Decision Making Using GIS Climate Change Simulation Data

NCAR GIS Climate Change Scenarios Project, Decision making using GIS climate change simulation data

This webpage was created by Lawrence Buja, Olga Wilhelmi, David Smith, Constantin Cranganu, and Jennifer Boehnert
Author Profile

The Dataset

IPCC 4th Assessment Report 20th Century and future scenarios.
IPCC 4th Assessment Report 20th Century and future scenarios. Details

GIS Climate Change Scenarios project is conducted by the NCAR GIS Initiative and intended to serve a community of GIS users interested in global climate change. This GIS data portal provides access to free global datasets of climate change scenarios that were generated for the 4th Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) by the Community Climate System Model (CCSM).

  • Currently, this website distributes a subset of all data produced by the CCSM. In particular, one can view and/or download monthly mean, 2D atmospheric and land variables from the CCSM component models.

IPCC 4th Assessment Report 20th Century and future scenarios

Use and Relevance

Future greenhouse gas emissions are the product of very complex dynamic systems, determined by driving forces such as demographic development, socio-economic development, and technological change. Their future evolution is highly uncertain. Scenarios are not specific predictions or forecasts of future climate. Rather, scenarios are plausible alternative futures. Each scenario is an example of what can happen under particular assumptions on use of fossil fuel and other human activities. Scenarios assist in climate modeling, help to examine potential climate change and explore vulnerabilities of humans and ecosystems under a changed climate.

Use in Teaching

Use to teach and learn about past and future climate changes through modeling; its impacts, mitigation and adaptation strategies.


Impact of climate change, temperature changes—past, present, and future for a range of development scenarios. Can be used to investigate economic, environmental and social implications.


- Using GIS tool to visualize climate change model data
- Understand simple statistics such as averaging
- Understand GIS data representation (vector vs. raster)

Exploring the Data

Data Type and Presentation

This website provides free global datasets of climate change scenarios as a GIS shapefile.
The spatial resolution of climate change datasets is approximately 1.4 x 1.4 degrees (approximately 155km). The data temporal range is from the year 1870 to 2200.

Accessing the Data

To view or download a variable of interest, please follow the following step-by-step process:
  • Register with the portal - this helps us to justify the need for the portal to our sponsors
  • Select the region of interest
  • Select the IPCC climate change runset
  • Select the time period of interest
  • Select CCSM component model (atmospheric or land)
Finally, select the variable of interest. NOTE: Only one variable can be downloaded or viewed at a time.

Manipulating Data and Creating Visualizations

Shapefiles can be displayed on a map with other base data (and potentially integrating with other datasets (population, land use).

Tools for Data Manipulation

Acronyms, Initials, and Jargon

CCSM—Community Climate System Model
GIS Geographical Information System
IPCC Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
AR4 Fourth Assessment Report
Ensemble Duplicate runs started from slightly different initial conditions
NCAR - National Center for Atmospheric Research

About the Data

Collection Methods

What is the CCSM?

The Community Climate System Model (CCSM) is a community-wide effort led by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and is a key component of the National Science Foundation program on Climate Modeling, Analysis and Prediction. One of the primary goals of the CCSM is to aid in understanding global climate variability and climate change, and a near-term goal is to provide information in support of national and international policy programs, including the National Assessment of Climate and the 4th IPCC assessment report (AR4). CCSM is a coupled climate model for simulating the earth's climate system. Composed of four separate models simultaneously simulating the earth's atmosphere, ocean, land surface and sea-ice, and one central coupler component, the CCSM allows researchers to conduct fundamental research into the earth's past, present and future climate states. What version of the CCSM is being used to generate climate change scenarios for the IPCC?

Related Links:
- IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change)
- Working Group I Report "The Physical Science Basis"
- Working Group II Report "Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability"

CCSM3.0, the most recent release of the global coupled climate model produced by the CCSM community, contains new model physics, supports new model resolutions, and has new run scripts. Numerous multi-century control runs were conducted with CCSM3.0 at low, medium, and high resolutions and are available to the general public for examination and analysis. For more information about CCSM3.0 visit CCSM3.0 Public Release Home Page.

What are the CCSM components?

CCSM software is based on framework that divides the complete climate system into component models connected by a coupler. Individual components - ocean, atmosphere, land, and sea-ice - can be exchanged for alternate models, thus allowing different configurations appropriate for different applications.

For more info go to

Limitations and Sources of Error

This is a low resolution model not observational data in which many of the physical processes are parameterized. See June 2006 Journal of Climate.

References and Resources

Education Resources that Use this Dataset

tutorial on how to analyze climate projections from the CCSM in a GIS

Other Related Scientific References

Collins, W. D., C. M. Bitz, M. L. Blackmon, G. B. Bonan, C. S. Bretherton, J. A. Carton, P. Chang, S. C. Doney, J. J. Hack, T. B. Henderson, J. T. Kiehl, W. G. Large, D. S. McKenna, B. D. Santer, and R. D. Smith, 2006: The Community Climate System Model Version 3 (CCSM3). /J. Climate/, 19(11), 2122-2143.

Related Links