Using Information From Global Climate Models to Inform Policymaking—The Role of the U.S. Geological Survey

Open-File Report 2020-1058
By: , and 



This report provides an overview of model-based climate science in a risk management context. In addition, it summarizes how the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) will continue to follow best scientific practices and when and how the results of this research will be delivered to the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) and other stakeholders to inform policymaking. Climate change is a risk management challenge for society because of the uncertain consequences for natural and human systems across decades to centuries. Climate-related science activities within the USGS emphasize research on adaptation to climate change. This research helps inform adaptive management processes and planning activities within other DOI bureaus and by DOI stakeholders.

Global climate models are sophisticated numerical representations of the Earth’s climate system. Research groups from around the world regularly participate in a coordinated effort to produce a suite of climate models. This global effort provides a test bed to assess model performance and analyze projections of future change under various prescribed climate scenarios. These climate scenarios describe a plausible future outcome associated with a specific set of societal actions. Because scenarios are developed in a risk-based framework with a high degree of uncertainty about future societal developments, they are usually not assigned a formal likelihood of occurrence. Examining a range of projected climate outcomes based on multiple scenarios is a recommended best practice because it allows decision makers to better consider both short- and long-term risks and opportunities.

As part of its routine science practices, the USGS regularly reviews the state of knowledge of climate science, develops and maintains best practices in using global climate models to project climate change impacts, and provides data and interpretations of potential impacts to the DOI and other stakeholders. Management and policy decisions within the DOI will reflect different tolerances for risk, which has implications for what type of information should be considered and how that information should be used. It is suggested that a followup document be produced that would describe in more detail how these management decisions with differing risk tolerances can be made effectively and consistently in light of an uncertain future.

Suggested Citation

Terando, A., Reidmiller, D., Hostetler, S.W., Littell, J.S., Beard, T.D., Jr., Weiskopf, S.R., Belnap, J., and Plumlee, G.S., 2020, Using information from global climate models to inform policymaking—The role of the U.S. Geological Survey: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2020–1058, 25 p.,

ISSN: 2331-1258 (online)

Table of Contents

  • Executive Summary
  • Introduction
  • Climate Change as a Risk Management Challenge
  • Developing Future Climate Projections
  • Roles of the U.S. Geological Survey in Climate Science
  • Federal Government’s Need for Climate Science and Climate Impact Science
  • How U.S. Geological Survey Climate Science Is Provided to the Department of the Interior to Inform Policymaking
  • Ongoing Efforts by the U.S. Geological Survey to Improve Understanding and Communication of Climate Science
  • References Cited
Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Using information from global climate models to inform policymaking—The role of the U.S. Geological Survey
Series title Open-File Report
Series number 2020-1058
DOI 10.3133/ofr20201058
Year Published 2020
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Office of the AD Energy and Minerals, and Environmental Health
Description v, 25 p.
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details