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Climate researchers across the U.S. are taking stock - and they want your help

Rocks poke out of river
Crixell Matthews
The James River rushes over rocks near Richmond's Belle Isle. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Work is underway on the fifth National Climate Assessment - a Congressionally mandated report that’s intended to help “understand, assess, predict and respond to human-induced and natural processes of global change.” The project, a product of the U.S. Global Change Research Program and researchers nationwide, is still in its very early stages – preliminary chapter drafts went online Monday, Jan. 10.

It’s already accepted science that the Earth is warming — and that humans have played an outsized role in contributing to that global change through carbon emissions. The International Panel on Climate Change, a body of the United Nations, has reaffirmed that more than once based on analysis of existing climate research.

So NCA 5 will take a more granular view of the U.S. and it’s regions. It is split up into dozens of chapters on climate systems, national issues like water, agriculture and economics, and region-specific analyses.

Jeremy Hoffman, a Science Museum of Virginia communicator and climatologist specializing in urban heat patterns, is the lead author of NCA 5’s Southeast chapter. He’s working with researchers from across the region, each bringing their own expertise to the table.

He points out Claudia Brown, who works at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to understand connections between health and climate stressors such as heat. Gary Mitchum, from the University of South Florida, has expertise in sea-level rise and engaging stakeholders and legislators in his state. Hoffman said that kind of outward perspective is a theme.

“Many of the authors have a particular interest in communicating that science of their expertise,” he said. The authors are looking to “add to and accelerate and expand on the climate change conversation in the region.”

To do that, they’re looking for public input on an initial zero-order draft — basically an outline.  Hoffman says the authors are presenting a “very balanced way of looking at our chapter.”

The draft is split into three sections: an evaluation of new information since the last assessment, a list of cross-cutting themes and research questions on 5 key topics.

Hoffman says they’re looking for residents of the Southeast to “participate in shaping what this National Climate Assessment looks like,” because the assessment itself will have impacts on policy and climate advocacy from the federal to local level.

As Hoffman describes, he wants it to be useful “not only by the Congressional staffer, but also the local community advocate that’s looking for some particular best practice or evidence.”

The author team has organized two virtual workshops for Southeast residents to engage with and hear from the authors directly.  Those interested can sign up for workshops here: “If you can join that and fit it into your schedule, consider this a personal invitation from me,” Hoffman said.

Anyone can comment on the drafts online at the USGCRP website until Feb. 20. The site requires commenters to make a free account with a username and password.

Patrick Larsen is VPM News' environment and energy reporter, and fill-in host.