For a long time, climate change has always been an important topic. Especially in this presidential election, different groups represented different ideas on climate change. However, what is the science foundation of the study of climate science? How did people get to know about climate? Dr. Kerry Emanuel, professor of atmospheric science in MIT, provided us with some of methodologies in his lecture.
Dr. Emanuel claimed that the development of the climate science was primarily driven by curiosity. One example was the study of ice age. Scholars wondered about what determines the surface temperature of earth. By the early 19th, geologists discovered a situation called “erratics”- boulders that seem to have been transported from elsewhere. So by mid-century, many naturalists and people who lived near existing glaciers had guessed that some of the erratics and moraines were deposited by glaciers that had since retreated. After these observations, people started wondering what caused the ice age. Finally, this inquisitive curiosity led some scholars to formulate the theory of ice age. James Croll published his book Climate and Time in 1875 and his theory that ice age was caused by orbital variations was widely accepted.
The second example that Dr. Emanuel mentioned was the advancement of the research about earth’s surface temperature. Similarly, Jean Fourier was very curious about what the earth’s temperature is and what caused it. So he conducted researches in analogy with heat flow through solids. He believed that earth’s atmosphere had a temperature intermediate between outer space and the surface, heated by sunlight, starlight and the planet’s hot interior. Fourier was correct. After the death of Fourier, Gustav Kirchhoff came up with the theory that there was a “perfect black body” that absorbed all light that stroke it and radiated energy back. Right now, we discovered that these layers were influenced by green-house gases.
Besides curiosity, Dr. Emanuel also argued that the study of climate science was highly interdisciplinary. They included geology, physics, chemistry and so on. While these studies advanced, the technology of measurement also developed. For example, we have earth orbit satellite and the geographic information system (GIS) that could get graphic of tropospheric temperature trend from the top. We also had sea surface altimetry that could measure the ocean temperature. This technology gives us a new perspective to study climate science.
Overall, the climate science is a multidisciplinary study starting with curiosity. But here come the question. How do we view the climate science today? Obviously, we don’t want the study of climate as simple as the weather forecast. In my opinion, climate science is the most visible perspective that we could observe the change of the earth. It might imply the impact of human activities, such as the overexploitation of resources. It could show us that our climate is changing and we should make corrections. In another word, just like weather forecast, it indicated the variation and made us aware that the earth is about to change.