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Research Successes - Global Change

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Strategic Planning Document -
Environment and Natural Resources

Research Successes

Scientists Unravel the Mystery of the
Antarctic Ozone Hole

Based upon convincing scientific evidence gathered in Antarctica and elsewhere, international agreements are now in place to eventually protect the stratospheric ozone layer. The ozone layer is earth's shield against solar UV radiation. With a reduction in the effectiveness of this filter, more radiation would reach the surface, causing increases in skin cancer, a diminished human immune system response, an increase in cataracts, and damage to biota.

Over a decade of scientific research has supported the original 1970s predictions, which were that continued emissions of CFCs would eventually cause global ozone depletions of several percent by the middle of the next century. Science also, however, discovered some surprises, including observations of global ozone downward trends that were even larger than predicted and that losses as large as 60% were occurring in Antarctica. Direct measurements of the chemical species that control ozone allowed the link between this dramatic ozone depletion in Antarctica and emissions of CFCs and other human-made species to be established definitively. This overall sequence of research results, which extended from theory to observation to cause, was paralleled by governmental policies for reductions in and eventual phase-out of ozone-damaging compounds and by vigorous industrial development of safer substitutes.

Although recent atmospheric measurements are confirming that emissions of the major ozone- damaging compounds are now on the path to being largely eliminated, science and policy continue to address the key issues of managing the peak ozone depletions expected near the end of this decade, evaluating the success or failure of the hoped-for recovery of the ozone layer in the several decades thereafter, and understanding the emerging science/policy links between ozone depletion and surface climate change.

Forecasting Reduces Agricultural Losses

Early forecasts of the dramatic shifts every few years in the timing and intensity of precipitation patterns associated with El Nino have enabled farmers in several South American countries to prevent crop losses of hundreds of millions of dollars, keeping food available and keeping prices from rising sharply. This improved forecasting capability was developed over the past ten years with research into the causes of El Nino by the United States and other countries through the International Tropical Ocean-Global Atmosphere Program.

Adverse and fluctuating weather events on a large scale cause billions of dollars in crop losses and other economic impacts each year. Drought in the Sahara, delayed monsoons in India, and prolonged dry periods in food-growing and water resource regions create food and water shortages for large populations. Even in developed countries such as the United States, events such as the Great Plains droughts of 1988, the Mississippi River floods of 1993, and the California floods of 1995 cost millions of dollars in damages and crop losses.

El Nino affects weather from Australia to South and Central America, as well as into the western and southern United States. Although fluctuations in the weather cannot be prevented, the ability to predict extreme changes months in advance allows for agricultural yields to be protected by changing crops and planting schedules. Our improved forecasting ability is sufficiently accurate to also be applied to water resource planning in the southwestern United States. Water supplies can be protected by adjusting storage and management practices.

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Environment and Natural Resources - Table of Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Appendix A

Appendix B

Appendix C

Executive Summary

Research Successes - Ecosystem Research

Research Successes - Observation & Data Management

Research Successes - Biodiversity

Research Successes - Environmental Technology

Research Successes - Global Change


Research Successes - Natural Disaster Reduction

Research Successes - Environmental Change

Research Successes - Forest Research

Research Successes - Air Quality

Research Successes - Lead Levels

Research Successes - Science Policy Tools

Research Successes - Water Resources