The provision and utility of science and uncertainty to decision‑makers: earth science case studies

Article


Quigley, Mark C., Bennetts, Luke G., Durance, Patricia, Kuhnert, Petra M., Lindsay, Mark D., Pembleton, Keith G., Roberts, Melanie E. and White, Christopher J.. 2019. "The provision and utility of science and uncertainty to decision‑makers: earth science case studies." Environment Systems and Decisions. 39 (3), pp. 307-348. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10669-019-09728-0
Article Title

The provision and utility of science and uncertainty to decision‑makers: earth science case studies

ERA Journal ID212387
Article CategoryArticle
AuthorsQuigley, Mark C. (Author), Bennetts, Luke G. (Author), Durance, Patricia (Author), Kuhnert, Petra M. (Author), Lindsay, Mark D. (Author), Pembleton, Keith G. (Author), Roberts, Melanie E. (Author) and White, Christopher J. (Author)
Journal TitleEnvironment Systems and Decisions
Journal Citation39 (3), pp. 307-348
Number of Pages42
Year2019
PublisherSpringer
Place of PublicationUnited States
ISSN2194-5403
2194-5411
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)https://doi.org/10.1007/s10669-019-09728-0
Web Address (URL)https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10669-019-09728-0
Abstract

This paper investigates how scientific information and expertise was provided to decision-makers for consideration in situations involving risk and uncertainty. Seven case studies from the earth sciences were used as a medium for this exposition: (1) the 2010–2011 Canterbury earthquake sequence in New Zealand, (2) agricultural farming-system development in North West Queensland, (3) operational flood models, (4) natural disaster risk assessment for Tasmania, (5) deep sea mining in New Zealand, (6) 3-D modelling of geological resource deposits, and (7) land-based pollutant loads to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Case studies are lead-authored by a diverse range of scientists, based either in universities, industry, or government science agencies, with diverse roles, experiences, and perspectives on the events discussed. The context and mechanisms by which scientific information was obtained, presented to decision-makers, and utilised in decision-making is presented. Sources of scientific uncertainties and how they were communicated to and considered in decision-making processes are discussed. Decisions enacted in each case study are considered in terms of whether they were scientifically informed, aligned with prevailing scientific evidence, considered scientific uncertainty, were informed by models, and were (or were not) precautionary in nature. The roles of other relevant inputs (e.g. political, socioeconomic considerations) in decision-making are also described. Here we demonstrate that scientific evidence may enter decision-making processes through diverse pathways, ranging from direct solicitations by decision-makers to independent requests from stakeholders following media coverage of relevant research. If immediately relevant scientific data cannot be provided with sufficient expediency to meet the demands of decision-makers, decision-makers may (i) seek expert scientific advice and judgement (to assist with decision-making under conditions of high epistemic uncertainty), (ii) delay decision-making (until sufficient evidence is obtained), and/or (iii) provide opportunities for adjustment of decisions as additional information becomes available. If the likelihood of occurrence of potentially adverse future risks is perceived by decision-makers to exceed acceptable thresholds and/or be highly uncertain, precautionary decisions with adaptive capacity may be favoured, even if some scientific evidence suggests lower levels of risk. The efficacy with which relevant scientific data, models, and uncertainties contribute to decision-making may relate to factors including the expediency with which this information can be obtained, the perceived strength and relevance of the information presented, the extent to which relevant experts have participated and collaborated in scientific communications to decision-makers and stakeholders, and the perceived risks to decision-makers of favouring earth science information above other, potentially conflicting, scientific and non-scientific inputs. This paper provides detailed Australian and New Zealand case studies showcasing how science actions and provision pathways contribute to decision-making processes. We outline key learnings from these case studies and encourage more empirical evidence through documented examples to help guide decision-making practices in the future.

KeywordsEarth science; Environmental science; Decision-making; Policy Natural disasters; Risk Uncertainty
ANZSRC Field of Research 2020419999. Other environmental sciences not elsewhere classified
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Byline AffiliationsUniversity of Melbourne
University of Adelaide
GNS Science, New Zealand
Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Australia
University of Western Australia
School of Agricultural, Computational and Environmental Sciences
Griffith University
University of Tasmania
Institution of OriginUniversity of Southern Queensland
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Pembleton, Keith. 2012. "Frost risk associated with growing maize for silage on Tasmanian dairy farms." Rawnsley RP (ed.) 16th Australian Agronomy Conference: Capturing Opportunities and Overcoming Obstacles in Australian Agronomy (ASA 2012). Armidale, Australia 14 - 18 Oct 2012 Armidale, Australia.
Partitioning of taproot constituents and crown bud development are affected by water deficit in regrowing alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.)
Pembleton, Keith G., Volenec, Jeffrey J., Rawnsley, Richard P. and Donaghy, Daniel J.. 2010. "Partitioning of taproot constituents and crown bud development are affected by water deficit in regrowing alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.)." Crop Science: a journal serving the international community of crop scientists. 50 (3), pp. 989-999. https://doi.org/10.2135/cropsci2009.03.0140
Yield, yield components and shoot morphology of four contrasting lucerne (Medicago sativa) cultivars grown in three cool temperate environments
Pembleton, K. G., Donaghy, D. J., Volenec, J. J., Smith, R. S. and Rawnsley, R. P.. 2010. "Yield, yield components and shoot morphology of four contrasting lucerne (Medicago sativa) cultivars grown in three cool temperate environments." Crop and Pasture Science. 61 (6), pp. 503-511. https://doi.org/10.1071/CP09351
Genotype by environment interactions of lucerne (Medicago sativa L.) in a cool temperate climate
Pembleton, K. G., Smith, R. S., Rawnsley, R. P., Donaghy, D. J. and Humphries, A. W.. 2010. "Genotype by environment interactions of lucerne (Medicago sativa L.) in a cool temperate climate." Crop and Pasture Science. 61 (6), pp. 493-502. https://doi.org/10.1071/CP09269
Effect of summer irrigation on seasonal changes in taproot reserves and the expression of winter dormancy/activity in four contrasting lucerne cultivars
Pembleton, K. G., Cunningham, S. M. and Volenec, J. J.. 2010. "Effect of summer irrigation on seasonal changes in taproot reserves and the expression of winter dormancy/activity in four contrasting lucerne cultivars." Crop and Pasture Science. 61 (11), pp. 873 - 884. https://doi.org/10.1071/CP10030
Utilising leaf number as an indicator for defoliation to restrict stem growth in rhodes grass (Chloris gayana) cv. Callide
Pembleton, K.G., Lowe, K.F. and Bahnisch, L.M.. 2009. "Utilising leaf number as an indicator for defoliation to restrict stem growth in rhodes grass (Chloris gayana) cv. Callide." Tropical Grasslands. 43, pp. 79-85.
Water deficit alters canopy structure but not photosynthesis in regrowing alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.)
Pembleton, Keith, Rawnsley, Richard P., Donaghy, Daniel J. and Volenec, Jeffrey J.. 2009. "Water deficit alters canopy structure but not photosynthesis in regrowing alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.)." Crop Science: a journal serving the international community of crop scientists. 49 (2), pp. 722-731. https://doi.org/10.2135/cropsci2008.08.0456
Effect of defoliation interval and height on the growth and quality of Arachis pintoi cv. Amarillo
Sinclair, K., Lowe, K.F. and Pembleton, K.G.. 2007. "Effect of defoliation interval and height on the growth and quality of Arachis pintoi cv. Amarillo." Tropical Grasslands. 41 (4), pp. 260-268.
Potential of tropical forages for the Tasmanian dairy industry
Pembleton, Keith, Rawnsley, Richard, Donaghy, Danny and Chamberlain, Peter. 2006. "Potential of tropical forages for the Tasmanian dairy industry." 13th Australian Agronomy Conference 2006. Perth, Australia 10 - 14 Sep 2006 Australia. Australian Society of Agronomy.