The weather on our planet seems to be unpredictable and the weather forecast does not always seem to review if it is going to rain in the next 10 hours. However, there has been significant technological breakthroughs in the past that evolved weather and climate studies to be a mathematically based science instead of the traditional observational practice, and those breakthroughs enable climate scientists to make accurate predictions about climate change, and more. Today in our lecture, Professor Emanuel introduces us to the scientific advancements that drove climate science forward.
As Prof. Emanuel has stated, climate changes are common in earth history. There have been multiple ice ages in the past and multiple global warming periods, each imposing devastating effects but at the same time driving evolution forward. In this climate change cycle, however, the driving force is the increased amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and with each increased degree there are also associated effects including higher ocean acidity that wipes out coral reefs and precipitation change that worsens deadly droughts. There are also consequences including rising sea level, melting ice caps, surging infectious disease breakouts, and more.
However, how did climate scientists come to obtain the tools to accurately predict those devastating effects of climate change in the future? They attribute to various breakthroughs in other fields in mathematics, physics, and astronomy. One, for example, is the discovery of Plank’s radiation model. Before Plank’s theory came to be, the black body radiation was thought to be a continuous model, which was disputed by “the ultraviolet catastrophe”, in which ultraviolet light does not radiate as the model predicts. To accommodate this discrepancy, Plank theorizes that energy, instead of being emitted continuously, is emitted in small packets called “quanta”, and using this model the ultraviolet catastrophe could be well predicted. This concept started the realm of quantum physics, and also aided climate and weather science by providing a model by which the earth’s emission follows. With this model, weather forecasts could predict how much heat earth emits as a black body and how much impact it has on weather changes.
The concept of climate change is built on a chain of discoveries and theories. First, Svante Arrhenius, the renown Swedish scientist, predicted the impact of the greenhouse effect and how much temperature would increase based on the CO2 concentration in our atmosphere. Then Milutin Milanković discussed forcing climate by orbit variations, and in the 50s the revolution of geochemistry lead people to believe that climate changes are common in the past. Other new technologies, including satellite sea surface altimetry, ARGO robotic submersible floats and the introduction of numerical weather prediction mutually picture us a future of climate changes. The discussion of artificially adjusting the temperature of the planet is underway, but one theme is clear: we must preserve the only home we have, and it is through one way or another: behavioral change, which is challenging, or discovering new energy sources, which still has a long way to go.