Statistics, climate research and applications

International Convention Center, Jeju

Between 24th and 28th June, an international meeting on statistical climatology (IMSC) was held in Jeju Island, Republic of Korea. The meeting is one of the largest in the field and is held every third year. Well over 200 researchers participated, including three from the Division of Atmospheric Sciences. The research field itself is very wide, covering several climate research topics which involve the use of statistical methods and their application to (often) large/complicated datasets used in climate research. As a general description, “The aim of IMSC is to promote good statistical practice in the atmospheric and climate sciences and to maintain and enhance the lines of communication between the atmospheric and statistical science communities.”

The Earth’s climate system is very complicated, involving myriads of processes many of which are poorly known. However, climate research is not only about to understand the underlying processes. The analysis of existing data also has several issues related to it, involving related expertise and experience. This is emphasized by the ever-growing amount of geodata, comprising both observations and model simulations. Nowadays, it has become common for research projects to freely distribute the produced data for all interested users who then can exploit it for their personal research purposes. In this way, the data developers can also get more feedback from the data users and the outcome eventually has benefits to both parties. Indeed, research methods used in natural sciences are fundamentally more data-oriented today than a few decades ago. While progress in science also requires production of new data, for many applications there already exists a wealth of data which is far from being comprehensively analyzed.

As climate in any specific place can eventually be described as averaged weather, the conventional variables familiar from everyday weather forecasts (whether observed or modelled: surface temperature, precipitation, wind speed, humidity, …) have also a very important role in climate research and in any applications related to it. This is emphasized by the fact that these surface variables are the most meaningful for most of the climate data users, in their own right and as an input for impact studies. Some of the most important questions to ask by anyone planning to apply any adaptive measures in order to prepare for changing climatic conditions are:

“How much is it likely for temperature and precipitation to change at my location during the 21st century?” “What will happen to precipitation intensity in the future?” “How sensitive is my crop to droughts and will their frequency increase?” “How will river discharges change and what are the related uncertainty intervals?” “How important it actually is to get the future climate simulations right for my application?” Indeed, societal interface is very close to many of the applications in the field – many sectors are sensitive to climate and weather. Without the field of applied climatology, much of the precious scientific basic research about process understanding would not be translated at all for numerous societal applications. This happens through climate predictions done with global/regional climate models: the overarching aim in large parts of geoscientific research is to improve future climate predictions by studying the actual processes and eventually implementing them as a part of a climate model.

The simulations of climate models are distributed to the users by some means, which is far from being a straightforward copy-and-paste activity. Many of the problems have no simple answer, but still desperately need to be assessed as they have a large importance in climate prediction. An honest scientific interpretation of the future climate predictions requires understanding of relevant processes affecting climate in any specific place (defined possibly by the user), statistical knowledge, and multidisciplinary interest from the people working at the science-society-policy interface. All of this emphasizes the importance of diverse research environment and knowledge that can integrate and condense information into better products and simultaneously facilitate adaptive decisions of the end-users by offering decent decision-support advice and products for them.

We cannot just build our fancy climate models indefinitely, but we also have to use them in practice. The impact-related research on the division helps climate data users to apply climate predictions better for their problems and therefore eventually facilitate their adaptive decisions. The importance of climate services is evermore growing, emphasizing the need to develop good practices and guidance for interpreting and using climate data. Without this kind of research, the interface between the climate science community and actual decision makers will deteriorate. Whatever impacts will be caused by changing climate, estimating them also involves the use of climate models. As a science community, we need to have credible methods and tools to be able to serve users and the wider society.

One poster session was held on each day

Jussi S. Ylhäisi
Jouni Räisänen
Olle Räty

Climate research group

The future of the Arctic

In September 2012, Arctic sea ice cover declined to a record low, over 3 million square kilometers below the long-term average for the month. Photo: IIASA Newsletter

IIASA researchers and Finnish policymakers and scientists met in May to outline a new research agenda addressing the challenges facing the Arctic region.

The seminar, jointly organized by IIASA, The Finnish Prime Minister’s Office, and the Academy of Finland, brought together stakeholders to share views, discuss and clarify the kind of Arctic research that is most needed to help guide the region through an uncertain future. Prof Markku Kulmala took part in the meeting, giving a Finnish view on climate change issues. Other speakers included Prof Pavel Kabat, Director of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis IIASA, Austria; Ambassador Hannu Halinen, Arctic Affairs at the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs; Minister Counsellor, Deputy Head of Mission, Ulrik Tideström, Embassy of Sweden in Helsinki; Special Adviser Christine Daae Olseng, Coordinator for the Polar Research Programme, the Research Council of Norway; Senior Vice President and Chief Techology Officer Kari Knuutila, Outotec Oyj, Finland; Director Teija Tiilikainen, Finnish Institute of International Affairs, Finland; and Dr., Researcher Seija Tuulentie, Finnish Forest Research Institute.

“The meeting was an important step in establishing a real, efficient and useful dialogue between policy makers and scientists. Our Division is involved in many such efforts because we find it is in the best interest of society in every respect”, says Prof Kulmala.

Climate change has hit the Arctic region harder than any location on Earth. Over the last 30 years, the sea ice that covers the Arctic Ocean has declined by over 40% in summer, opening up new routes for shipping and making oil extraction and fishing more feasible in previously impassable waters. In the same time period, average temperatures have risen twice as fast in the Arctic as in lower latitudes. The resulting thawing of permafrost can undermine infrastructure, and the climate shifts may disrupt marine and terrestrial ecosystems, as well as the cultures that depend on them.

These changes open up new economic opportunities for resource extraction, shipping, and tourism in Arctic countries, but also pose many new questions about how to guide sustainable economic development and avoid environmental damage.

IIASA researchers focus on many issues relevant to the Arctic, including energy resources, air quality, and fisheries. The Institute also integrates scientific analyses into the assessment of policy options and future scenarios, a function that could be vital in the rapidly changing region, which is becoming ever more important on the global economic and geopolitical stage.

The meeting was webcast. For more information, visit the Academy of Finland Web site:

Tanja Suni
Adapted from IIASA Newsletter, Issue 14, June 2013

Atmospheric Chemistry into the Future

During the 10th – 13th of December 2012 (the week following AGU), the 4th Atmospheric Chemistry Mechanisms (ACM) Conference (100-150 participants) was held in Davis, California, USA. The conference was spiced with delicious food, high quality talks and state-of-the-art atmospheric chemistry science, and it is definitely recommendable. Every session was concluded with a general discussion concerning the topic of the session, which gives the impression that this is more like a workshop than an actual conference. The hottest topic seemed to be Criegee Intermediates and their potentially important atmospheric reactions with SO2 to form sulphuric acid. The meeting included a special session on amines, which both counted engineering talks on how to capture CO2 using amines (this is known as CCS: carbon capture and storage) and the following emission of amines to the atmosphere due to this process and potential effects, together with more traditional talks about atmospheric amine chemistry and amines role in atmospheric aerosol formation and growth.

There was a session on isoprene (which is the most biogenically emitted volatile organic compound (VOC) with 40% of the total global emission) and HOx (=OH + HO2) measurements and the interference in these. The chemistry of isoprene has been well debated in previous years and this session also included discussion on the sources, sinks and degradation (e.g. to alkylperoxy radicals and epoxides) of isoprene and its degradation products fate in the atmosphere. Five or so years ago, recycling of OH through isoprene reactions was a hot topic. However, it seems that this source of OH is not thought to be so significant any more.

The meeting also counted sessions on gas phase precursors to SOA (secondary organic aerosol) formation including a discussion on how important the explicity of the chemical mechanism has to be in order to get something reasonable. Modellers’ favourite tools, chemical mechanism generators, were also covered with presentations on the probably most used atmospheric chemical mechanism MCM (Master Chemical Mechanism) and what we can expect of its new version (MCM 4.0). This session also included presentations on the mechanism developments of SAPRC and BOREAM (which are near-explicit mechanisms like MCM) and GECKO-A (which is a explicit mechanism). New developments in theory and experiments, future legislative drivers, investigations in Titan’s atmosphere, geoengineering and bio-energy were also presented and discussed during the meeting.


Participants from HY: Taina Yli-Juuti (atm division), Theo Kurtén (chemistry department) and Ditte Mogensen (atm division).