Public Release: 

NSF awards $11.9 million for Sustainable Climate Risk Management

Penn State

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- An interdisciplinary team of scholars has received an $11.9 million award from the National Science Foundation to support the establishment of a multi-institution research network on Sustainable Climate Risk Management strategies. Part of the NSF's Sustainability Research Networks initiative, the network is centered at Penn State and spans nine additional U.S. universities and research institutes.

"Our vision is to produce fundamentally improved analysis frameworks, to develop and mentor the next generation of diverse researchers, and to inform decisions for managing climate-related risks in the Anthropocene," said Klaus Keller, principal investigator, SRN director and associate professor of geosciences at Penn State.

The co-principal investigators for the network are Robert Lempert, RAND Corp.; Chris Forest Department of Meteorology, and Karen Fisher-Vanden, Department of Agricultural Economics, Sociology, and Education, both at Penn State; and James Edmonds, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

Scientists and policymakers alike have identified the potential for climate-threshold responses to anthropogenic climate forcings. Examples of such potential responses include a disintegration of the West Antarctic or Greenland ice sheets, persistent changes in the North Atlantic thermohaline circulation, release of carbon stored in permafrost and a dieback of the Amazon rainforest.

"Proposed approaches to the management of climate-related risks through adaptation, mitigation, and geoengineering differ in their distributions of costs and benefits, and their vulnerability to deep uncertainties," said Keller.

The Sustainability Research Networks will generate knowledge and tools to help address the challenges of formulating sustainable climate risk management strategies.

"Our goal is to advance the foundations of sustainability research through an integrated and quantitative approach that links the social, economic, and environmental components of climate risk management," Keller added.

For example, the economic component will contribute to research on sound axiomatic foundations of sustainability and the potential consequences of different representations of sustainability in integrated assessment models. The environmental component will provide assessments of the different strategies as well as potential definitions of sustainability.

The social component will analyze issues such as the ethical dimensions of inter- and intra-generational equity and diversity of ethical frameworks. Earth system modeling will be used to analyze possible futures and interactions among the system components. Uncertainty quantification, a central theme across models and methods, will be used to assess risk quantitatively across the wide range of transdisciplinary projects.

The Sustainability Research Networks will provide dedicated cyberinfrastructure for collaborative modeling, data sharing and synthesis across projects and will be tightly integrated with a network of collaborators in the U.S. and beyond to gather the experts required to address these broad challenges. The networks will engage and reach out to students and teachers by sharing research results and insights through supported climate- and energy-focused professional development workshops and online educational resources.


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