New e-textbook offers an introduction to climate risk analysis tools

Portion of the edge of the Greenland Ice Sheet Credit: Patrick ApplegateAll Rights Reserved.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Earth scientists have long studied how changes in climate affect the environment. Now they are increasingly analyzing the risks these changes pose to our economies and everyday lives.

A new e-textbook edited by Penn State researchers aims to provide scientists and students with the tools needed for assessing these climate-related risks.

The book, “Risk Analysis in the Earth Sciences: A Lab Manual with Exercises in R,” teaches the R programming language and offers lessons from disciplines such as geosciences, statistics, ethics and economics. It is free and available at

“Risk analysis is becoming more and more important,” said Patrick Applegate, one of the book’s co-editors. Applegate is an affiliate of Penn State’s Earth and Environmental Systems Institute (EESI) and an instructor in Earth science at Penn State DuBois. The other co-editor is Klaus Keller, professor of geosciences at Penn State.

“Earth scientists are increasingly asked to collaborate in teams that analyze risks," Applegate said. "This requires us to assign probabilities to different outcomes."

Assessing climate risk involves quantitative work, running numerical models many times, and examining the results in graphical form, something the R programming language does well.

The language is a free, open-source programming environment that’s become popular with statisticians and scientists because it is versatile and has a large library of user-contributed code.

“It’s really a great system to do science,” Applegate said.

The book is a collection of exercises that teach Earth science and statistical concepts. It is intended for upper-level undergraduates, beginning graduate students, and professionals in other fields who want insight into climate risk analysis.

“My hope is that the book will put the tools to do this type of work in the hands of a larger number of people,” said Applegate, who teaches the R language to his students at Penn State DuBois. “This is the direction the field is increasingly going.”

Applegate said rising global temperatures are contributing to sea level rise, and many people who live near present-day sea level would be at risk of being displaced by flooding.

“What happens to various parts of the world when sea level goes up — the book provides a vehicle for learning about those things,” he said.

Contributors to the book (besides the co-editors) include Ryan Sriver, assistant professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Gregory Garner and Alexander Bakker, postdoctoral scholars in EESI; and Richard Alley, Evan Pugh University Professor of Geosciences. 

This work was supported in part by the National Science Foundation through the Network for Sustainable Climate Risk Management (SCRiM). Centered at Penn State, SCRiM links a transdisciplinary team of scholars across many universities and research institutions.

Last Updated December 03, 2015