National Climate Assessment: Indicators System Print E-mail

What are the goals for the NCA indicators?

The vision for the National Climate Assessment (NCA) is to create a system of indicators that will help inform policy-makers and citizens understand key aspects of our changing climate. Scientific information about physical climate conditions, climate impacts, vulnerabilities, and preparedness will be tracked and compiled. These measures are called indicators. The goals of the Indicators System are to:

  • Provide meaningful, authoritative climate-relevant measures about the status, rates, and trends of key physical, ecological, and societal variables and values
  • Inform decisions on management, research, and education at regional to national scales
  • Identify climate-related conditions and impacts to help develop effective mitigation and adaptation measures
  • Provide analytical tools by which user communities can derive their own indicators for particular purposes

What are indicators?

Indicators can be thought of as a way to measure or calculate the status, trend, or performance of a given system. As an example, many businesses look at the unemployment index to gauge the health of an economy. Similarly, climate-relevant indicators, whether ecological, physical, or societal, can help communicate important aspects of our changing environment, point out vulnerabilities, and inform decision-making at local, state, and national levels. Indicators are an important part of the vision for the National Climate Assessment.

What will the NCA Indicator System do?

The NCA Indicator System will compile information on climate-relevant indicators and answer questions to scientists and non-scientists alike about our nation’s changing climate. It will include current indicators, which describe the current status and past trends of a specific aspect of the environment, and leading indicators, which are used to make future projections about the potential impacts climate change may have on a certain parameter. Other criteria for NCA Indicators are that, when possible, they can be scaled to regional levels, and that they are generated by transparent and rigorous scientific practices.

Many agencies already have indicator programs to track climate-related issues, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the United States Geological Survey (USGS). The NCA Indicator System will not attempt to re-do the efforts already underway, but build upon and assemble them into the same system.

What is the scientific framework for this system of indicators?

The NCA Indicators System relies on a theoretical framework as a guide to trace the system-wide responses to climate change through sectors of concern (like forests or oceans), society’s responses through adaptation or mitigation, and the effects those changes then have on the physical climate (See Figure 1. below) Establishing rigorous “cause and effect” relationships in between specific indicators is not the purpose of the Indicator System. Instead, it is a conceptual map to understanding how each of these general categories are linked. These general categories, as shown in Figure 1, are:

Categories of Indicators: Conceptual framework for the National Climate Assessment

Figure 1. Categories of Indicators: Conceptual Framework for the National Climate Assessment.

  • Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks
  • Atmospheric Composition
  • Physical Climate Variability and Change
  • Sectors and Resources of Concern
  • Adaptation and Mitigation Responses

These broad categories can be divided into relevant sub-components when necessary.

There are three main benefits of the theoretical framework.

  1. Each component can be isolated and studied by interested parties, whether they are members of the public, resource managers, or policy-makers.
  2. It is “independent of scale,” so decision-makers at local, state, or national levels can define the scale of indicators that are more relevant to their concerns.
  3. It is independent of any specific time scale, so indicators of different sectors can considered using current state, past trends, and future projections.

What are the indicator requirements?

  • Indicators are derived using sound, established scientific methods in an open, transparent manner
  • Uncertainties in the data or models must be clearly represented to reduce the likelihood of misinterpretations
  • Indicators should be able to be tracked over time
  • Some indicators may need to be based on methodology that conforms to U.S. participation in international data systems
  • Indicators may be representative of current conditions (current indicators), or future states (leading indicators)

When will the NCA Indicator System be up and running?

Teams of scientists and potential users are currently developing the indicator system. A pilot system is expected to launch in 2014 for external review. After the review process is complete, it is anticipated that the indicator system will launch in 2015.

Who is involved in the NCA Indicator System?

A cooperative network of scientists and managers from public agencies, private industry, and academic institutions across the United States is managing the NCA Indicators System. Please click on the buttons below to read more about the scientists and managers involved in the NCA Indicator System. To learn more about the projects funded under the indicators solicitation, please click here.


  • Dr. Melissa Kenney, University of Maryland - Indicators Coordination Office
  • Dr. Anthony “Tony” Janetos, Boston University - Indicators Work Group Chair
  • Derek “Deke” Arndt, NOAA, NCDC - Indicators Work Group Vice Chair and Physical Indicators Team Lead
  • Dr. Robert “Bob” Chen, Columbia University - Indicators Work Group Vice Chair and Societal Indicators Team Lead
  • Dr. Richard Moss, Joint Global Change Research Institute -- Societal Indicators Team Lead
  • Dr. Richard “Rich” Pouyat, USFS -- Ecological Indicators Team Lead



  • Dr. Deke Arndt, NOAA, NCDC - Physical Climate Team Lead, Water Cycle and Management Team Lead
  • Dr. Britta Bierwagen, EPA, Freshwater Ecosystems Team Lead
  • Dr. Nancy Cavallaro, USDA National Institute Food and Agriculture, Grasslands Team Co-lead
  • Dr. Leon Clarke, Joint Global Change Research Institute, Mitigation/Greenhouse Gas Emissions Team Lead
  • Dr. Jerry Hatfield, USDA, Agriculture Team Lead
  • Dr. Linda Heath, USDA USFS, Forests Team Lead
  • Roger Griffis, NOAA, Oceans and Coasts Team Co-lead
  • Dr. Mike McGeehin, Health Team Lead
  • Laurie McGillavray, NOAA, Oceans and Coasts Team Co-lead
  • Dr. Dennis Ojima, Colorado State University, Grasslands Team Co-lead
  • Dr. Jake Weltzin, USGS National Phenology Network, Phenology Team Lead
  • Dr. Tom Wilbanks, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Energy Team Lead and Infrastructure Team Lead

  • Dr. Tony Janetos, Boston University - Indicators Work Group Chair
  • Derek “Deke” Arndt, NOAA, NCDC - Indicators Work Group Vice Chair and Physical Indicators Team Lead
  • Dr. Robert “Bob” Chen, Columbia University - Indicators Work Group Vice Chair, Societal Indicators Team Lead
  • Dr. Daniel Abbasi, NCADAC, GameChange Capital LLC
  • Dr. Tom Armstrong, US Global Change Research PRogram
  • Dr. Peter Backlund, National Center for Atmospheric Research
  • Dr. Bull Bennett, NCADAC, Kiksapa Consulting
  • Maria Blair, NCADAC, Cancer Society
  • Dr. Ann Bartuska, USDA Research, Education, and Economis
  • Jim Buizer, NCADAC, University of Arizona
  • Dr. Virginia Burkett, NCADAC, USGS
  • Dr. Tom Dietz, Michigan State University
  • Dr. Dave Easterling, National Climatic Data Center
  • Dr. Jack Kaye, NASA
  • Mike Kolian, EPA
  • Dr. Mike McGeehin, NCADAC
  • Dr. Richard Moss, NCADAC, University of Maryland
  • Dr. Bob O’Connor, NCADAC, NSF
  • Robin O’Malley, USGS
  • Dr. Richard Pouyat, US Forest Service
  • Dr. Roger Pulwarty, NOAA
  • Dr. Steve Running, University of Montana
  • Dr. Anne Steineman, Scripps Institute of Oceanography
  • Dr. Robert Webb, NOAA
  • Dr. Jake Weltzen, USGS National Phenology Network
  • Resources