Global Warming: Recent Reads

Here are a couple of recent items I recommend for those of you who have a scientific interest in global warming (the Earth’s climate system’s response to increasing amounts of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere):

1) If you think the whole global warming story is a sham invented by snake-oil-selling charlatans who are only pushing the story for their own ideological, political, or economic interests, then I urge you to pick up a copy of “Fixing Climate: What Past Climate Changes Reveal about the Current Threat — and How to Counter It” by Wallace Broecker and Robert Kunzig.  Dr. Broecker is a well-respected climate scientist with a long history examining the effects of changes in the Earth’s orbital characteristics, ocean circulation, and greenhouse gases on our ocean-atmosphere system.  He has been affiliated with the world-renowned Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, part of Columbia University, for nearly half a century.

In this book, Dr. Broecker, and science writer Robert Kunzig, give an interesting account of the science behind our current understanding of the Earth’s climate system.  It is well-balanced and authoritative, and an easy read for scientists and non-scientists alike.  The authors then go beyond examining the effects of a doubling or tripling atmospheric CO2 and propose some ideas for slowing or stopping the increase of anthropogenically-produced atmospheric CO2.  They constrain their proposals by the physical scale of the problem, providing scientific rigor to their analysis—an aspect often lacking in pop-science books about the greenhouse effect.

This book is well worth the read—and is available both for purchase (online or at bookstores) and at libraries.

2) If you think that climate scientists have this whole global warming thing all figured out such that we now know exactly when and where the atmosphere and oceans will warm and by how much, and exactly what effects these changes will have on day-to-day weather, then you might want to skim through an article in this month’s edition of the “Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society.”  The article is entitled “The Consequences of Not Knowing Low- and High-Latitude Climate Sensitivity” and is by Dr. David Rind from The Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS).  As with the Lamont-Doherty lab mentioned above the scientists at GISS have been studying the Earth’s climate system for a long time, in this case more than 50 years. GISS has a world-renowned reputation as one of the leading centers for climate research.

Dr. Rind’s paper is written by a meteorologist for meteorologists—it assumes an extensive amount of meteorological expertise.  However, the gist of the paper describes how climate scientists don’t know yet how sensitive the Earth’s ocean-atmosphere system will be to warming associated with the increases of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.  This is true despite the tremendous advances made by climate scientists over the last 40 years, and despite the tremendous increases in computer technology over the same period.  Even something seemingly as “basic” as how much the climate of the polar regions will change as compared to the tropics is uncertain.  The main causes for the uncertainty are associated with some of the most difficult problems climate scientists are working on today: the response of the tropical atmosphere to warming, how global cloud distribution will change with warming, how the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets will vary, the changes of low clouds in the Arctic, the response of global ocean circulations to warming, the variations in the El Nino pattern over the tropical Pacific.  With such significant gaps in our knowledge, there are still great uncertainties about how the Earth’s ocean-atmosphere system will respond during a global warming induced by an increase in greenhouse gases.  In particular, because so much is yet to be learned, there are even greater uncertainties about how the Earth’s climate will change regionally (such as, what will happen over the United States vs. over Europe).  The good news is that climate scientists are filling the knowledge gaps quickly.  The bad news is this will take time.  Dr. Rind summarizes this at the end of the paper by saying, “There is no guarantee that these issues will be resolved before a substantial global warming impact is upon us.  How we proceed to act in an environment of uncertainty will, perhaps, become as great a challenge as dealing with global warming itself.


The complete paper


About notjustweather

Dave Linder: Meteorologist, computer scientist, writer... and one who enjoys a well-timed quick quip.

Posted on July 30, 2008, in Climate and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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