Iowa State University


Eugene Takle, Agronomy, (515) 294-9871
James Vary, IITAP, (515) 294-8894
Skip Derra, News Service, (515) 294-4917


AMES, Iowa -- A $590,000 contract will help Iowa State scientists study weather patterns in the central U.S. with the aim of better understanding the human impact on global climate. The three-year contract, from the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), Palo Alto, Calif., to the International Institute of Theoretical and Applied Physics (IITAP) at Iowa State University, will help scientists fine tune computer models and then apply those models to see what climate changes may lay ahead.

The Project to Intercompare Regional Climate Simulations (PIRCS) will evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of regional climate models and their component procedures through systematic, comparative simulations. The first computer experiments with regional climate models will focus on the central U.S., primarily the Mississippi River basin, at two distinct periods -- the 1988 drought and the 1993 flood. While the comparison will be made for specific time periods and specific regions, the study will have important implications to the use of such models all over the world.

"We're using regional models in our tests because they have higher resolution than global models," said Eugene Takle, an ISU professor of agronomy and atmospheric sciences, and a senior member of the research team. "We want to refine regional models and make them more reliable for projecting future climate. Then, we want to get the results of the models into the hands of the decision makers."

The results of these tests will be delivered to the Third Assessment Report of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, due out in 2001, said James Vary, acting director of IITAP. While the first climate simulations will be done for the U.S. and use U.S. data, the overall goal is to provide climate assessments globally by applying regional models to several parts of the world.

"This project relies on a network of teams of scientists around the world working with the common purpose of advancing the science of climate prediction," said Vary. "Collaborative research projects like this bring together the new technologies of developed countries with the local environmental expertise of developing countries, and it has a direct impact on something that affects us all, our role in Earth's changing climate."

Accurate simulations of future regional climates will be a critical tool for policy makers and industry in assessing the future of agriculture, natural resource use, economic development, human and animal health, and environmental management. The overall project will advance the capabilities of models to predict important climate parameters, region by region, around the globe. It will build on advances in global climate simulations and incorporate physically significant regional conditions like higher resolution topography, precipitation processes, soil characteristics, vegetation and surface modifications due to human activity.

"This project is of global importance," added Takle. "Humans have a direct impact on global and regional environments and these models will allow the decision makers to see what changes lay ahead if we continue to alter our environment in specific ways, like deforestation and emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere."

EPRI, established in 1973, manages science and technology R&D for the electric utility industry. More than 700 utilities are members of the institute, which has an annual budget of $500 million. EPRI is funding this project to advance the science of climate prediction in order to better understand how human activity affects climate.

IITAP, established in 1993, is a joint project between Iowa State University and the United National Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Its goal is to foster world peace through the sharing of scientific resources and advances.

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