In an attempt to leverage existing federal activities, the DOI and NOAA have established a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) related to climate science activities, and have initiated a joint pilot study between the North Central Climate Science Center (NC CSC) and the NOAA/NCAR- National Climate Predictions and Projections (NCPP) Platform. The mission of NCPP is to support state-of-the-art approaches to develop and deliver comprehensive regional climate information and facilitate its use in decision making and adaptation planning. NCPP is already partnering with the USGS GeoDataPortal (GDP) to leverage current and future capabilities. NCPP's evolving role in that partnership is to augment the GDP services by developing translational information, including guidance on use and interpretive information about the quality and appropriateness of use for various applications. NCPP believes that the best way to develop this translational information is to work with users, such as those funded through this pilot program.

The overarching goal of this pilot is to explore together the "best available climate information" to support key land management questions and how to provide that information. The projects funded through this pilot will develop a deliberate, ongoing interaction to prototype how NCPP will work with CSCs to develop and deliver needed climate information product. It will build capacity in the NC CSC by providing NCPP's translational information for climate data used as input to USGS-based ecological modeling efforts. The ultimate goals of this pilot project are: 1) to explore ways in which the climate information can help inform land management decisions through ecological response models, 2) develop approaches for ecological response modeling to be informed and enhanced by the translational climate information provided by NCPP.

The NC CSC is funding four projects within the pilot:

  1. The value of climate information for supporting management decisions within the Plains and Prairie Potholes LCC
  2. Projecting climate change effects on cottonwood and willow seed dispersal phenology, flood timing, and seedling recruitment in western riparian forests
  3. Integrating climate and biological data into land management decision models to assess species and habitat vulnerability: A collaboration for Greater Sage-Grouse and their habitats
  4. Projecting future effects of land management, natural disturbance, and CO2 on woody encroachment in the northern Great Plains in a changing climate

Additional information for each project is given below.

The value of climate information for supporting management decisions within the Plains and Prairie Potholes LCC

Max Post van der Burg, USGS Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center; Cathy Cullinane Thomas and Tracy Holcombe


July 2012 – Summer 2013

Climate scientists often develop models to predict how climate may change in an effort to inform other models that predict how these changes may impact conservation targets. However, these models are not often translated into information that is accessible and useful for land managers and conservation decision-makers. Climate scientists need better information about what climate information is desired by decision-makers so that their outputs wMap of area that will be studied. Includes the Dakotas, parts of Montana, parts of Canada, and parts of several other states.ill more effectively meet decision-maker information needs; and conversely, decision-makers need better information about how a changingclimate may affect their management alternatives and conservation objectives. Land managers within the Plains and Prairie Potholes Landscape Conservation Cooperative (PPP-LCC) must make complex decisions that impact multiple conservation objectives in the face of considerable uncertainty. Thus, members of the PPP-LCC need decision-relevant information about how climate will change and how these changes will affect their conservation objectives, management alternatives, and consequences of their management actions. These needs can be met by the North Central Climate Science Center (NC CSC) and the NOAA Climate Prediction and Projection Pilot Platform (NCPP).

The objectives of this project are to (1) build connections between the PPP-LCC, the NC CSC, and the NCPP to facilitate a link between the end users and the producers of climate information, as well as to identify gaps between available and desired information, and (2) develop an understandable and transportable framework that will enable the PPP-LCC to prioritize their climate science needs and articulate those needs to the NC CSC and the NCPP. This project will use a decision analysis process to bring together members of the PPP-LCC and climate experts from the NC CSC and the NCPP to develop an integrated conceptual model of the interactions between climate change, land use change, and conservation and adaptation in the Plains and Prairie Potholes (PPR) region of the PPP-LCC. Quantifying aspects of this conceptual model will allow estimation of the value of climate information, thus enabling the PPP-LCC to prioritize their climate science needs. By relating climate uncertainties to the prevailing land use and socioeconomic issues in the region, the value of information analysis will produce a framework that will enable climate scientists to (1) guide the PPP-LCC toward currently available climate information and present this information in a way that will be useful to decision makers within the LCC, and (2) design future research to address remaining key uncertainties affecting conservation decisions in the region.

For more information, click here.

Projecting climate change effects on cottonwood and willow seed dispersal phenology, flood timing, and seedling recruitment in western riparian forests

Patrick Shafroth, USGS Fort Collins Science Center; with Laura Perry, Lauren Hay, Roland Viger, Steven Markstrom, Glen Liston, David Blodgett, and Nathaniel Booth


Aug. 2012 to Feb. 2014

Throughout western North America, native forests along rivers (riparian forests) are dominated by cottonwood and willow trees. These forests provide critical habitatExposed sandbars and cottonwood and willow tree stands on the South Platte River, Fort Lupton Colorado, July 2009. Photo by Laura Perry. for diverse birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and insects, and provide food and shade for fish and other instream aquatic animals. This research is aimed at predicting effects of climate change on cottonwood and willow seedling establishment in western riparian forests.

Cottonwood and willow seedling establishment along rivers is tightly coupled to the timing of peak streamflows. Currently, cottonwoods and willows tend to release their seeds during or just after spring peak streamflows, which increases the chance that the short-lived seeds will settle on bare, moist soil created by flooding and exposed by flood recession, and high enough above the river channel to avoid ice and flood damage. Warming associated with climate change, however, is leading to both earlier spring peak streamflows and earlier seed dispersal. Therefore, with changing climate, cottonwood and willow seed dispersal could occur substantially earlier or later than spring peak streamflows, potentially reducing seedling establishment and in turn reducing riparian wildlife habitat quality.

The research objective is to predict changes in the relative timing of cottonwood and willow seed dispersal and spring peak streamflows, and effects on seedling establishment, under projected climate change scenarios. It will link climate-driven models of seed dispersal timing, streamflow hydrology, and seedling establishment. Although cottonwood and willow regeneration is important for riparian wildlife habitat across western North America, this project will focus on the upper South Platte River Basin as a case study area. Results will help land managers anticipate future changes in riparian wildlife habitat quality, and potentially to respond by actively revegetating high-priority riparian areas, or by working with water management agencies to schedule dam releases that favor cottonwood and willow establishment.

For more information, click here.

Integrating climate and biological data into land management decision models to assess species and habitat vulnerability: A collaboration for Greater Sage-Grouse and their habitats

Richard S. Sojda, USGS Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center, with Erik A. Beever, Kathryn M. Irvine, Gregory T. Pederson.


Fall 2012 – Dec. 2014Man taking scientific measurements outside.

Greater Sage-Grouse face many dilemmas across the West. Multiple, interrelated causes determine Sage-Grouse numbers and the locations they use across the landscape. This research project is conceived based on the priorities of the Great Northern and the Plains and Prairie Pothole Landscape Conservation Cooperatives. It is focused on (1) providing workshops to foster collaboration and interpretation of climate information, (2) developing a sage-steppe habitat map, and (3) suggesting recommendations for a joint adaptive management framework.

The project builds on collaboration among federal land managers, state wildlife biologists, and USGS (and other) scientists, NOAA, and the NC CSC university consortium, including the Montana Institute on Ecosystems at Montana State University. The purpose of the partnership is to build a long term framework for implementing adaptive management; at its most basic level, this is conducting management as an experiment and using conceptual models for evaluation. However, it is neither simple nor easy to implement, and doing so for landscape conservation of grouse is no exception.

Climate affects both the demographics of grouse and the condition and long-term viability of their habitats. The landscape in which this project will be focusing has relatively healthy populations of Greater Sage-Grouse, and it is hypothesized to be one epicenter from which big sagebrush might expand under a changing climate in the Great Plains and Intermountain West. The effort will examine what might be limiting grouse numbers, investigating components of weather patterns in relation to projected climate change and recent downscaled data. Precipitation and temperature, as well as derived variables such as evapotranspiration and soil moisture, will be considered. The team's climatologists, in conjunction with the NCPP program, will not only deliver pertinent data, but also translate that information in the context of grouse management.

The climate information, habitat layers, and Sage-Grouse demographic efforts must be relevant to the land management agencies. So, this project will include both human dimension scientists and ecological modelers to assess what on-the-ground actions and decisions are key to Sage-Grouse managers. This will include how managers perceive activities such as fire control, cheatgrass invasion, and cattle grazing affect grouse and their habitats.

For more information, click here.

Projecting future effects of land management, natural disturbance, and CO2 on woody encroachment in the northern Great Plains in a changing climate

Amy Symstad, USGS Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center; with Dominique Bachelet, David King, and Ken Ferschweiler


Aug. 2012 to Feb. 2014

Conservation organizations have identified the Northern Great Plains (NGP) as a biologically significant region and priority conservation area because it contains large Northern Great Plainstracts of native prairie that provide habitat for declining grassland species. Maintaining this habitat into the future requires anticipating the effects of increasing atmospheric CO2 concentrations and climate change on the region's vegetation. One way these changes threaten NGP grasslands is through the potential encroachment of native woody species into areas where they were previously minor components, a phenomenon that is well documented on the edges of the NGP. Woody encroachment may result from increasing CO2 concentrations, changes in the timing of precipitation, interactions of changing grazing and fire regimes, or more likely a combination of all of these factors. In this project, the MC1 dynamic vegetation model will be used to simulate vegetation type (C3/C4 grassland, shrubland, woodland, forest) for the NGP for a range of projected future climates and relevant management scenarios. For example, simulations with moderate grazing and either a full suppression or natural fire regime will illustrate the expected effect of fire management on woody species in the region. Comparing results of simulations using various climate futures, or using constant vs. increasing CO2, will illustrate the sensitivity of woody encroachment projections to these factors. The improved understanding of the relative importance of increasing CO2, climate change, and land management practices on potential woody encroachment derived from these simulations will be used to discuss which management practices will be most effective in protecting grassland habitat in the NGP into the future.

For more information, click here.