A User Guide to Climate Change Portals
and other resources that support planning and adaptation in the Mountain West
Climate change portals and related resources
The climate is changing, and we can no longer assume the weather of the past will be the weather of the future. To prepare, communities need to know how climate change will impact people, infrastructure, and other resources.
Fortunately, a lot of climate change data has been synthesized, curated, visualized, and posted online. But for this information to be useful, you need to know these resources exist, where to find them, and what they can and can’t tell you.
We have created this online guide to climate change portals and related resources to help you do this.
Download a four-page, printable overview of this guide.
Why this guide?
This guide is designed to help people and communities effectively acquire and interpret climate change information that is appropriate for their locality. Whether you’re a city or county staffer, other professional, or a concerned resident, this guide will help you find climate information that’s appropriate and useful to you. We focus on the U.S. Mountain West, but much of the information in this guide is transferable to other regions.
To our knowledge, this is the first guide intended for a broad audience that navigates the landscape of climate change portals and related information resources. This guide was developed and refined through conversations with both portal developers and users.
Before you begin
Before opening any climate change portal to look at projections of future climate for your community, it is important to think carefully about what you will do with this information. This will help determine what type(s) of information you need, and thus where you might need to go to find it.
You might ask:
- What process do you hope to inform (e.g., a new planning effort, policy decisions or actions, or public outreach efforts)?
- What is the specificity (in time and space) of the information you feel will be needed to support that process?
- Do future climate conditions need to be quantified, or is a more qualitative assessment adequate?
- How far into the future would you like to look (next 20 years, mid-century, late-century)?
- What aspects of future climate and climate impacts are most relevant (e.g., annual temperature, summertime streamflow, drought duration)?
Answering that last question can require having a sense of what climate conditions and events lead to undesirable outcomes in your community. This is typically based on experience (e.g., 3-year droughts really stress the city’s water supply), although general information about future climate impacts and vulnerabilities, found in climate assessments or on historical climate portals, can provide insights.
Click here to see four brief real-world examples that illustrate how specific needs lead to different types of climate change information needed by communities in the Mountain West.
Additionally, when you navigate climate change information, you enter a dense thicket of technical terms and acronyms. Click here for a brief glossary with definitions of the most important ones. You can also find more detailed descriptions and further background on climate change information in our Primer on climate models and projections.
Places to go for climate change information
To help you navigate to the resource most appropriate for your needs, we define six resource types (six green resource links above) and show how they align with desired uses. Our focus is on online portals, though we highlight climate assessments (often presented as print or PDF reports), and other guidance—including directly from experts—that can help interpret and implement climate information.
There are dozens of climate change portals available, but the specific purpose, level of detail, and options for analyses vary considerably.
To begin, the figure below provides an overview of the types of climate change information and where you might start to explore, depending on what you are looking for. Our comparison table provides a detailed comparison of key features of the assessments and portals described in the figure.
In addition to climate change data, we also highlight (as one of the six resource types) interactive historical climate data portals that provide local and regional information about the past climate, based on observations from past decades to the past month. This information complements future climate change projections by providing context on past and current conditions.
How this guide came to be
The importance of climate change data to scientists, decision-makers, and communities has led to the proliferation of online climate change portals. In truth, the team responsible for this guide had originally intended to create another climate change portal where people could find and evaluate future climate change data. However, after talking with water managers in communities throughout the Mountain West, we realized their diverse needs were unlikely to be filled by yet another data-focused portal. A lot of good information was already available; we just needed to help match communities’ information needs with existing resources.
We began compiling a list of portals, reaching out to the broader science and adaptation communities for assistance. We added questions to a survey of researchers working in the field of resilience, adaptation, and vulnerability, conducted by Corrie Knapp (U. of Wyoming) and Lisa Dilling (U. of Colorado). We asked people what online portals and resources they use to access future climate projection information and historical climate data and analyses. And we presented our work at several national science meetings and webinars and requested feedback.
Our efforts resulted in a list of over 100 climate portals. To help filter them, we asked the Mountain West Climate Services Partnership, an alliance of climate service providers, to identify ones used most often. We also evaluated their ease of use and accessibility to someone unfamiliar with climate change science. Our aim was not to list and describe all potentially useful portals, but to curate and highlight a subset most likely to meet the information needs of local decision-makers in the Mountain West.
While this guide doesn’t fully tame the “Wild West” of climate portals, we hope it provides a map to find a good path forward. We acknowledge this is not a static landscape. As climate science and climate services march onward, new portals will likely emerge, and existing ones will fade away (note: this guide is published in August 2022).
Credits, acknowledgments, and suggested citation
Julie Vano, Project Lead, Aspen Global Change Institute
Jeff Lukas, Research Lead, Lukas Climate Research and Consulting, LLC
Last updated: August 2022
This report was funded in part by the NOAA Sectoral Applications Research Program grant NA18OAR4310259. We thank our team, James Arnott (Aspen Global Change Institute), Melissa Stults (City of Ann Arbor), and Benét Duncan (Western Water Assessment), for their insights throughout the project. We are so grateful to the many reviewers who provided valuable feedback to make this guide accurate and more usable including: John Orr (City of Thornton, Colorado), Steve Hunter (City of Aspen), Ned Gardiner, LuAnn Dahlman, Nancy Beller-Sims (NOAA Climate Program Office), James Scott (NOAA Physical Sciences Laboratory and CIRES, University of Colorado, Boulder), Jay Alder (USGS), Corrine Noel Knapp (University of Wyoming), Liz Payton (Western Water Assessment), Joel Smith (Independent Consultant, Boulder, Colorado), Oriana Chegwidden (CarbonPlan), Guillaume Mauger (Climate Impacts Group), Liz Carver, Elise Osenga (Aspen Global Change Institute).
Vano, JA and JJ Lukas, (2022) A User Guide to Climate Change Portals. Prepared for those seeking climate change information by the Aspen Global Change Institute. www.agci.org/climate-portal-guide