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Lessons Learned from the Case Studies

This workshop looked at two case examples, using presentations and discussion, to explore current understanding of multiple environmental stresses in the earth system and to discuss the types of research needed to improve integrated understanding of these kinds of complex, nonlinear problems. Understanding multiple stresses is challenging because it almost always requires consideration of multiple variables and larger, more complex spatial scales. Yet without a more sophisticated understanding of the impacts of a suite of environmental stresses, we cannot make the kind of progress necessary to improve our predictive capability and response strategies.

The overarching lesson of the workshop discussions is that a thorough understanding of the integrated effects of—and future vulnerability to—multiple stresses to natural and socioeconomic systems requires improved use of existing tools and strategies and, in addition, the development of improved tools and strategies—such as observational, modeling, and information systems infrastructure—to support environmental monitoring, vulnerability assessment, and response analysis and that the entire process needs significant involvement of stakeholders.

During the workshop, the National Ecological Observing Network1 (NEON) was mentioned as an example of the type of nationally networked research, communication, and informatics infrastructure needed to provide more comprehensive and interdisciplinary measurements and experiments. References were also made to other possible infrastructure, such as



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Understanding Multiple Environmental Stresses: Report of a Workshop 4 Lessons Learned from the Case Studies This workshop looked at two case examples, using presentations and discussion, to explore current understanding of multiple environmental stresses in the earth system and to discuss the types of research needed to improve integrated understanding of these kinds of complex, nonlinear problems. Understanding multiple stresses is challenging because it almost always requires consideration of multiple variables and larger, more complex spatial scales. Yet without a more sophisticated understanding of the impacts of a suite of environmental stresses, we cannot make the kind of progress necessary to improve our predictive capability and response strategies. The overarching lesson of the workshop discussions is that a thorough understanding of the integrated effects of—and future vulnerability to—multiple stresses to natural and socioeconomic systems requires improved use of existing tools and strategies and, in addition, the development of improved tools and strategies—such as observational, modeling, and information systems infrastructure—to support environmental monitoring, vulnerability assessment, and response analysis and that the entire process needs significant involvement of stakeholders. During the workshop, the National Ecological Observing Network1 (NEON) was mentioned as an example of the type of nationally networked research, communication, and informatics infrastructure needed to provide more comprehensive and interdisciplinary measurements and experiments. References were also made to other possible infrastructure, such as 1 http://www.neoninc.org/.

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Understanding Multiple Environmental Stresses: Report of a Workshop the National Phenology Network2 (USA-NPN), designed to facilitate systematic collection and free dissemination of phenological data from across the United States to support research concerning interactions among plants, animals, and the lower atmosphere, especially the long-term impacts of climate change; the Ocean Research Interactive Observatory Networks3 (ORION), designed to provide high-frequency, continuous time-series measurements in broad-scale spatial arrays needed to define the links among physical, biological, chemical, and geological variables in the oceans and provide spatially coherent data to study processes and enable modeling efforts; the Ameri-Flux Network,4 designed to provide continuous observations of ecosystem-level exchanges of CO2, H2O, energy, and momentum spanning diurnal, synoptic, seasonal, and interannual timescales; the proposed Integrated and Sustained Ocean Observing System5 (IOOS); the International Global Ocean Observing System6 (GOOS); and the Global Earth Observation System of Systems7 (GEOSS). Observing systems alone cannot solve the puzzle of understanding multi-stress environmental problems, but they are a necessary component because they provide the data needed to characterize the environment and determine trends. There is a real need for careful attention to the systematic creation and validation of long-term, consistent climate data records (NRC, 2004a). The following paragraphs describe some of the other tools and strategies highlighted during the workshop. COMPREHENSIVE REGIONAL FRAMEWORKS Many participants advocated development of comprehensive regional frameworks for environmental studies as outlined during the workshop’s keynote address by Dr. Eric Barron. The vision Dr. Barron proposed included an integrated regional web of sensors that link existing observations into a coherent framework and enable new observations to be developed within an overall structure; an integrated and comprehensive regional information system accessible to a wide variety of researchers, operational systems, and stakeholders; directed process studies designed to examine specific phenomena through field study to address deficiencies in understanding; 2 http://www.uwm.edu/Dept/Geography/npn/. 3 http://www.orionprogram.org/. 4 http://public.ornl.gov/ameriflux/. 5 http://www.ocean.us/. 6 http://www.ioc-goos.org/. 7 http://www.earthobservations.org/.

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Understanding Multiple Environmental Stresses: Report of a Workshop a regional, high-resolution modeling foundation for constructing increasingly complex coupled system models at the spatial and temporal scales appropriate for the examination of specific and integrated biological, hydrological, and socioeconomic systems; and a strong connection to significant regional issues and stakeholders. Workshop participants returned repeatedly to the Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments (RISA)8 program as a possible model for such regional frameworks. (RISAs are discussed in greater detail later in this chapter.) A WEB OF INTEGRATED SENSORS Current U.S. observation strategy tends to focus on the measurement of discrete variables at a specific set of locations designed to serve the different needs of weather forecasting, pollution monitoring, hydrological forecasting, or other specific mission objectives. This mission focus results in a diverse set of networks supported by a number of different federal agencies, states, or regional governments. A host of environmental issues motivates additional new observations. However, these new observations are frequently viewed independently of an integrated observing strategy. In addition, it is difficult to identify sufficient financial support for regular and consistently repeated observations. These factors severely limit our ability to integrate physical, biological, chemical, and human systems. Creating comprehensive regional observing networks would allow us to (a) link observing systems into a web of integrated sensors building upon existing weather and hydrological stations and remote sensing capability; (b) create the agreements across a set of more limited agencies and federal, state, and local governments needed to create a structure to the observing system; (c) provide a compelling framework that encourages or demands the integration of new observations into a broader strategy; and (d) create strong linkages between research and operational observations that result in mutual benefit. Clearly, these steps will be difficult to achieve given political dynamics and constrained budgets, but these sorts of comprehensive approaches are needed to improve our capability to respond and ensure flexibility over time. The importance of continued support for and maintenance of existing environmental networks should not be under-estimated as a foundation for what needs to happen in the future. REGIONAL INFORMATION SYSTEMS Efforts to create comprehensive information systems increasingly reflect federal and state mandates to make data more accessible and useful to the public 8 http://www.climate.noaa.gov/cpo_pa/risa/.

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Understanding Multiple Environmental Stresses: Report of a Workshop and to ensure that our investments in research yield maximum societal benefit. Development of a tractable regional digital database is feasible and enables participation of universities; federal, state, and local governments; and industry in an endeavor for which immediate benefit for a state or region can be evident. For this to happen efficiently these information systems will need to take advantage of existing facilities and infrastructure, augmenting selectively as needed and, overall, improving the connections that bind the pieces together. This will take careful and detailed planning and a strong commitment to implementation. FRAMEWORK FOR PROCESS STUDIES Process studies are a critical element of scientific advancement because they are designed to probe uncertainties in knowledge about how the earth system functions. The objective is to use field study to address deficiencies in our understanding. Targeted process studies improve our ability to quantify thresholds, understand nonlinear interactions of multiple environmental factors, and decipher long timescale responses to climate change. The benefit of these intensive studies is maximized when they can be coupled with a highly developed, integrated set of sensors, with readily accessible spatial and temporal data within a regional information system, and with a predictive model framework that readily enables the entrainment and testing of new information from process studies. IMPROVING OUR PREDICTIVE CAPABILITY Prediction is central to the translation of knowledge about the earth system into economic benefit and societal well-being. Although there is still substantial room for improvement, over the last several decades we have experienced enormous increases in our ability to forecast weather and to project climate and climate variability into the future. The demand for new forecasting products involving air quality, energy demand, water quality and quantity, ultraviolet radiation, and human health indexes is growing rapidly. Environmental issues will demand an even greater capability to integrate physical, biological, chemical, and human systems in order to examine the response of critical regions or cases to multiple stresses. Global weather and climate models provide the strongest physical foundation for more comprehensive predictive capability. The numerical models that underpin this type of forecast are increasingly becoming the framework for the addition of new numerical formulations designed to predict air quality, the water balance for river forecast models, and a host of other variables, including the migration of forests under climate change conditions. As we attempt to produce predictions at the scale of human endeavors, mesoscale models (capable of predicting synoptic weather systems) and downscaling of coarser resolution model output are increasingly becoming the focal point of weather and climate studies because of their

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Understanding Multiple Environmental Stresses: Report of a Workshop BOX 4-1 Examples of Tools and Strategies After both cases were presented and discussed, workshop participants took part in brainstorming to identify examples of important observations, modeling tools, and research strategies for improving understanding of and response to multiple-stresses problems. This box captures those ideas to illustrate the range of possible actions; they are listed as presented and not prioritized or standardized in style or scope. Observations Maintain existing environmental networks and expand observing infrastructure (e.g., NEON) while maintaining a balance between high-cost, large platforms/ instruments and low-cost, small platforms/instruments. Expand aircraft fleet to include smaller/lower cost aircraft. Consider using remotely piloted vehicles. Expand use of observing systems (flux towers and aircraft transects) for measuring net ecosystem exchange and developing/testing models. Expand use of remote sensing (satellite or aircraft) to access the increasing suite of ecological measurements and molecular biology tools. Focus on intersections and gradients. Expand field manipulations to develop process understanding; generate a plan for manipulation study priorities. Generate the capability to manipulate multiple variables and conduct experiments over appropriate spatial and temporal scales. Ensure consistency of long-term measurements because long-term data are needed to identify nonlinearities. Generate integrated, accessible data archive/information systems. Generate global databases of multiple stresses (georeferenced) for large-scale models; include a database of spatial economic data. Models Integrated hierarchy of models. Models that integrate human and natural components to study nonlinearities and thresholds. Extend model focus to effects on ecosystem trophic levels. Use ensemble runs to assess uncertainty and probability. Use inverse modeling to test end products of complex models. Station-specific data projection model based on historical information with the ability to perturb the model using appropriate climate forcing functions. Statistical tools that clearly display the interaction between data and forecast procedures and forecast validation. Develop model scenarios that provide better understanding of catastrophic events (e.g., war, pests, disease).

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Understanding Multiple Environmental Stresses: Report of a Workshop Strategies Integrate datasets and provide information delivery system to users. Map multiple stresses using multiple overlays in geographic information systems (GISs) to identify “critical zones.” Create reliable indexes of leading vulnerability indicators that combine suites of stressors that are known to interact and might give a first-order monitoring capability (i.e., a Dow Jones-type index for the environment as a publicity tool). Use video/computer games as a multiple-stresses decision-support tool (e.g., use place-based scenarios to explore megadrought thresholds, drought scenarios, ocean or atmosphere scenarios). Make better use of existing data, such as by linking qualitative and quantitative information in impact assessments, expanding use of spatial representation (GIS) to visualize data, and improving decision analysis and understanding of uncertainties. Co-develop scenarios with those who use the information for decision making, working together in effective partnerships. Work with stakeholders at the design point so that research meets user needs. Work to better communicate risks. Use seemingly simple systems that exhibit complicated behavior that could be used by managers to illustrate probabilities (e.g., flood frequency analysis). Develop better models for drought planning, improve tools for municipalities, and generate methods for testing drought plans. Identify implications of changes in states or processes. Survey to identify ecosystem shifts/state changes/changing carbon or moisture levels (look to see if they do go through thresholds). Prioritize wetlands protection. Use regional monies to leverage efforts. potential to make predictions on the scale of river systems, cities, agriculture, and forestry. Development of a mesoscale numerical prediction capability that meshes with regional sensor webs and information systems would facilitate development of tractable coupled models, initiate experimental forecasts of new variables, and enable assessment of the outcomes associated with multiple stresses. RESEARCH NEEDS RELATED TO NONLINEARITIES AND THRESHOLDS Workshop participants frequently highlighted lessons learned about non-linearities in the climate system and the difficulties associated with quantifying

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Understanding Multiple Environmental Stresses: Report of a Workshop the effects of multiple interacting stresses and technological change. Although current models are useful in identifying single-variable nonlinearities, few models are sufficiently comprehensive to provide quantitative predictions of the effects of multiple environmental stresses. While coupled modeling systems developed in the future are expected to be useful in the identification of nonlinearities, it was thought that nonlinearities are currently best identified by long-term observations. The thresholds considered by participants to have the highest priority for study include climate/pest interactions resulting in changes in functional types of natural vegetation; megadrought (climate threshold, ecosystem thresholds, human thresholds, cascading effects); and interaction between ecosystems, climate change, and air pollution. Suggestions regarding how best to approach the study of thresholds included studies involving initial system observations followed by single-variable and multiple environmental stresses experiments and modeling; studies focused on ecotones, zones where marginality of nutrients, predators, climate, land use, economics, and policies create unstable land uses that are especially sensitive to small variations in drivers; and studies of extreme conditions (e.g., air pollution in megacities) where changes in state may be observed. Participants also encouraged development of threshold typology, identification of a core set of controlling (and dynamic) variables that determine system behavior, assessment of the interaction of fast and slow variables (as related to the threshold); assessment of the degree to which a system may be capable of self-organization; and assessment of the ability to build and increase the capacity for learning and adaptation. Threshold-focused research needs to study both direct and indirect effects, linking thresholds and impact occurrence to indicators/indices, study of the full probability space of observations and model outputs, and consideration of new opportunities that are likely to result from globalization. RESEARCH NEEDS RELATED TO INCREASING RESILIENCE Workshop participants encouraged the following approaches to increasing resilience to multiple environmental stresses: use of models; improvement of models for response planning; identification of additional water storage; consideration of new conservation strategies; maintenance of biodiversity; improved communication of environmental capacities and limitations to local officials; improved understanding of adaptive or buffering capacity, which is determined by the types of capital available (natural, social, human, cultural, and produced);

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Understanding Multiple Environmental Stresses: Report of a Workshop full leveraging of adaptive capacity, technological capacity, and expertise; in-parallel focus on combinations of social and environmental stresses and combinations of environmental stresses; use of war games as a scenario-based tool for informing decision making, examination of historical analogs that share important similarities with contemporary (and anticipated future) stresses; incorporation of “normal” (rather than fair to good) socioeconomic conditions and civil and regional wars in scenarios for sustainable development; and linking results of models to resilience, improvement of public awareness of related issues, and elimination of nonsustaining financial incentives. Moreover, a number of steps were suggested for the creation of vigorous and continuous links between researchers and decision makers, including incorporation of the variety of time and space scales and the diversity of variables that are important to decision makers; emphasis on the education of the user in the meaning and significance of climate and land use information in order to promote greater use and more robust applications; ensuring mutual information exchange and feedback; focus on communication and accessibility of information; continuous evaluation and assessment of the use and effectiveness of the services; employment of active mechanisms to enable the transition from research discovery to useful products; and employment of a variety of methods of education and outreach. RESEARCH NEEDS RELATED TO REGIONAL STUDIES During the workshop the argument was made that the ability to anticipate the future is what makes knowledge powerful. The knowledge we seek concerns the role and effects of multiple stresses in the context of atmosphere-ecosystem interactions. These interactions include climate variability and change over a wide range of time/space scales, land use/land cover changes, human social systems, waste products and streams, and the combined effects of all the above on natural ecosystems. This knowledge must perforce be place based (i.e., site or region specific) because context is important. Integrated assessments of multiple stresses across a variety of time/space scales are required in which the impacts and decisions are place based but the drivers of impacts are drawn from a much larger scale. We can summarize by saying it is critical to link the large-scale drivers to place-based contexts with a focus on multiple stressors and put the knowledge to work—that is, connect in partnerships with real stakeholders and decision makers from the place where the work is done.

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Understanding Multiple Environmental Stresses: Report of a Workshop Obstacles to realizing the vision above include lack of the following: integrated observing systems; a common modeling framework; a foundation of process studies geared toward prediction; an integrated data and information system; and systematic, vigorous connections to real users of the information and decision makers. One program in existence comes close to meeting the challenge described above and that is the Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments (RISA) program of NOAA’s Office of Global Programs. As described at the workshop, the RISA program was launched in 1995 with a pilot project at the University of Washington (the Climate Impacts Group). The program now consists of eight regional teams distributed across the United States, each with a focus on the role of climate variability and the projected impacts of climate change in defined sectors of human socioeconomic activity and on specified ecosystems. Each program is required to establish links and partnerships with stakeholders and decision makers so that research results can be translated into usable knowledge and decision-support tools that are specific to the subregion. Emphasis is placed not only on assessing the climate sensitivity of different activities and ecosystems but also on their vulnerabilities to climate variability and change and on policies and programs that would increase the resilience of these subregions to climate-related risks of varying magnitude. So far RISA teams cover the Pacific Northwest, the Southwest, the Colorado River system, California, Hawaii, the Southeast (Florida and Georgia), the Carolinas, and New England. Although the basic template and objectives for each team are the same, there is considerable variation in the way the teams implement the vision because each team is grounded in a particular place in which the mix of concerns varies along with constituents, capabilities, and climate-related risks. These teams document what and how climate drivers function in specific places, what impacts they typically exert on various kinds of natural systems and socioeconomic activities that are sensitive to climate variability, and what levels of risk each subregion faces, inter alia. The crucial questions, not surprisingly, shift from place to place. So, for instance, “Will winter snowpack and spring streamflow be above or below normal this year?” might be a critical question in the Pacific Northwest, but it will have no meaning in Florida where “Will it freeze?” is definitely one of the critical questions. In the western United States water is the central issue and will be even more so under scenarios of climate change because the entire West consists largely of snowmelt-driven systems. No matter what their foci, all subregions are now faced with the necessity of trying to understand what their vulnerabilities to anthropogenic climate change are, what the magnitudes and rates of change might be, and how best to adapt to and cope with these changes over time.

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Understanding Multiple Environmental Stresses: Report of a Workshop The RISA teams clearly demonstrate how useful such an approach can be. But to date this is still a small program and a long way from fulfilling the vision of cohesive observations, data management, data access, carefully designed process studies across regions and subregions nested in a framework for developing regional predictive models of the effects of multiple stresses and translating the research outputs in a series of vigorous and continuing connections with stakeholders. NEAR-TERM OPPORTUNITIES Looking overall at the workshop presentations and discussions, a great range of issues and opportunities were explored. As a final step, the steering committee reviewed the information generated and identified seven near-term opportunities for advancing our understanding of multiple stresses and making this understanding useful to decision makers. 1. A Ground-Based Measurements Network. There is a real need for comprehensive ground-based measurements of important ecological indicators such as biodiversity, species composition, ecosystem functioning, ecological aspects of biogeochemical cycles, and other elements. This information over time will allow improved understanding of the ecological implications of climate change, the evolution of infectious diseases, invasive species, and land use change over time and across large spatial scales (NRC, 2003). The National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) that has been under development is an example of the kind of system that could contribute the types of information needed. 2. Global Information Systems and Satellite Observations. In 2005 members of the Group on Earth Observations (GEO), which includes 60 countries and the European Commission, agreed to a 10-year implementation plan for a Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS). Anticipated foci and socioeconomic benefits include sustainable agriculture and reduced desertification; disaster reduction and improved ecosystem management and protection; biodiversity conservation; improved weather information, forecasting, and warning; adaptation to climate variability and change; improved water resource management; understanding of environmental factors affecting human health and well-being; and improved management of energy resources (NRC, 2005b). GEOSS could be configured to assist with detecting and understanding multiple stresses and extreme events. For example, one of the key components of the

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Understanding Multiple Environmental Stresses: Report of a Workshop International Earth Observing System (IEOS),9 the primary contribution by the United States to GEOSS, would be a National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS). The goal of NIDIS is to develop an integrated drought information system that would enhance the ability of users to assess on a timely basis the risks and potential impacts associated with drought through the availability of appropriate decision-support tools. Other aspects of NIDIS focus on the development of a comprehensive drought early warning and delivery system, an enhanced research environment that emphasizes impact mitigation and improved predictive capabilities, and a framework for interacting with and educating stakeholders and the public on causes of drought, preparedness strategies, and how drought impacts human and natural systems. NIDIS is considered to be an invaluable resource in helping water managers and policy makers at all levels deal with the increasing impacts of drought and water resources management in a climate change environment. IEOS/GEOSS could also provide longer-term forecasting, especially for severe weather events, such as Hurricane Katrina, and an all-hazards, all-media alerting system. (In the case of wildfires, hikers, for example, would get immediate messages on their cell phones to evacuate areas.) Furthermore, as improved forecasting will help with the distribution of resources in warm or cold years and in extreme wet or dry seasons, IEOS/GEOSS could be very important to the water and energy sectors. 3. Synthesis of Data. The Heinz Center’s10 State of the Nation’s Ecosystems project—done in concert with federal, corporate, and academic partners—is characterizing data gaps and data integration needs by sector (urban, forests, coasts, etc.) in order to produce indicators on the improvement or degradation of U.S. resources. This multiyear effort could include a section on the composite effect of multiple stresses on ecological and urban sectors and identify missing data most needed to characterize the status of trends of ecosystem health. 4. Nonlinearities and Thresholds. There is a rich historical record of responses to extremes of record (droughts, floods, hurricanes). Overlaying those conditions on the socioeconomic and ecological conditions of today—conducting “what if” scenarios to see if today’s communities and natural resources could cope with, for example, the drought of the 1930s or a direct hit of hurricane Andrew on Miami—would be extremely valuable. Similarly, scenarios reconstructing extreme events of the past could study if an increase in temperature and a change in water availability would lead to breakpoints or thresholds in the ecological or economic realms (e.g., as observed by Breshears et al., 2005). 9 IEOS, a global system of missions made up of EOS (Earth Observing System) satellites together with other Earth observation missions from NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), Europe, and Japan. 10 http://www.heinzctr.org.

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Understanding Multiple Environmental Stresses: Report of a Workshop 5. Resilience. Within the assessment processes, institutional, technological, and economic options that offer insurance or appear the most robust to a suite of environmental changes could be identified. These could include such measures as changed cropping patterns, water conservation, germplasm preservation, park design, and habitat connectivity, within the context of long-term resiliency to a changing climate. In addition, early warning systems for various environmental indicators (droughts, floods, tropical cyclones, wildfires) could be established in pertinent regions. Finally, development of a compendium of best practices for coping with extreme events and deployment of appropriate preparedness programs would enhance resilience. 6. Regional Foci. Understanding the impacts of climate change in a particular place in concert with the other environmental stressors operating in that region is key to developing wise coping options. The Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments program and the regional studies begun under the U.S. National Assessment process are models of this nascent type of analysis, and an increase in this kind of activity is greatly needed. 7. Stakeholder Involvement. Connecting stakeholders to an ongoing research effort directly aimed at producing usable knowledge of value to stakeholders requires long-term partnerships, trust that researchers will actually stay the course, thorough familiarity on both sides about what each is doing, considerable effort expended by the research teams to gain knowledge about the decision context and the needs of the different types of stakeholders, and appreciation by the stakeholders of the added value the results of the research can offer to their concerns. All of this takes time and resources. The RISA teams, for example, have used periodic systematic surveys, annual workshops custom-tailored to the specific interests of different combinations of stakeholders (e.g., water resource managers, forest fire managers, fisheries managers, farmers, coastal managers), and the co-production of specific decision-support tools as ways to build in true stakeholder involvement. Research and experience to date show that overemphasizing climate forecasts per se is counterproductive. Users have a decided preference for deterministic forecasts and lack of understanding of probabilistic forecasts to an extent that only the technically advanced early adopters find probabilistic climate forecasts to be useful. For others a softer approach is more useful and more readily understood. This approach is grounded on the fact that all stakeholders really want to understand to what extent climate is responsible for the underlying variation in the resources they use or manage or the economic activities in which they are engaged. Once researchers recognize this fact, it is possible to have fruitful, long-term relationships that evolve. However, each party to the relationship has to be committed to learning from the other, and the researchers need to strive to produce information and decision tools that are useful and timely to the stakeholders. However, it should be understood that stakeholders cannot define the totality of the research agenda for the simple reason that often the stakeholders do not and

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Understanding Multiple Environmental Stresses: Report of a Workshop cannot be expected to know what they need to know about the dynamics of the climate system. So the research agenda must be balanced; it cannot be the product of curiosity alone but rather it must be defined to meet certain ends that can be transferred to the decision maker.