Challenges in the Interpretation of Model Outputs

Model outputs are typically presented as GIS-based maps or lines as part of hazard vulnerability studies. The resultant hazard lines and hazard areas can be an effective way to communicate current and future risk of impact to land owners and occupiers in vulnerable areas. The generation and publication of hazard maps can also satisfy a planning authority’s duty of care to notifying occupants of known risks, thus limiting future liability for the authority.

Our experience indicates though that hazard mapping on its own, without a complementary plan for future adaptation, can be counterproductive and in fact can become a barrier to effective decision making. We highlight below five common challenges associated with interpreting modelled outputs for climate change and extreme weather hazard studies.

Not Enough Information—Oversimplification

Through a lack of awareness or simply a lack of appreciation, humans tend to simplify our understanding of complex systems down to a relatively basic level. This includes a lack of recognition and consideration of natural variability and the inherent uncertainty and unpredictability of weather and climatic systems. Not recognising this uncertainty becomes a barrier to effective adaptive management in its own right but also precludes developing customised responses to climate change and extreme weather events that can be differentiated based on different risk and probability levels.

While presenting a ‘single’ line that represents future conditions (see Fig. 21.1 for example) is alluring from a planning perspective, the high uncertainty attached to a single line is potentially lost on end users and the community that will ultimately rely on this information for future decision making. In many instances though, decisions need to be made on this simple representation of risk. The result is inevitably overly conservative planning and development decisions.

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