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Sywell Reservoir in Northamptonshire. Photo supplied by iStock Photography

Loughborough academics set to launch improved version of ‘climate change scenario tool’

Loughborough University academics are planning to launch a new improved version of a ‘climate change scenario tool’ that challenges conventional scientific thinking.

Professor Robert Wilby and Dr Christian Dawson have upgraded a computer programme which helps governments and agencies develop water management strategies in response to climate change. This follows a recent collaboration with top American scientist Dr Casey Brown at the University of Massachusetts.

Professor Wilby, from the Department of Geography, developed the ‘tool’ 10 years ago after research he did while working for the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado.

Public versions of the software were produced with the help of Dr Dawson, from Loughborough’s Department of Computer Science, and have now been downloaded by more than 5,000 people in over 100 countries. The tool was also used in a study to upgrade London’s Thames Barrier.

However, Professor Wilby decided it needed revamping to take into account changes in thinking over the last decade and hopes to re-launch the new version early this year.

Professor Wilby and Dr Brown approach climate change from a different angle to the majority of scientists by taking a more practical view.

Professor Wilby says the tool, called the ‘Statistical DownScaling Model’ (SDSM), can ‘take information about the climate anywhere on the globe and give you a local estimate of what the future climate change might be.’

Professor Wilby said: “Most of the scientific community think you should take information from climate models and look forward into the future and then design your response around what the climate models say the future might be.

“We take the view that the future is just too uncertain and the climate model science too much in its infancy to do that.

“So we are developing techniques which enable you to come up with the plan first and then test it using assumptions about the future climate.

“It turns the approach upside down. Rather than having the climate model and the scenario first and the decision second, we say better to identify what is economically, technically and socially feasible first and then test those options against possible future climates.”

Professor Wilby says that when it comes to reservoirs, for example, most scientists develop a climate scenario for the future to ascertain any potential impact of climate change on the inflowing rivers.

He said: “We think that planners should say to themselves, ‘here’s my reservoir, what can I do to make it more resilient to the present and future climate?’

“Do we change the rules to manage the amount of water we release, do we invest in more physical structures to upgrade the reservoir, or do we manage something else, like demand for water by the public or industry?

“We begin with the solutions and test how they perform in the different climate conditions.”

Professor Wilby says the results from the traditional approach are ‘wildly uncertain’ and believes his and Dr Brown’s strategies are catching on.

He said: “I’d like to think so. It’s certainly rocking the boat and people can get nervous when you challenge the traditional way of thinking.

“Who knows whether this will gain any traction in the long run, but one thing is certain, orthodox approaches are not really offering much help to those making the decisions.”

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