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Climate Change

NOAA & NSF Researching Insurance Industry’s Climate Needs — New Research Center

Flooded town of Pajaro after heavy rain from an atmospheric river caused a levee to break. Monterey, California. March 12, 2023.
(Image credit: California Department of Water Resources)

Whether you own a home, a business, or other assets, insurance is an important part of any budgetary calculation involving protection of property. While the insurance and reinsurance sector are at the forefront of translating weather and climate information into financial and societal risks, the industry’s focus has been on use of catastrophe models rather than incorporating climate change data and projections that can help characterize future conditions.

A new agreement between NOAA and the National Science Foundation (NSF) will support the creation of an Industry-University Cooperative Research Center (IUCRC) focused on modeling catastrophic impacts and risk assessment of climate change to help better support the needs of the insurance sector.

“Traditionally, catastrophe modeling looks at past events while climate modeling looks to the future,” said NOAA Chief Scientist Sarah Kapnick, Ph.D. “We need a new and improved way of combining these approaches in order to address the challenges that are being accelerated by our rapidly changing climate. Combining climate and catastrophe models with the goal of producing better decision making tools is a game changer for the insurance, reinsurance and mortgage industries. Additionally, we need to not only develop the science and tools in this space, but also the workforce capacity to put knowledge into action.”

Catastrophe models combine science, historical data of extremes and damages, building codes and physical asset information to estimate present and future financial damages from extreme climate and weather events. Climate projections and seasonal-to-decadal predictions have not traditionally been incorporated into catastrophe models, with early research suggesting risk due to climate change may not be accurately quantified.

NOAA and NSF share a mission to understand and predict changes in climate, weather and the ocean and coasts, including the role of human behavior in affecting and responding to these changes. The announcement of the IUCRC comes at the conclusion of a series of webinars co-hosted by NOAA and NSF that have focused on identifying research and workforce capacity needs in this space for the private and public sectors.

“This partnership between NSF and NOAA focuses on industry and academia jointly solving some of the most difficult problems we face. Predicting the risks and damages of climate-related perils such as wildfires, floods, tornados and hurricanes in a world of radically changing and intensifying catastrophic weather is essential. Using the NSF industry-university cooperative research center model, this powerful vehicle will channel basic and use-inspired research for the benefit of the U.S. economy,” said NSF Assistant Director for Geosciences Alexandra Isern.

IUCRCs are consortia developed by NSF where university faculty and students work with members of an industry to accelerate the impact of research focused on the collective needs of a sector of the U.S. economy. IUCRCs connect corporate partners, government agencies and academia through mutual interest, creating spaces that build partnerships and usher in science and technology breakthroughs in their respective fields. Consortia will have the opportunity to compete to manage this program and a selection will be made later in the year. The new research center will benefit from interactions with and the experiences of the current NOAA and NSF climate science centers, including NOAA labs and cooperative Institutes.

The new IUCRC program will be co-managed by NOAA and NSF. The program is another example highlighting the strong relationship between the two agencies, who share a long and productive history of working together for societal benefit. The program will forge new relationships and foster existing ones, promote workforce development, grow industry and tackle societal challenges. Specific program objectives include understanding and predicting changes in climate, weather and the ocean and coasts, including the role of human behavior in affecting and responding to these changes; communicating knowledge and information; and developing a skilled domestic workforce capable of addressing science and technology challenges in these areas.

Courtesy of NOAA and NSF.

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