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Circular 1383–A

U.S. Geological Survey Climate and Land Use Change Science Strategy—A Framework for Understanding and Responding to Global Change

By Virginia R. Burkett, David A. Kirtland, Ione L. Taylor, Jayne Belnap, Thomas M. Cronin, Michael D. Dettinger, Eldrich L. Frazier, John W. Haines, Thomas R. Loveland, Paul C.D. Milly, Robin O’Malley, Robert S. Thompson, Alec G. Maule, Gerard McMahon, and Robert G. Striegl

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (112 MB)Executive Summary

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), a nonregulatory Federal science agency with national scope and responsibilities, is uniquely positioned to serve the Nation’s needs in understanding and responding to global change, including changes in climate, water availability, sea level, land use and land cover, ecosystems, and global biogeochemical cycles. Global change is among the most challenging and formidable issues confronting our Nation and society. Scientists agree that global environmental changes during this century will have far-reaching societal implications (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007; U.S. Global Change Research Program, 2009). In the face of these challenges, the Nation can benefit greatly by using natural science information in decisionmaking.

Since the passage of the U.S. Global Change Research Act of 1990, the USGS has made substantial scientific contributions to understanding the interactive living and nonliving components of the Earth system. USGS natural science activities have led to fundamental advances in observing and understanding climate and land-cover change and the effects these changes have on ecosystems, natural-resource availability, and societal sustainability. Most of these major advances were pursued in partnership with other organizations within and outside the Department of the Interior. The inherent value of partnerships with other U.S. Global Change Research Program agencies and natural-resource managers is emphasized in all aspects of the planning and implementation of this Science Strategy for the coming decade.

Over the next 10 years, the USGS will make substantial contributions to understanding how Earth systems interact, respond to, and cause global change. The USGS will work with science partners, decisionmakers, and resource managers at local to international levels (including Native American tribes) to improve understanding of past and present change; develop relevant forecasts; and identify those lands, resources, and communities most vulnerable to global change processes. Science will play an essential role in helping communities and land and resource managers understand local to global implications, anticipate effects, prepare for changes, and reduce the risks associated with decisionmaking in a changing environment. USGS partners and stakeholders will benefit from the data, predictive models, and decision-support products and services resulting from the implementation of this strategy.

This Science Strategy recognizes core USGS strengths that are applied to key societal problems. It establishes seven goals for USGS global change science and strategic actions that may be implemented in the short term (1–5 years) and the longer term (5–10 years) to improve our understanding of the following areas of inquiry:

1. Rates, causes, and impacts of past global changes;
2. The global carbon cycle;
3. Biogeochemical cycles and their coupled interactions;
4. Land-use and land-cover change rates, causes, and consequences;
5. Droughts, floods, and water availability under changing
land-use and climatic conditions;
6. Coastal response to sea-level rise, climatic change, and
human development; and
7. Biological responses to global change.

In addition to the seven thematic goals, we address the central role of monitoring in accordance with the USGS Science Strategy recommendation that global change research should rely on existing “…decades of observational data and long-term records to interpret consequences of climate variability and change to the Nation’s biological populations, ecosystems, and land and water resources” (U.S. Geological Survey, 2007, p. 19). We also briefly describe specific needs and opportunities for coordinating USGS global change science among USGS Mission Areas and address the need for a comprehensive and sustained communications strategy.

First posted April 15, 2013

For additional information contact:
Office of Associate Director, Climate and Land Use Change
U.S. Geological Survey
12201 Sunrise Valley Drive
Reston, VA 20192

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Suggested citation:

Burkett, V.R., Kirtland, D.A., Taylor, I.L., Belnap, Jayne, Cronin, T.M., Dettinger, M.D., Frazier, E.L., Haines, J.W., Loveland, T.R., Milly, P.C.D., O’Malley, Robin, Thompson, R.S., Maule, A.G., McMahon, Gerard, and Striegl, R.G., 2013, U.S. Geological Survey climate and land use change science strategy—A framework for understanding and responding to global change: U.S. Geological Survey Circular 1383–A, 43 p.



Executive Summary


Core Strengths, Partnerships, and Science Integration

Monitoring: A Critical Component of Global Change Science and Adaptive Resource Management

Interrelations of Climate and Land Use Change and Other Mission Areas

Communicating Science to Society—Services, Products, and Delivery

Summary—Understanding and Responding to Climate and Land-Use Change

References Cited

Glossary of Terms

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