Susan’s Projects

Climate Change Impacts in the United States

A U.S. Global Change Research Program report, 2014

NCA Website

The 2014 National Climate Assessment reports that human-induced climate change is happening now and having direct impacts on Americans. Released at the White House in May 2014, the NCA is available for download and on an interactive website that allows users to explore U.S. climate impacts by region and topic.

Working with a team of leading experts, Susan Hassol served as Senior Science Writer and communications consultant on the report. Among other contributions, Susan led the creation of a 100-page Highlights document designed to inform policymakers and the public of the impacts of climate change. The report clearly demonstrates that climate change impacts are a reality across the U.S., and that Americans are beginning to take actions to limit future warming and to adapt to the changes now underway.

Communicating the Science of Climate Change

Physics Today, 2011

PhysicsTodayCoverShot-newSusan Hassol and Richard Somerville published this article encouraging the scientific community to do more to get the word out on climate change and the risks it poses to society. Among Susan’s suggestions: Talk more about the local impacts of climate change that are happening now. Connect the dots between climate change and what people are experiencing, such as increases in extreme weather. Try to craft messages that are not only simple but memorable, and repeat them often. Make more effective use of imagery, metaphor, and narrative. In short, be a better storyteller, lead with what you know, and let your passion show.

Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States

A U.S. Global Change Research Program report, 2009

The 2009 National Climate Assessment found that global warming is unequivocal, primarily human-induced, and its impacts are already apparent across our nation. Susan Hassol worked with a team of 30 leading scientists to write this authoritative 190-page report in plain language, to better inform policymakers and members of the public.

The study reports that climate change impacts are apparent now in every region, and are affecting aspects of society and natural systems including agriculture, human health, water, energy, and transportation. These impacts are expected to grow with continued climate change – the higher the levels of heat trapping gas emissions, the greater the impacts. The report includes a primer on the science of climate change as well as examples of adaptation strategies currently being pursued around the country. The report was released at the White House in June 2009.

Arctic Climate Feedbacks: Global Implications

WWF Arctic Programme, 2009

Arctic climate feedbacks have important implications that reach far beyond the Arctic. This report is an assessment of the latest science on Arctic feedbacks, written by a team of eminent scientists from around the world, with Susan Hassol and Martin Sommerkorn serving as editors. As the Arctic warms faster than the rest of the globe, a variety of processes are being set in motion that affect global climate. This report explores those processes in the atmosphere, oceans, and on land, presenting the latest observations and projections and discussing their implications for the Arctic and the rest of the world.

Improving How Scientists Communicate Climate Change

EOS, A Weekly Journal of the American Geophysical Union, 2008

The need is urgent for climate scientists to communicate more effectively to policymakers and the public. This article details some of the problems with how climate scientists communicate and offers practical suggestions for improvement. For example, scientists can improve their effectiveness by avoiding jargon as well as words that mean different things to scientists than to non-scientists. They can use appropriate metaphors and re-frame poorly framed questions. As policymakers grapple with the climate challenge, scientists should take the opportunity and responsibility of clearly communicating what the wider world needs to know about this issue.

Weather and Climate Extremes in a Changing Climate

A report of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program, 2008

As one of its series of 21 synthesis and assessment reports, the U.S. Climate Change Science Program published a report in June 2008 on Weather and Climate Extremes in a Changing Climate. The report focused on North America, with the team including scientists from the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. Susan served as Senior Editor of this report, focusing her attention on the Synopsis and Executive Summary, which are written to be accessible to non-scientists. The remainder of the report is much more technical. The key findings of this report are summarized in the report’s Synopsis, reproduced below.

Changes in extreme weather and climate events have significant impacts and are among the most serious challenges to society in coping with a changing climate. Many extremes and their associated impacts are now changing. For example, in recent decades most of North America has been experiencing more unusually hot days and nights, fewer unusually cold days and nights, and fewer frost days. Heavy downpours have become more frequent and intense. Droughts are becoming more severe in some regions, though there are no clear trends for North America as a whole. The power and frequency of Atlantic hurricanes have increased substantially in recent decades, though North American mainland land-falling hurricanes do not appear to have increased over the past century. Outside the tropics, storm tracks are shifting northward and the strongest storms are becoming even stronger.

It is well established through formal attribution studies that the global warming of the past 50 years is due primarily to human-induced increases in heat-trapping gases. Such studies have only recently been used to determine the causes of some changes in extremes at the scale of a continent. Certain aspects of observed increases in temperature extremes have been linked to human influences. The increase in heavy precipitation events is associated with an increase in water vapor, and the latter has been attributed to human-induced warming. No formal attribution studies for changes in drought severity in North America have been attempted. There is evidence suggesting a human contribution to recent changes in hurricane activity as well as in storms outside the tropics, though a confident assessment will require further study.

In the future, with continued global warming, heat waves and heavy downpours are very likely to further increase in frequency and intensity. Substantial areas of North America are likely to have more frequent droughts of greater severity. Hurricane wind speeds, rainfall intensity, and storm surge levels are likely to increase. The strongest cold season storms are likely to become more frequent, with stronger winds and more extreme wave heights.

Current and future impacts resulting from these changes depend not only on the changes in extremes, but also on responses by human and natural systems.

Temperature Trends in the Lower Atmosphere

A Report of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program, 2006

As the first in its series of synthesis and assessment products, the U.S. Climate Change Science Program published a report in April 2006 on Temperature Trends in the Lower Atmosphere. Susan Joy Hassol served as Associate Editor of this report. The Abstract (Synopsis) and Executive Summary are written to be accessible to non-scientists. The remainder of the report is more technical. The key findings of this report are summarized in the report’s Abstract, reproduced below.

Previously reported discrepancies between the amount of warming near the surface and higher in the atmosphere have been used to challenge the reliability of climate models and the reality of human-induced global warming. Specifically, surface data showed substantial global-average warming, while early versions of satellite and radiosonde data showed little or no warming above the surface. This significant discrepancy no longer exists because errors in the satellite and radiosonde data have been identified and corrected. New data sets have also been developed that do not show such discrepancies.

This Synthesis and Assessment Product is an important revision to the conclusions of earlier reports from the U.S. National Research Council and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. For recent decades, all current atmospheric data sets now show global-average warming that is similar to the surface warming. While these data are consistent with the results from climate models at the global scale, discrepancies in the tropics remain to be resolved. Nevertheless, the most recent observational and model evidence has increased confidence in our understanding of observed climate changes and their causes.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

Working Group I, Frequently Asked Questions, 2007

In its 2007 Fourth Assessment Report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (winner of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize) Working Group I (The Physical Science of Climate Change) for the first time included a set of Frequently Asked Questions, in an effort to make some of the basics of climate science more accessible to non-scientists.

Susan Joy Hassol participated in this endeavor as editor, working iteratively with the IPCC coordinating lead authors to make the answers to these 19 questions accessible to a general audience. The FAQs appear throughout the chapters of the WG 1 report and as a complete set in the WG 1 summary volume that also contains the Summary for Policymakers and the Technical Summary.

Presidential Climate Action Project

Questions and Answers Regarding Emissions reductions Needed to Stabilize Climate, 2007

The Presidential Climate Action Project is a non-partisan effort to develop a comprehensive menu of policy options, rooted in science, for the next president to begin implementing immediately upon taking office. At the request of the Project, Susan prepared these responses to key questions about how to determine the emissions reductions that will be needed to stabilize climate.

HBO Documentary: Too Hot Not to Handle

2006

In a departure from her usual work in the scientific community, this project marked a foray into the world of television for Susan. As the writer of Too Hot Not To Handle, HBO’s one-hour global warming documentary, Susan helped select the stories and scientists that would best convey the impacts of climate change on the lives of Americans and communicate the variety of solutions already underway to address the climate challenge. Susan traveled to Alaska with an HBO crew to film on location on melting glaciers, in burned forests, and in a village succumbing to coastal erosion. The show garnered over four million viewers on the night it premiered in April 2006 and many more since. It is available on DVD from Amazon and other online distributors.

Climate Change Impacts on the United States

A U.S. Global Change Research Program report, 2000

Susan was one of the lead authors of the First U.S. National Assessment of climate change and its impacts. The study concluded that humanity’s influence on the global climate would grow in the coming century, presenting increasing challenges for the United States that would vary by region and sector.

Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change

2006

With her colleague Robert Corell, Susan contributed a chapter that summarized the key findings of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment to the peer-reviewed book Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change, published by Cambridge University Press in 2006.  This volume grew out of a symposium that took place at the UK Met Office in Exeter in 2005 at the invitation of Prime Minister Tony Blair. The book covers a wide range of topics vital to understanding the climate challenge, from the operation of the global climate system, to its key vulnerabilities and thresholds, to an assessment of the technologies that will be required to rein in climate disruption.

Impacts of A Warming Arctic

Synthesis Report of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, 2004

Susan is the lead author of Impacts of a Warming Arctic, the synthesis report of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment on which she worked for four years with 300 scientists from the Arctic and beyond. This book is perhaps the best representation to date of Susan’s work, a project in which she had the opportunity to work closely with many scientists, synthesizing their work in a way that makes it meaningful to non-scientists. She traveled to many locations across the Arctic in the course of her work, from the forests of Alaska, to the reindeer-herding country of northern Norway, to the high-Arctic island of Svalbard near the North Pole. She testified about the impacts of Arctic warming before the U.S. Senate in November 2004.

Innovative Energy Strategies for CO2 Stabilization

2002

With colleagues Neil Strachan and Hadi Dowlatabadi, Susan co-authored the chapter on energy efficiency in this book, edited by Robert Watts and published in 2002 by Cambridge University Press. The chapter explains that improved energy efficiency is an essential part of the solution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and meeting global energy demand while also improving economic performance, increasing jobs, and enhancing environmental quality. It also describes the policies needed to promote efficiency, including a realistic price of energy that internalizes all the costs associated with its use, increased investment in research, development and deployment of key technologies, and energy efficiency standards.

“A Change of Climate”: Local, state, and corporate climate action

Issues and Science and Technology, 2003

This article by Susan Joy Hassol and Randy Udall was published in 2003 in Issues and Science and Technology, a journal of the National Academy of Sciences. It highlights state, local and corporate action on climate change in the absence of federal leadership.

United Nations Environment Program, Global Environmental Outlook Yearbook

2003 and 2009

Susan was one of the lead authors of this first U.S. national assessment of climate change and its impacts. The study concluded that humanity’s influence on the global climate would grow in the coming century, presenting increasing challenges for the United States that would vary by region and sector.