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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Faculty Publications

The Department of Earth System Science (ESS) focuses on how the atmosphere, land, and oceans interact as a system, and how the Earth will change over a human lifetime.

Cover page of A multiscale model for El Niño complexity

A multiscale model for El Niño complexity


El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) exhibits diverse characteristics in spatial pattern, peak intensity, and temporal evolution. Here we develop a three-region multiscale stochastic model to show that the observed ENSO complexity can be explained by combining intraseasonal, interannual, and decadal processes. The model starts with a deterministic three-region system for the interannual variabilities. Then two stochastic processes of the intraseasonal and decadal variation are incorporated. The model can reproduce not only the general properties of the observed ENSO events, but also the complexity in patterns (e.g., Central Pacific vs. Eastern Pacific events), intensity (e.g., 10–20 year reoccurrence of extreme El Niños), and temporal evolution (e.g., more multi-year La Niñas than multi-year El Niños). While conventional conceptual models were typically used to understand the dynamics behind the common properties of ENSO, this model offers a powerful tool to understand and predict ENSO complexity that challenges our understanding of the twenty-first century ENSO.

An expanded framework for wildland–urban interfaces and their management


Wildland–urban interfaces (WUIs), the juxtaposition of highly and minimally developed lands, are an increasingly prominent feature on Earth. WUIs are hotspots of environmental and ecological change that are often priority areas for planning and management. A better understanding of WUI dynamics and their role in the coupling between cities and surrounding wildlands is needed to reduce the risk of environmental hazards, ensure the continued provisioning of ecosystem services, and conserve threatened biodiversity. To fill this need, we propose an expanded framework for WUIs that not only conceptualizes these interfaces as emergent and functional components of socioecological processes but also extends them vertically from the bedrock to the top of the vegetation and horizontally across heterogeneous landscapes. This framework encourages management that reconciles pervasive trade-offs between development and resulting multiple environmental impacts. Focusing on southern California as a case study, we use the framework to facilitate integration across disciplines and between scientists and managers.

Bacterial community response to environmental change varies with depth in the surface soil


Bacterial communities in the organic leaf litter layer and bulk (mineral and organic) soil are sensitive to environmental change. However, despite close interactions between these communities, the leaf litter layer has historically been studied in isolation from the bulk soil. Whether bacterial response to environmental change is uniform throughout the surface soil remains unclear. Here, we simultaneously characterized how bacterial community composition in three surface soil layers (the leaf litter layer, 0–2 cm of bulk soil, and 0–10 cm of bulk soil) responded to a wildfire burning through a 13-year drought simulation in two adjacent ecosystems, a grassland and coastal sage scrubland. We found that bacterial communities in all three surface soil layers were distinct in composition and varied with drought, ecosystem type, and temporal variation. Moreover, the impact of these environmental changes on bacterial community composition decreased with depth in the surface soil. Bacterial response to drought was three-fold higher in the leaf litter layer than in the top 10 cm of bulk soil, with the drought treatment explaining 4.8% and 1.6% of the compositional variation, respectively. Wildfire altered bacterial composition in the leaf litter layer but not within the top 10 cm of bulk soil. Further, previous exposure of the bacterial communities in the leaf litter layer to drought did not influence its response to the wildfire. Thus, considering soil depth when assessing the impact of environmental conditions on the surface soil microbiome may improve predictions about the degree to which microbial communities, and therefore soil carbon, will respond to future environmental change.

Cover page of Carbon Monitor Cities near-real-time daily estimates of CO<sub>2</sub> emissions from 1500 cities worldwide.

Carbon Monitor Cities near-real-time daily estimates of CO2 emissions from 1500 cities worldwide.


Building on near-real-time and spatially explicit estimates of daily carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, here we present and analyze a new city-level dataset of fossil fuel and cement emissions, Carbon Monitor Cities, which provides daily estimates of emissions from January 2019 through December 2021 for 1500 cities in 46 countries, and disaggregates five sectors: power generation, residential (buildings), industry, ground transportation, and aviation. The goal of this dataset is to improve the timeliness and temporal resolution of city-level emission inventories and includes estimates for both functional urban areas and city administrative areas that are consistent with global and regional totals. Comparisons with other datasets (i.e. CEADs, MEIC, Vulcan, and CDP-ICLEI Track) were performed, and we estimate the overall annual uncertainty range to be ±21.7%. Carbon Monitor Cities is a near-real-time, city-level emission dataset that includes cities around the world, including the first estimates for many cities in low-income countries.

Cover page of Decarbonization will lead to more equitable air quality in California.

Decarbonization will lead to more equitable air quality in California.


Air quality associated public health co-benefit may emerge from climate and energy policies aimed at reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. However, the distribution of these co-benefits has not been carefully studied, despite the opportunity to tailor mitigation efforts so they achieve maximum benefits within socially and economically disadvantaged communities (DACs). Here, we quantify such health co-benefits from different long-term, low-carbon scenarios in California and their distribution in the context of social vulnerability. The magnitude and distribution of health benefits, including within impacted communities, is found to varies among scenarios which reduce economy wide GHG emissions by 80% in 2050 depending on the technology- and fuel-switching decisions in individual end-use sectors. The building electrification focused decarbonization strategy achieves ~15% greater total health benefits than the truck electrification focused strategy which uses renewable fuels to meet building demands. Conversely, the enhanced electrification of the truck sector is shown to benefit DACs more effectively. Such tradeoffs highlight the importance of considering environmental justice implications in the development of climate mitigation planning.

Cover page of Reimagine fire science for the anthropocene

Reimagine fire science for the anthropocene


Abstract Fire is an integral component of ecosystems globally and a tool that humans have harnessed for millennia. Altered fire regimes are a fundamental cause and consequence of global change, impacting people and the biophysical systems on which they depend. As part of the newly emerging Anthropocene, marked by human-caused climate change and radical changes to ecosystems, fire danger is increasing, and fires are having increasingly devastating impacts on human health, infrastructure, and ecosystem services. Increasing fire danger is a vexing problem that requires deep transdisciplinary, trans-sector, and inclusive partnerships to address. Here, we outline barriers and opportunities in the next generation of fire science and provide guidance for investment in future research. We synthesize insights needed to better address the long-standing challenges of innovation across disciplines to (i) promote coordinated research efforts; (ii) embrace different ways of knowing and knowledge generation; (iii) promote exploration of fundamental science; (iv) capitalize on the “firehose” of data for societal benefit; and (v) integrate human and natural systems into models across multiple scales. Fire science is thus at a critical transitional moment. We need to shift from observation and modeled representations of varying components of climate, people, vegetation, and fire to more integrative and predictive approaches that support pathways toward mitigating and adapting to our increasingly flammable world, including the utilization of fire for human safety and benefit. Only through overcoming institutional silos and accessing knowledge across diverse communities can we effectively undertake research that improves outcomes in our more fiery future.

Cover page of Non-Linear Dimensionality Reduction With a Variational Encoder Decoder to Understand Convective Processes in Climate Models.

Non-Linear Dimensionality Reduction With a Variational Encoder Decoder to Understand Convective Processes in Climate Models.


Deep learning can accurately represent sub-grid-scale convective processes in climate models, learning from high resolution simulations. However, deep learning methods usually lack interpretability due to large internal dimensionality, resulting in reduced trustworthiness in these methods. Here, we use Variational Encoder Decoder structures (VED), a non-linear dimensionality reduction technique, to learn and understand convective processes in an aquaplanet superparameterized climate model simulation, where deep convective processes are simulated explicitly. We show that similar to previous deep learning studies based on feed-forward neural nets, the VED is capable of learning and accurately reproducing convective processes. In contrast to past work, we show this can be achieved by compressing the original information into only five latent nodes. As a result, the VED can be used to understand convective processes and delineate modes of convection through the exploration of its latent dimensions. A close investigation of the latent space enables the identification of different convective regimes: (a) stable conditions are clearly distinguished from deep convection with low outgoing longwave radiation and strong precipitation; (b) high optically thin cirrus-like clouds are separated from low optically thick cumulus clouds; and (c) shallow convective processes are associated with large-scale moisture content and surface diabatic heating. Our results demonstrate that VEDs can accurately represent convective processes in climate models, while enabling interpretability and better understanding of sub-grid-scale physical processes, paving the way to increasingly interpretable machine learning parameterizations with promising generative properties.

Cover page of Increasing Health Risks During Outdoor Sports Due To Climate Change in Texas: Projections Versus Attitudes.

Increasing Health Risks During Outdoor Sports Due To Climate Change in Texas: Projections Versus Attitudes.


Extreme heat is a recognized threat to human health. This study examines projected future trends of multiple measures of extreme heat across Texas throughout the next century, and evaluates the expected climate changes alongside Texas athletic staff (coach and athletic trainer) attitudes toward heat and climate change. Numerical climate simulations from the recently published Community Earth System Model version 2 and the Climate Model Intercomparison Project were used to predict changes in summer temperatures, heat indices, and wet bulb temperatures across Texas and also within specific metropolitan areas. A survey examining attitudes toward the effects of climate change on athletic programs and student athlete health was also distributed to high-school and university athletic staff. Heat indices are projected to increase beyond what is considered healthy/safe limits for outdoor sports activity by the mid-to-late 21st century. Survey results reveal a general understanding and acceptance of climate change and a need for adjustments in accordance with more dangerous heat-related events. However, a portion of athletic staff still do not acknowledge the changing climate and its implications for student athlete health and their athletic programs. Enhancing climate change and health communication across the state may initiate important changes to athletic programs (e.g., timing, duration, intensity, and location of practices), which should be made in accordance with increasingly dangerous temperatures and weather conditions. This work employs a novel interdisciplinary approach to evaluate future heat projections alongside attitudes from athletic communities toward climate change.