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Open-File Report 2012–1034

U.S. Department of the Interior Southeast Climate Science Center Science and Operational Plan

Compiled by Sonya A. Jones and Melinda S. Dalton

Executive Summary

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Climate change challenges many of the basic assumptions routinely used by conservation planners and managers, including the identification and prioritization of areas for conservation based on current environmental conditions and the assumption those conditions could be controlled by management actions. Climate change will likely alter important ecosystem drivers (temperature, precipitation, and sea-level rise) and make it difficult, if not impossible, to maintain current environmental conditions into the future. Additionally, the potential for future conservation of non-conservation lands may be affected by climate change, which further complicates resource planning. Potential changes to ecosystem drivers, as a result of climate change, highlight the need to develop and adapt effective conservation strategies to cope with the effects of climate and landscape change.

The U.S. Congress, recognized the potential effects of climate change and authorized the creation of the U.S. Geological Survey National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center (NCCWSC) in 2008. The directive of the NCCWSC is to produce science that supports resource-management agencies as they anticipate and adapt to the effects of climate change on fish, wildlife, and their habitats. On September 14, 2009, U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) Secretary Ken Salazar signed Secretarial Order 3289 (amended February 22, 2010), which expanded the mandate of the NCCWSC to address climate-change-related impacts on all DOI resources. Secretarial Order 3289 "Addressing the Impacts of Climate Change on America's Water, Land, and Other Natural and Cultural Resources," established the foundation of two partner-based conservation science entities: Climate Science Centers (CSC) and their primary partners, Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCC). CSCs and LCCs are the Department-wide approach for applying scientific tools to increase the understanding of climate change, and to coordinate an effective response to its impacts on tribes and the land, water, ocean, fish and wildlife, and cultural-heritage resources that DOI manages.

The NCCWSC is establishing a network of eight DOI CSCs (Alaska, Southeast, Northwest, North Central, Pacific Islands, Southwest, Northeast, and South Central) that will work with a variety of partners and stakeholders to provide resource managers the tools and information they need to help them anticipate and adapt conservation planning and design for projected climate change. The Southeast CSC, a federally led research collaboration hosted by North Carolina State University, was established in 2010. The Southeast CSC brings together the expertise of federal and university scientists to address climate-change priority needs of federal, state, non-governmental, and tribal resource managers.

This document is the first draft of a science and operational plan for the Southeast CSC. The document describes operational considerations, provides the context for climate-change impacts in the Southeastern United States, and establishes six major science themes the Southeast CSC will address in collaboration with partners. This document is intended to be reevaluated and modified as partner needs change.

The Southeast CSC receives guidance for regional science priorities from the Stakeholder Advisory Council (SAC), which is composed of senior-level federal and State government agency executives in the Southeast. A Southeast CSC LCC Advisory Committee will be established to provide recommendations to the SAC on priority climate science projects and products that will be of most benefit to LCCs in accomplishing their respective mission(s). A secondary purpose of the Southeast CSC LCC Advisory Committee is to provide assistance and input to the Science Implementation Panel (SIP), which will be responsible for peer review of all proposed projects, and to recommend utilization of scientific assets of the CSCs and LCCs to address regional science priorities. Key staff from LCCs and other partners associated with the Southeast CSC will serve on the SIP.

The science themes described in this draft plan were established by partners in the southeastern conservation community to address information gaps that can inform the conservation science and resource-management needs of ecoregion conservation partnerships, such as the LCCs. The development of these science themes was based on priorities defined by partners and stakeholders in the Southeast as well as a large-scale, multi-disciplinary project developed in concert with the partners—the Southeast Regional Assessment Project (SERAP). In many instances the tasks outlined in the science themes can build on the work already begun as part of SERAP, providing valuable information to resource managers in the Southeast and allowing partners to reevaluate their priorities earlier in the process. The science plan seeks to achieve the following objectives:

The Southeast CSC will use long-term and new observational records as well as understanding of biological and physical processes that can be expressed in quantitative models to describe the consequences of global change on natural resources; provide scientifically valid information and tools that can be used to adapt resource management to changing environmental conditions; and apply these tools to produce regional assessments that are widely used by policy makers, resource managers, and the public.

This draft plan identifies six science themes that frame the activities needed to achieve the objectives of the Southeast CSC:

  • Science Theme 1: Develop climate projections and determine appropriate projections to use for resource management,
  • Science Theme 2: Land use and land cover change projections,
  • Science Theme 3: Impacts of climate change on water resources,
  • Science Theme 4: Ecological research and modeling,
  • Science Theme 5: Impacts of climate change on coastal and nearshore marine environments, and,
  • Science Theme 6: Impacts of climate change on cultural-heritage resources.
  • The science products developed under these themes will provide models of future conditions, assessments of potential impacts, and tools that can be used to inform the LCCs and other partners. The information will be critical as managers anticipate and adapt to climate change. Resource managers in the Southeast are requesting this type of information, in many cases, as a result of observed climate-change effects. The Southeast CSC will support integration of science information into conservation delivery, by working with, and building the capacity of, resource managers to interpret the science in order to integrate it into their management and decisionmaking processes.

    First posted March 1, 2012

    For additional information contact:
    Gerard McMahon, Ph.D., Director
    DOI Southeast Climate Science Center
    Department of Biology
    240 David Clark Labs
    North Carolina State University
    Raleigh, North Carolina 27695-7617

    Part or all of this report is presented in Portable Document Format (PDF); the latest version of Adobe Reader or similar software is required to view it. Download the latest version of Adobe Reader, free of charge.

    Suggested citation:

    Jones, S.A., and Dalton, M.S., comps., 2012, U.S. Department of the Interior Southeast Climate Science Center Science and Operational Plan: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2012–1034, 48 p., available online at


    Executive Summary


    Climate Science Center (CSC), Landscape Conservation Cooperative (LCC), and Partner Coordination

    Southeast Regional Assessment Project

    Southeast Climate Science Center Science Planning

    Regional Context

    Observed Climate Change

    Projected Climate Change

    Land-Use and Land-Cover Change

    Science Themes

    Science Theme 1: Develop Climate Projections and Determine Appropriate Projections to Use for Resource Management

    Science Theme 2: Land-Use and Land-Cover Change Projections

    Science Theme 3: Impacts of Climate Change on Water Resources

    Science Theme 4: Ecological Research and Modeling

    Science Theme 5: Impacts of Climate Change on Coastal and Nearshore Marine Environments

    Science Theme 6: Impacts of Climate Change on Cultural-Heritage Resources

    Monitoring Priorities

    Monitoring Priorities Recommendations

    Information Management and Data Sharing

    Complementary Endeavors and Tools for Southeast CSC

    Cooperative Research and Decision Support

    Education and Training

    Outreach and Community Involvement

    Southeast CSC Science Expertise and Skills

    Selected References

    Appendix. Bibliography

    Published Material

    Other Material and Compilations

    Relevant Web sites

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