ASPEN " Strange as it might seem, it is easier to predict changes in the climate 100 years from now than one decade from now, say scientists gathering this week in Aspen.
Over the long term, worldwide climate change will matter more to the human experience than year-to-year oscillations. But over the short term, drought conditions will have a greater impact than global warming.
Most humans " whether they work in agriculture, biology or the skiing industry, for that matter " have more riding on what their local climate will look like next year than in the distant future. A winter that is 100 years away, however different it might look from this year's winter, doesn't matter much to a ski company executive trying to decide whether to buy more snow-making machines.
This week, approximately 29 climate scientists from major climate computing centers in the United States, England, Germany, Japan, Australia and Canada are gathering at the Aspen Global Change Institute to determine if and how scientists can create models to make short-term climate predictions.
At Wednesday's public lecture, Dr. Lisa Goddard, a research scientist at Columbia University's Earth Institute, explained that scientists are making progress in their understanding of how oceans affect short-term climate change.
Due to a large network of automated buoys, called Argos, which measure the temperature and salinity of the oceans, scientists have grown in their understanding of ocean patterns in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. By combining this oceanic data with other climate data and modeling, they've gained insight into the telekinections between land and oceans " and how they may relate to short-term climate change.
If the audience's reaction to her lecture was any indication, Goddard and the other scientists at the Global Change Institute are correct in their belief that citizens really want to know what the climate will be like in the immediate future.
"What does all this mean for skiing in the next 30 years?" asked one attendee.
Goddard's answer: "Not too good."
Another listener " who said he lived in Florida, 7 feet above mean high tide " wanted to know how much the ocean was rising each year.
Goddard passed the question off to a colleague, who said the ocean is rising 3 millimeters per year.
But the visiting scientists warn not to expect a working model by the end of the week.
"Right now, they're just trying to sort out 'how do you know what you know?' explained institute director John Katzenberg. The attendees are exploring how to approach short-term climate prediction.
Founded in 1989, the Aspen Global Change Institute convenes in-depth interdisciplinary seminars to further the scientific understanding of global change.
The sessions attempt to further collaboration between those involved in studying
climate change, particularly between social scientists and natural scientists. More than 800 scientists from 35 countries, including three Nobel Laureates, have participated in the Institute's science sessions. Each session has one public lecture.