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November 17, 2023

The USGS recently updated its National Climate Change Viewer (NCCV), a premier web application for visualizing climate projections across the contiguous United States. The updated tool incorporates the latest CMIP6 climate change models and integrates new guidance on model summarization and weighting. 

“Climate datasets are of high public interest, but they are very large and complicated,” says Jay Alder, a Research Physical Scientist with the USGS Geology, Minerals, Energy and Geophysics Science Center whose work has been supported for almost 10 years by the USGS Climate Research and Development Program.

“We wanted to create a kind of visualization Swiss army knife that can slice and dice the data and help people get a handle on the projections.”  

Alder developed the National Climate Change Viewer as a tool for researchers and practitioners in need of climate data. The viewer outputs a wide variety of models and emissions scenarios over multiple scales, including across watersheds and down to county level projections. This allows users to extract data relevant to the locations and resources they care about and to compare different model outputs.  

“NCCV is a key tool for more advanced users in the Department of the Interior to explore the range of climate change projections,” says Ryan Boyles, Assistant Regional Administrator for the Southeast CASC and Senior Scientist for CASC Climate Adaptation Technical Support. “These updates enable DOI and its partners access to the best available climate science.” 

But a wide variety of people have used the tool across the last decade, from modelers with the CASCs to educators creating classroom activities. The maps have even been incorporated into U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Species Status Assessments to help inform wildlife conservation. 

“The NCCV has generated half a million maps over the duration of its life,” says Alder. “It has been great to watch the user base grow and to see it be applied in many different ways.” 

In this recent update, Alder integrated the latest CMIP6 climate models, the same models used in the recently released Fifth National Climate Assessment. He also worked with CASC researchers to incorporate new climate model guidance on how the models should be averaged and weighted. 

A major new feature of NCCV includes the ability to generate climate maps according to different “global warming levels.” In this analysis, the user can pick an endpoint, such as a global increase of two degrees Celsius, and see how different models project the world will look when that level of warming is reached. This helps remove confusion about which emissions scenarios to consider, which depend on largely unknowable societal choices, or which time frame to explore, as different models often predict different rates of climate change. 

“These global warming levels are much more in line with how we talk about climate change in other contexts, like how the Paris Climate Accords have a goal of limiting climate change to 1.5 degrees C,” explains Alder.  

Alder updates the National Climate Change Viewer about every five years, whenever there are new climate change models or visualization technology to incorporate. He hopes to continue to improve the data visualization outputs in the future, making them even more useful for diverse users.  

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