Environment Systems and Decisions

, Volume 33, Issue 3, pp 376–390 | Cite as

Climate change risk management: a Mental Modeling application

  • Todd S. Bridges
  • Daniel Kovacs
  • Matthew D. Wood
  • Kelsie Baker
  • Gordon Butte
  • Sarah Thorne
  • Igor Linkov


The potential impacts of climate change are varied and highly uncertain, and pose a significant challenge to agencies charged with managing environmental risks. This paper presents a comprehensive and structured Mental Modeling approach to elicit, organize and present relevant information from experts and stakeholders about the factors influencing environmental risk management in the face of climate change. We present and review an initiative undertaken by the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to characterize climate change challenges to USACE environmental risk management activities, and to identify gaps with respect to science, engineering, and organizational processes for addressing these challenges. By employing Mental Modeling, the research has characterized the influences of climate change on USACE environmental risk management, and aggregating recommendations from 28 experts. In addition, the study identifies the most important opportunities to improve organizational response to climate change, ranging from focused research and development of technical capabilities to broad paradigm shifts and systemic organizational improvements within the USACE environmental risk management programs. This study demonstrates that Mental Modeling is a useful tool for understanding complex problems, identifying gaps, and formulating strategies, and can be used by a multitude of organizations and agencies.


Climate change Mental Modeling Expert Model Environmental assessment US Army Corps of Engineers Risk management Risk communication 



Special thanks to workshop participants for their involvement in this effort. Permission was granted by the USACE Chief of Engineers to publish this material. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual authors and not those of the US Army or other sponsors.


  1. Bizikova L, Neale T, Burton I (2008) Canadian communities’ guidebook for adaptation to climate change. Including an approach to generate mitigation co-benefits in the context of sustainable development. First Edition. Environment Canada and University of British Columbia, VancouverGoogle Scholar
  2. Bostrom A, Morgan MG, Fischhoff B, Read D (1994) What do people know about global climate change? Part 1 Mental models. Risk Anal 14:959–970CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Decision Partners, LLC (2010) Influences of climate change on environmental risk management: expert model narrative. Decision Partners, PittsburghGoogle Scholar
  4. Deschanes O, Greenstone M (2011) Climate change, mortality, and adaptation: evidence from annual fluctuations in weather in the US. Am Econ J Appl Econ 3(4):152–185CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Gentner D, Stevens AL (1983) Mental models. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, HillsdaleGoogle Scholar
  6. Hill SD, Thompson D (2006) Understanding managers’ views of global environmental risk. Environ Manag 37(6):773–787CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Howard RA (1989) Knowledge maps. Manag Sci 35(8):903–922CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Howard RA, Matheson JE (2005) Influence diagrams. Decis Analysis 2(3):127–143CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. IPCC (2007) Climate change 2007: SYNTHESIS Report. Contribution of Working Groups I, II and III to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. IPCC, Geneva, SwitzerlandGoogle Scholar
  10. Johnson-Laird PN (1983) Mental models. Harvard University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  11. Jones RN (2001) An environmental risk assessment/management framework for climate change impact assessments. Nat Hazards 23:197–230CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Linkov I, Wood MD, Bridges T, Kovacs D, Thorne S, Butte G (2009) Cognitive barriers in floods risk perception and management: a Mental modeling framework and illustrative example. Paper presented at the 2009 IEEE International Conference on systems, man, and cyberneticsGoogle Scholar
  13. Lowe TD, Lorenzoni I (2007) Danger is all around: eliciting expert perceptions for managing climate change through a mental models approach. Glob Environ Chang 17:131–146CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. McMichael AJ, Woodruff RE, Hales S (2006) Climate change and human health: present and future risks. Lancet 367(9513):11–17CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Morgan MG, Henrion M (1990) Uncertainty: a guide to dealing with uncertainty in quantitative risk and policy analysis. Cambridge University Press, New YorkCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Morgan MG, Fischhoff B, Bostrom A, Atman C (2002) Risk communication: a Mental Models approach. Cambridge University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  17. National Academy of Sciences (2004) Adaptive management for water resources project planning. National Academies Press, WashingtonGoogle Scholar
  18. Palmgren C, Morgan C, de Bruin W, Keith D (2004) Initial public perceptions of deep geological and oceanic disposal of carbon dioxide. Environ Sci Technol 38(24):6441–6450CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Peterson G, De Leo GA, Hellmann JJ, Janssen MA, Kinzig A, Malcolm JR, O’Brien KL, Pope SE, Rothman DS, Shevliakova E, Tinch RRT (1997) Uncertainty, climate change, and adaptive management. Conserv Ecol 1(2):4Google Scholar
  20. Read D, Bostrom A, Smuts T (1994) What do people know about global climate change? Part 2: survey studies of educated laypeople. Risk Anal 14(6):971–982CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Reynolds T, Bostrom A, Read D, Morgan M (2010) Now what do people know about global climate change? Survey studies of educated laypeople. Risk Anal 30(10):1520–1538CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Salazar K (2009) Addressing the impacts of climate change on America’s water, land, and other natural and cultural resources: Secretarial Order 3289. Sept 14, 2009Google Scholar
  23. Stern N (2006) The economics of climate change: The Stern review. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  24. Trivedi MR, Berry PM, Morecroft MD, Dawson TP (2008a) Spatial scale affects bioclimate model projections of climate change impacts on mountain plants. Global Chang Biol 14:1089–1103CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Trivedi MR, Morecroft MD, Berry PM, Dawson TP (2008b) Potential effects of climate change on plant communities in three montane nature reserves in Scotland, UK. Biol Conserv 141:1665–1675CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) (2000) Planning guidance notebook. ER 1105-2-100. Washington, D.C.Google Scholar
  27. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) (2008) Principles and guidance. Washington, D.C.Google Scholar
  28. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) (2011) USACE Climate change adaptation policy statement.
  29. U.S. Department of the Interior (USDOI) (2011) Climate change adaptation.
  30. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) (2011) Policy statement on climate-change adaptation.
  31. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) (2010) Rising to the urgent challenge: strategic plan for responding to accelerating climate change.
  32. Wagner K (2007) Mental Models of flash flood and landslides. Risk Anal 27(3):671–681CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Walker B, Steffen W (1997) An overview of the implications of global change for natural and managed terrestrial ecosystems. Conserv Ecol 1(2):2Google Scholar
  34. Water Utility Climate Alliance (WUCA) (2010) Decision support methods: incorporating climate change uncertainties in water planning.
  35. White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) (2010) Progress report of the interagency climate change adaptation task force: recommended actions in support of a national climate change adaptation strategy.
  36. Wood MD, Mukherjee A, Bridges T, Linkov I (2010) A Mental modeling approach to study decision-making in dynamic task environments. In: Chinyio E, Olomolaiye P (eds) Construction stakeholder management. Wiley, LondonGoogle Scholar
  37. Wood M, Linkov I, Bostrom A, Bridges T (2012a) Cognitive mapping tools: review and risk management needs. Risk Anal 32(8):1333–1348CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Wood M, Kovacs D, Bostrom A, Bridges T, Linkov I (2012b) Flood risk management: US Army Corps of Engineers and layperson perceptions. Risk Anal 32(8):1349–1368CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York (outside the USA) 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Todd S. Bridges
    • 1
  • Daniel Kovacs
    • 2
  • Matthew D. Wood
    • 3
  • Kelsie Baker
    • 3
  • Gordon Butte
    • 2
  • Sarah Thorne
    • 2
  • Igor Linkov
    • 3
  1. 1.US Army Research and Development Center, Environmental LaboratoryVicksburgUSA
  2. 2.Decision Partners, LLCPittsburghUSA
  3. 3.US Army Research and Development Center, Environmental LaboratoryConcordUSA

Personalised recommendations