Regional Climate Impact Assessments: Regional climate impact assessments have been developed from a number of different sources for a variety of audiences. USACE requires regional assessments tailored to our specific missions to address issues of critical interest to USACE and its stakeholders. Bureau of Reclamation has completed a literature synthesis of climate impacts from a water resources manager's perspective for the 17 western states. This was followed in 2011 by the SECURE Water Act Section 9503(c) - Reclamation Climate Change and Water 2011 report, which assesses climate change risks and how these risks could impact water operations, hydropower, flood control, and fish and wildlife across eight major Reclamation river basins.The RCC team will compile existing information to develop regional climate impact assessments for Alaska, the Pacific Islands, eastern regions and the Caribbean Basin. These regional assessments will be a cornerstone of policy, processes, methods and technologies used in the adaptation framework, pilots and demonstrations.

  2. Adaptation Challenges and Opportunities: Climate change brings with it both challenges and opportunities. The primary goal of this team will be to identify climate change adaptation opportunities. The state of the science and engineering of climate change adaptation related to USACE missions will be compiled based on the experiences of others, both nationally and internationally. This information will be provided as guidance and updated based on the results of the vulnerability assessments (see next paragraph) and information developed by other teams.

  3. Vulnerability Assessments and Reporting: Conducting vulnerability assessments of USACE projects to climate change impacts is a foundation of this program. The results of the vulnerability assessments will assist in prioritizing further actions, and will feed information to the other teams. A peer-reviewed vulnerability assessment methodology will be developed based on input from the other teams and applied to pilot projects in river basins, coastal regions and ecosystem projects. The lessons learned will be used to improve the vulnerability assessment methods and develop the adaptation performance evaluation method.

  4. Climate Change Adaptation Communication: Both the IPCC and the US GCRP have emphasized the need for carefully developed, timely and effective communication of climate change information. This is especially important in the development and implementation of Federally-sponsored climate change adaptation projects. Therefore, a sophisticated communications plan that relies on social science advances and innovations in risk communication will also be a foundation not only for policies and processes, but for actual adaptation implementation. The communications plan will require both internal and external educational components in a wide range of venues. This team will include members of all other teams to allow for rapid transfer of knowledge between them.

  5. Sea-Level Change Adaptation: Sea-level change has been the focus of intense interest by the U.S. water resources science agencies (NOAA and USGS), along with other agencies contributing to the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP, 2009). The IPCC, particularly working groups 1 (Physical Science) and 2 (Impacts and Adaptation), have expended considerable effort researching sea-level change. Finally, agency reports and peer review literature have on the order of 10,000 citations in the area of sea-level change (or sea-level rise). This team is relying on the extensive existing science and its relation to adaptation activities. For example the USACE recently released guidance on how to incorporate sea-level change in Civil Works projects (Engineering Circular (EC) 1165-2-211, 1 July 2009). This EC will be updated before July 2011 with new information, and will then be incorporated in an Engineer Manual (EM). An interagency team will develop accompanying guidance on impacts and responses, to include updates to the Planning Guidance Notebook. An existing probabilistic tool used to assess vulnerability of non-developed natural coastlines or beach protection projects (Beachfx) will be updated for use with the new sea-level guidance. Assessment of coastal vulnerabilities will be supported by phased improvement of an existing USGS coastal vulnerabilities tool to include variables and parameters specifically developed for USACE projects.  The USACE Coastal Working Group and interagency experts, along with other national and international subject matter experts, will assist in developing the coastal vulnerability parameters tool improvements. The tool will be applied in demonstration projects at each phase to test its application. Lessons learned will be incorporated in policies, processes, methods and the final tool.  This team will work closely with the Coastal Storm Adaptation team to speed knowledge transfer between these closely related activities. The results will be incorporated into a Climate Change Engineer Manual.

  6. Coastal Storm Adaptation: There is less knowledge and less consensus of opinion about climate change impacts on coastal storms compared to sea-level change. Nevertheless, the USACE has many projects vulnerable to coastal storms as well as sea-level change and must take action in the face of uncertainty. It is not possible to eliminate uncertainties, and new knowledge may contribute to increasing, rather than decreasing, uncertainties. With this in mind, Brekke et al. (2009) recognize that “A robust decision criterion supports selection of plans that will perform well over a wide range of possible future scenarios, although uncertainties will remain no matter how future scenarios are generated.” At this time, we must be robust to the two science opinions: that there is and will be a trend to increasing frequency, intensity, or source location (affecting tracking) or coastal storms, or there is not. Just as EC 1165-2-211 requires three scenarios in sea-level change based on different assumptions, USACE can also require that projects consider stationary and nonstationary coastal storms. Dessai et al. (2009) point out that one can “evaluate alternative responses to climate change, without necessarily relying on accurate predictions as a key step in the assessment process.” This team will compile an interagency report on coastal storm science, which will drive a climate change and coastal storms design gap analysis. The results will be used to develop costal storm vulnerability assessment methods. Critical variables and parameters will be incorporated in the coastal vulnerabilities tool described by the Sea-Level Change Adaptation team. This team will work closely with the Sea-Level Change Adaptation team to speed knowledge transfer between these closely related activities. The results will be incorporated into a Climate Change Engineer Manual.

  7. Hydrology to Support Adaptation: Managing hydrologic extremes due to climate variability is an essential mission of water management agencies. Climate change requires water resources managers to move from an equilibrium - or stationary - paradigm to one of constant evolution that recognizes the dynamic nature of physical and socioeconomic processes.
    USACE must ensure that its systems and projects will remain adaptable and sustainable over time even if the frequency and severity of extreme hydrologic events may change. Hydrological tools and methods supporting climate change adaptation planning and implementation is a major focus of Brekke et al. (2009) and subsequent discussions by the interagency Climate Change and Water Working Group (Bureau of Reclamation et al., in review). The team will develop processes, methods and guidance for hydrology used in climate change impact assessments and adaptation planning and design.
    Initial focus will be on hydrological methods for nonstationary cases, evaluation of evapotranspiration impacts to water management and sedimentation impacts due to climate change. This team supported a January 2010 interagency and international expert workshop supported by the IPET/HPDC Lessons Learned Implementation Team (formerly Actions For Change Theme 1). The workshop, "Nonstationarity, Hydrologic Frequency Analysis, and Water Management" addressed whether assumptions of stationarity are valid, use of different statistical models in nonstationarity conditions, trend analyses, how to use the output from global climate models (GCM), and how to treat uncertainty in planning, design, and operations. A second interagency expert workshop is planned for August 2010 on "Assessing a Portfolio of Approaches for Producing Climate Change Information to Support Adaptation Decisions."

  8. Snow, Glacial and Ice impacts and Adaptation: Significant climate change has been observed in the cryosphere, particularly in snow-dominated watersheds in the western U.S. and Pacific Northwest (Brekke et al 2009, Karl et al. 2009). Changing coastal, glacial, ice and permafrost conditions in Alaska are well documented (ACIA, 2004). Lake and river ice impacts due to climate change in the continental U.S., though less well documented, are also impacting USACE operations. This team will compile existing literature on sea-ice coastal vulnerabilities, changing glacial conditions, altered river and lake ice regimes and climate impacts to snowmelt in the context of USACE operations. The initial effort will evaluate changes in river ice regimes with respect to published USGS statistical analyses of river ice cover in the context of USACE operations and emergency management. This information will be provided in the form of processes, methods and guidance, including the Climate Change Engineer Manual, and will provide input to other teams.

  9. Water Management Adaptation: Water management has always been faced with hydrologic extremes caused by climate variability. Climate change is one of many dynamic processes affecting water resources, and there is mounting evidence that these changes are increasing the vulnerability of the Nation’s water resources.  Water managers must adapt to changing conditions and requirements, while also balancing multiple, competing uses for water among a diverse group of stakeholders. This team will treat water management holistically through a gap analysis that builds on an interagency effort by USACE, Bureau of Reclamation, USGS, and NOAA. An implementation plan for filling gaps will be developed. Activities appropriate within this program will be scheduled and completed, while those of an interagency nature or better suited to others will be passed along. A preliminary report on flexibility in water management prepared under the aegis of the IPET/HPDC Lessons Learned Implementation Team will be updated and published. Training for water managers will be developed and provided where necessary. The water management strategic plan will be finalized and implemented. The results of this team will be provided in the form of processes, methods and guidance, and will provide input to other teams.

  10. Regulatory Aspects of Climate Change and Adaptation : The USACE regulatory program has special requirements for consistency with other regulating agencies and thus will entail a focused effort by interdisciplinary USACE and interagency specialists. This team will address sea-level change and coastal and inland wetland issues from the regulatory perspective. A supporting framework for regulatory actions impacted by climate change will be developed to assist both decision makers and permit applicants. The framework will include tools to visualize climate change impacts and vulnerabilities, building on the vulnerability assessments and the results of the Sea-Level Change Adaptation, Coastal Storm Adaptation, Hydrology Adaptation, and Ecosystem Adaptation teams. Other expected outcomes include workshops for regulators and educational materials for the general public.

  11. Ecosystem Adaptation: Like coastal storms, there is less consensus of opinion about climate change impacts on ecosystems compared to other USACE mission areas, and the depth of investigation and knowledge of impacts and adaptation varies for different aspects of ecosystems. However, the U.S. water resources science agencies (NOAA and USGS), along with other agencies contributing to the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) have researched ecosystem climate impacts and responses in sufficient depth to begin adaptation activities. This team will compile an interagency report on ecosystem-related climate impacts and responses, which will drive a climate change and ecosystem gap analysis pertinent to USACE projects and regulatory actions. The results will be used to develop and test a framework for ecosystem climate vulnerability assessment, including policy, processes and methods. Critical variables and parameters for coastal ecosystems will be incorporated in the coastal vulnerabilities tool described by the Sea-Level Change Adaptation team. Critical variables and parameters for riverine ecosystems and those with significant cryospheric components will be incorporated in the vulnerability analyses conducted by the Hydrology Adaptation and Snow, Glacial and Ice impacts and Adaptation teams. This team will work closely with other teams to speed knowledge transfer between these closely related activities. Guidance in the form of an ecosystem climate impacts and responses ETL will be produced and will be incorporated into the Climate Change Engineer Manual and other policies and regulations as appropriate.

  12. Adaptation Implementation Framework: Our current understanding of climate change together with other global changes indicates that virtually all of USACE’s infrastructure investment will require adaptation. Some of these methods can be developed together with other agencies facing similar issues in similar mission areas (e.g., Bureau of Reclamation for hydropower and water supply). Other methods will be informed by advances driven by other agency’s missions. No single agency will be able to cope effectively with climate change. The USACE believes that a coordinated Federal approach is necessary and has taken steps toward that end with the Climate Change and Water Working Group which is focusing initially on knowledge, capabilities, and needs – including policies – for planning studies supporting adaptation engineering design and operations. USACE is also participating in four of five Council on Environmental Quality interagency working groups to develop a national strategy for adapting to climate change. This interdisciplinary team will continue external collaboration to assist in developing a strategic plan for climate change adaptation designed for USACE missions. Innovative economic, sociological and technological solutions will be required to meet the challenges of effective climate change adaptation. The use of a multiple scenario approach to ensure robustness and resilience of USACE assets in the face of climate change will require the development of guidance for the use of multiple scenarios. An adaptation framework built on the results of the policy, process and technical teams will assist in prioritizing vulnerable assets. The adaptation implementation framework will be developed, tested and improved through an iterative process that incorporates new knowledge gained through pilots and demonstrations.

  13. Greenhouse Gas Accounting: Adaptation to climate change includes a special category: adaptation to climate change mitigation activities. The release of Executive Order 13514 (Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance) in October 2009 requires Federal agencies to account for their greenhouse gas emissions in a comprehensive manner, set long-term targets for emissions reductions, and other related activities. It is clear that emissions reductions will impact project planning and construction as well as operations. USACE projects and programs must adapt to meeting these emissions targets. This team will develop a holistic approach to carbon budgeting, using both top-down and bottom-up accounting methods, automating them where possible, and developing a greenhouse gas wedge analysis. The accounting will build on existing efforts performed for the Army by the USACE ERDC-CERL and the Army Environmental Center and will be automated as much as possible to obtain data from existing USACE databases. The wedge analysis will assist reduction prioritization through improvements to multi-criteria decision-making already used in USACE planning.

  14. Pilots and Demonstrations: Climate change adaptation is urgently needed, particularly for infrastructure and missions with a public safety component. USACE is serious about planning and implementing climate change adaptation. Our senior leadership has and will continue to stress the importance of meeting the challenges to water resources management posed by climate change – and the opportunities as well. We understand that effective climate adaptation and mitigation must be integrated throughout the project life-cycle, and we intend to develop the policies, methods and technologies to do so.  We must anticipate surprise and unexpected events, both natural and socioeconomic, and be able to respond effectively in a timely manner. Pilot tests and demonstration of adaptation processes, methods and technologies will allow us to explore the intended and unintended consequences of our adaptation strategies and are a foundation of this program. Our initial program includes two pilots addressing climate change impacts to river sedimentation, to be conducted in coordination with two projects underway by Bureau of Reclamation in different parts of the same basins.



Reviewed 20 June 2016

Photo of mangrove roots on the coast

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