Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation on Southwestern DoD Facilities

Dr. Gregg Garfin | University of Arizona

RC-2232

Objective

Climate change is understood as a serious global phenomenon that will affect all aspects of national and global economy, society, and security. To address needs related to climate change challenges, and with support from SERDP, this project aimed to: (1) develop and pilot-test approaches for climate risk assessment; (2) evaluate climate adaptation best practices in a series of case studies, and (3) evaluate approaches and needs for climate services to support adaptation planning compatible with Department of Defense (DoD) decision-making needs and processes.

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Technical Approach

The researchers interacted with DoD personnel in risk assessment workshops and case-study pilots at four installations in the Southwest, through participatory processes. They also conducted interviews and convened workshops with personnel, in order to identify gaps, needs, and opportunities for infusing climate adaptation thinking and practice into DoD operations, and to evaluate promising approaches to climate services, that mesh with military culture, leadership, and practice. Researchers explored current obstacles to adopting climate adaptation measures and possible solutions to overcome these obstacles.

Climate risk assessments and adaptation case studies were conducted at Fort Huachuca (FTH; U.S. Army), Barry M. Goldwater Range East (BMGR-E; U.S. Air Force), Barry M. Goldwater Range West (BMGR-W; U.S. Marines), and Naval Base Coronado (NBC; U.S. Navy). Researchers explored in each case the influence of top-down DoD policy directives and guidance on day-to-day Base management, and what factors might determine if a given installation is likely to be an “early adopter”, or to focus more on here-and-now priorities to the exclusion of long term adaptation planning. They conducted detailed case studies, at FTH and NBC to test hypotheses about strategies for encouraging adoption of climate adaptation measures in the context of Base management priorities and resources.

To fulfill Project objectives, researchers designed and implemented activities as follows:

  1. Researchers tested methods to assess current and future climate-related impacts and risks, including the data, information, and climate services support needed by DoD personnel, to assess climate change risks and vulnerabilities.
  2. To demonstrate proof of concept for supporting DoD decision-makers, researchers tested readily accessible and publicly available data and decision tools to generate information on climate-driven wildfire and post-fire flood risks and uncertainties.
  3. Researchers developed installation-focused pilot projects to assess a participatory approach to climate change risk assessment, and to co-develop, with installation personnel, strategies that are resilient in light of uncertainties. Researchers convened a workshop of related SERDP climate change projects, and synthesized expert advice on risk assessment, decision-support, uncertainties, and the climate services needed to support decisions.
  4. Researchers developed a science-based decision support process, which included the co-development of strategies, along with installation resource management personnel, for management of wildland fire risk in the face of uncertainties. They assessed approaches used by analogous entities, such as international departments of defense, heavy industries, and multi-faceted state and city governments, and summarized best practices currently being adopted by this array of climate-sensitive entities.

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Results

Assessing current and future climate-related impacts and risks. In studies at all four bases researchers found that integrating climate change risks into the current decision matrix, by linking projected risks to current or past impacts, creates active engagement by focusing on here-and now challenges. Addressing specific current issues builds capacity and willingness to incorporate climate change thinking into future planning and risk management processes and builds interest in science-based solutions. Key issues addressed included potential impacts of sea level rise, wildfire, flooding, invasive species, and impacts of climate variability.

Adoption of publicly available data and decision tools and methods. Bases have some capacity to integrate climate-related information, but they have limited resources to undertake the studies necessary to assess risk comprehensively. The project team provided summaries of relevant information to military and civilian Base personnel and management for climate variables, wildfire, flooding, and other near-term risks. At FTH researchers developed a partnership with the Environment and Natural Resources Division group to assess how fire management strategies might be influenced by changing climate drivers; at NBC they helped the Base evaluate potential elevated fire risk due to climate and past land-use history, using publicly available modeling tools.

In intensive installation-focused pilot projects researchers tested hypotheses of engagement. At both NBC and FTH, they focused on climate influences on near-term risks identified by Base leadership, particularly wildfire and post-fire flood risks. Researchers found increasing wildfire risk at both bases over multi-decade periods, and in the case of FTH a strongly increasing risk of post fire flooding due to direct climate effects on fire behavior and climate-driven changes to vegetation from persistent drought stress and increasing temperatures.

Researchers’ interactions with installations provided clear lessons for climate change adaptation and decision-making in DoD. Base management was receptive to climate-related actions, but day to-day priorities dominate decisions and resource allocation. There is rarely designated funding for climate adaptation; thus, Base management must divert scarce funds for these purposes from many other competing, and often immediate, priorities. Recognizing this, researchers developed an adoption model that emphasizes “mainstreaming” climate into existing priorities, which enables Base managers to transition from present concerns to future and emerging problems.

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Benefits

Installations are the “front lines” of climate adaptation in the DoD. The emphasis on installations, allowed the researchers to develop a unique strategy tuned to the needs and challenges of this organizational level, including (1) assessing data and information needs, (2) assessing Base wide risk, (3) engaging personnel, (4) communicating climate change information, (5) mainstreaming climate change into DoD practice and policy, (6) addressing DoD institutional norms, leadership and partnerships, and (7) providing climate services for DoD installations and supporting DoD climate services capacity. This model shows great promise to speed the incorporation of climate adaptation planning at all levels of the DoD. 

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Points of Contact

Principal Investigator

Dr. Gregg Garfin

University of Arizona

Phone: 520-626-4372

Program Manager

Resource Conservation and Resiliency

SERDP and ESTCP

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