Category: October 11 (Page 1 of 3)

Revolutionising climate science

Humans have always been a curious species. If they observe something, they desperately seek answers to the ‘how’ and the ‘why’. Study of climate was also born this way. On October 11, Kerry Emanuel spoke to us about the various revolutions in the field of climate study, and how how these revolutions have shaped climate science as we know it. These revolutions include various feats by mankind like the discovery of the greenhouse effect to the determination of the causes of the ice ages.

Some people might be wondering that amidst some revolutions capable of overthrowing governments and changing major political landscapes, do revolutions in climate science actually have any major significance? Well, the answer is yes. For it will be a revolution in climate science itself which finally finds solution to the externalities of global warming. This brings me to my next point, the motivation to address these particular externalities. There has been ample evidence throughout history which suggests that the field of climate science has not always been given its due respect by people. The classic example would be the greenhouse effect. This particular phenomena appears to be something which was recently discovered. However, some argue that this effect was actually known since around 200 years, but nobody just cared about it. When it finally got to the point where the living conditions were in possibility of grave jeopardy, only then did the people wake from their slumber.

Yet, it is believed that the best of climate revolution is still to come. Analysts argue that series of technological developments would play a crucial role in the future. Chris Goodall, an expert in New Energy Technologies, in his book ‘The Switch’ touches upon various aspects of future climate revolutions. Now, the question arises, will we let that future in climate revolution happen? There are dangerous indications which might lead us to conclude with a ‘no’. For all his business acumen, it is widely known that President Elect Donald Trump has not always believed in the idea of climate change. His cabinet selections further seem to indicate that he might not bother about it during his tenure.

This is what needs to be different about a future climate revolution. It has to global. Not China’s, where living conditions are insufferable due to vast amounts of carbon dioxide. Not India’s, where smog envelopes even the capital city, Delhi. And not USA’s. The global community needs to come together and support the climate science community so that the revolution can happen. Otherwise, we are done for.

The Climate Revolution

For me, 2016 has been the year of thinking about the climate. Climate has been a big topic in many realms, such as my schooling and in politics. For example, in my Weather, Climate, and Society class, we learned all about the controlling factors of climate, such as humidity, convergence and divergence, and types of clouds. Also, with the election of President Elect Donald Trump, who believes that climate change is a myth perpetuated by the Chinese, many people fear for the future of climate policy. Having learned much about the scientific and social sides of climate change, it was very refreshing to learn about the history of climate revolutions from Dr. Kerry Emmanuel, a professor of atmospheric science at MIT.

Dr. Emmanuel explained that the “Climate Revolution” wasn’t one large revolution, but a collection of small revolutions and individual efforts to make the field a reality. In the beginning, the field of climate science started with several curious scientists who wanted to learn more about hoe the surface temperature of the Earth is regulated. This lead to the discovery of ice sheets, which led to them understanding the periodic shifts in Earth’s temperature from ice age to warming, which lead to the discovery of greenhouse gases. Dr. Emmanuel also pointed about that in the 19th century, when the field was first being established, there were contributions made by scientists who specialized in all different fields, such as, geology, physics, chemistry, and more. This helped me to understand that climate science is the culmination of many different fields and that the climate also has an effect on more than just one thing.

One thing that I also found interesting was that Dr. Emmanuel claimed that the concept of “climate change” isn’t a new thing. He told us that people have always been concerned with the change in weather patterns, but only now, with the increased accuracy of observational data, are we able to make easier conclusions about climate which can lead to more changes in policy. This lead to climate science transforming from a field mainly rooted in traditional weather observation to using mathematically based data and observations.

Overall, Dr. Emmanuel’s lecture helped me to learn even more about climate change, which I didn’t think possible. It made me see the importance of climate science, which helps us to understand why climate change occurs, but also who sea levels rise, why oceans become more acidic, why storms become more powerful, and why weather patterns having been changing over the years.


On Knowing What the Weather’s Like

The most interesting aspect of Prof. Emanuel’s lecture on the way that climate has been studied the last one-hundred and fifty years is the relatively naive way we take our current understanding of what climate and the weather is like.  Mainly, that we have an understanding at all is astonishing, it’s a quiet revolution.  It’s one that isn’t controversial or loud-mouthed because it benefits us all that today we can simply ask what the weather is going to be like tomorrow and have a certainty about it.  It’s benefitted us all so much that we have taken it for granted.

Emanuel painted a picture of the revolutionaries and their discoveries that is very congruent with this idea of the climate revolution.  It was done by scientists who were not be lauded as the great scientific saviors of their day.  They weren’t trying to find the meaning of life in biology, or the laws that govern the ways of the universe in Chemistry.  They were simply concerned about the weather.  Yet their work has let us come miles further along in our understanding of that very topic.

Because up until recently, the weather was a phenomena that everyone dealt with but no one understood.  It was also sort of dangerous to try and comprehend, because it required not just studying blue skies and sunshine but also bad weather, high winds, rain, blizzards.  But alas it was studied, and once it was understood the daily could be extenuated into the long term and that is how a genuine understanding of climate, and what makes it happened occurred.

And what Prof. Emanuel’s lecture sought to do is to best describe the importance of this revolution.  That we can now actually understand what is natural and unnatural about climate and that because of the work done on climate by scientists centuries ago we can understand the problem today of a climate that is being straying from the natural phenomena described.  Simply, he gives the essence of any Scientific revolution, Connecting past observations with foresight to change the understanding of that we currently have on the world.

Revolutions in Climate

Curiosity on the magic of life itself has always been a driving force towards discoveries in the scientific field of study. Revolutions, by nature, shatter the existing order of whatever it is they are ‘revolutionizing’ and lay the groundwork for a new paradigm and understanding. In her lecture, Dr. Kerry Emanuel spoke of how this pertained to one of history’s largest, most important and currently ongoing revolutions: the Climate revolution. As humans, we question and we search for answers, and this has given birth to some of the most interesting fields of study out there.

It is important to note that revolutions do not appear out of nowhere rather they have a source that fuels them. Questioning natural elements has led scientists and experts of other related fields of study to discover their answers and through this, humans understanding of our climate has drastically advanced. For instance, decades ago when climate research was still in its early stages, discoveries of large ice sheets led to questions and a new understanding of what caused the Earth’s surface temperatures to shift – this, in turn, helped lead to our understanding of greenhouse gasses. Beyond that figure, it has been over the past two-hundred years that small steps have gradually been taken to understanding the field of science. It is small steps that carry big ideas, and our understanding of such big ideas evolve over time deductively becoming comprehensive.

Climate change is in a current crisis and it has been curiosity about our natural elements that has evolved over time and gotten us to our current state. We are more aware than ever of the challenges facing our planet and because of the knowledge which we have accumulated over time, we are in a technological position where we are able to fight such dangers. Alternative energy courses, for instance, have been a rising industry and countries are becoming more united to pass multilateral legislation.

Every revolution, by nature, comes with an opposing force and the climate revolution is no exception to such rule. Legislative actions are stuck in gridlock as climate change opponents continue to block efforts at taking action. Our society has a greater understanding than ever of the world around us and we now need to embark on the next step to save our planet. Revolutions come from a series of small steps, no matter how small or how large, and our current understanding of climate change has taught us that the planet is in danger and needs saving.

Climate Revolutions

In recent years, climate science has gone through what could be described as a number of revolutionary developments. In terms of the climate itself, the impact of human made sources of pollution, emissions, and habitat destruction are accelerating the already rapid pace at which our planet is changing. The outcomes of this are many, including global warming, changing weather patterns, more powerful storms, rising sea levels, and mass extinction, and these factors may one day culminate to threaten the very habitability of our planet. Considering all this, it is very important to pay close attention to developments in the science associated with our climate. While there are many troubling developments in regards to our impact on the earth, technological advancements are increasingly improving our ability to assess and act on climate change. Better satellite imaging has improved our ability to measure global climate patterns and other developments like glacier and arctic sea ice loss. Additionally, advancements in green energy continue to aid in our ability to phase out fossil fuels and hopefully one day achieve carbon neutrality or even a carbon negative existence. However, much of these advancements depend on the motivation of the world’s population to address these problems. Much of the world’s governments are heavily influenced by industrial interests that actively work against to adoption of clean energy solutions to tackling our carbon footprint, causing long term damage to the planet in pursuit of short term profits. In the U.S., even more troubling developments are underway. Donald Trump, despite losing the popular vote by millions of votes, secured the electoral college victories necessary to win the presidential election. What many naively assumed to be campaign rhetoric regarding Trump’s climate change denial has now become the official policy of his upcoming administration, including even the CEO of Exxon Mobil as Secretary of State. In addition to the embarrassing nature of these developments, Trump’s administration will have the power to do unprecedented damage to the environment, due to the fact that not only the executive branch, but also the House of Representatives and the Senate are now controlled by a republican majority, many of whom have a history of climate change denialist stances and lobbying connections to the fossil fuel industry. It is clear that in light of the recent political developments in the United States that we need to have a climate change revolution. We need a revolution in the way that individual people think about their role in shaping the future of the planet. In order to counteract the damage that the next four years of the Trump administration will undoubtedly bring, Americans must come together in order to tackle climate change and see it for what it really is: as the greatest threat to humanity of our times, because under a Republican administration, we cannot sit by and trust our government to make the right decisions for us.

The Climate (R)evolution

Throughout this course, we’ve been inundated with so many different kinds of “revolutions”, it is hard to pinpoint what the term means exactly. In the case of the Climate Revolution, it seems more a series of scientific developments towards the end goal of learning why the climate around us is the way it is. Kerry Emanuel went through the history of climate studies and how we got to the point where we can predict weather patterns, explain natural phenomena, and (so importantly) understand why our world is warming and put it into the context of historical climate change and what it means for our world today. But was this development truly revolutionary?

I am perhaps fortunate that I am taking a course on climate and weather in society because otherwise I would have been left to believe that the greenhouse effect was only identified recently. In reality, the warming of our climate as a product of human actions has been known for a couple hundred years. It is only more recently that worldwide notice has been given to the subject. Our increased means to accrue observational data has made it easier to come to conclusions about climate change and try to establish policy working against it. But I tend to believe “revolutionary” includes a definite change in the way people think and see the world, so the more recent environmental revolution fits into the spectrum of the long-term climatic revolution, only it has been aided by technological revolutions running contemporaneously with it.

It is also important to note that “Climate revolution” deals with more than just climate change. The climate revolution deals with any scientific development that has improved our understanding of climate and the natural world. This can include studying everything from volcanic activity to solar radiation to hurricanes and typhoons. For that reason, it is difficult to pin down “climatic revolution” in simple terms. It is hardly one occurrence, as research into all that makes up our understanding of climate goes back hundreds if not thousands of years. Learning that the world was round and the angle and duration of sunlight determined the length of seasons is part of the climatic revolution. The publication of Silent Spring and finding out how pesticides have an impact on our environment and contribute to our changing climate falls into the spectrum as well. In this sense, the climate revolution was not a revolution, but rather an evolution – a series of events and scientific discoveries, each coinciding with a number of alternate revolutions that aided our understanding of climate in some way. But it did, undoubtedly, change the way people perceive the world. I think if I were to pin down the climate revolution accurately I would say it was an evolutionary process with revolutionary results.

A Continuous Revolution

Dr. Kerry Emanuel’s talk on Revolutions in Climate Science showcased the many individuals whose efforts contributed to the development of the field. His collection of little revolutions made me question the limitations of the word ‘revolution.’ If the field of climate science came about due to multiple simultaneous revolutions, can one concrete set of revolutionary criteria explain all of the changes in the field?

Emanuel traced the roots of modern climate science back into the 19th century through multiple other fields. Advancements in fields including geology, physics, and chemistry all contributed to the development of climate science. Taking out any of those important contributions would render the future of climate science in a different way, but can each moment be counted as revolutionary? Is it possible to pinpoint one discovery or contribution as THE revolutionary moment, the spark of the revolution?

Perhaps a revolution is best considered on a large timescale, something like 300 plus years. Viewing the development of climate science as one continuous revolution means that it is in a constant revolutionary state. How does one pinpoint the exact moment of revolution? After all, each discovery is built on the thoughts, ideas, and coincidences that came before, building up a sequence of knowledge.

According to theorist Thomas Kuhn, paradigm shifts occur in scientific theory after a critical mass of new data or ideas constitute enough evidence to overturn the previously held beliefs. Under this conception of science, the development of any field is a series of revolutionary changes. If we apply this mode of thinking to climate science, what are the paradigm shifts? It is difficult to identify them from the overview that Dr. Emanuel gave, although he undoubtedly would be able to identify them.

In contrast to the increasing specialization of many fields, it seems that climate science is continually dependent on information from many different disciplines. In order to account for all of revolutionary moments in climate science, one would have to document all of the small moments in all of the fields that lead to the intellectual growth of the scientists and the public growth of perception surrounding the information.

Dr. Emanuel really made me think about all of the small moments that went into the lives of all of the scientists who collectively developed the field. Perhaps pinpointing a revolution is beside the point. A revolution does not need to have a distinct beginning or end. The climate scientists of today have a vast history to look back on, a long, revolutionary history, which gives legitimacy to their field in the face of the doubts that some have against their work.   It truly is a continuous revolution. Who knows what the next phase of the revolution will hold?

The Ultra-greenhouse Catastrophe

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.

Climate Science and Our Curiosity

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.

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Climate Change Stereotype

Having been born in the mid 90’s, I have always heard the terms “climate change” and “global warming” growing up. It has been issue in the media, in the classroom, economically, and socially. Classes are designed around climate change. It has become a key issue in presidential elections. Documentaries have been created around it. Companies have been founded or destroyed because of climate change. It has been hotly debated if whether global warming exists or if climate change is a result of human activity. Having recently watched Al Gore’s documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” one has the feeling the world is doomed and humans drove it there. He includes large scale graphs to demonstrate the extreme change in climate entirely driven by human activity. On the other side of the argument, humans don’t or hardly have cause change in climate. It was refreshing to hear from Kerry Emanuel that there is no dispute amongst scientists that humans are causing climate change, but to what degree is still up for debate.

Greenhouses gases have gained a bad reputation. However, they naturally exist in the atmosphere and are actually very important. Growing up, I was always under the impression humans created greenhouse gases, which are causing the Earth to be hotter and damaging the ozone. This isn’t entirely false, but greenhouse gases are not only good, but crucial in natural volume. Much of my basic understanding of climate change has been driven by the media. I have now realized how inaccurately the media is reporting on climate change. It is important topic to discuss and should not be over looked, but it does need to be properly reported. These misrepresentations have probably fueled much of the disagreement around climate change. Based on Emanuel’s lecture, I am now under the impression that advancements in technology are most likely the only way to know if climate change is driven by human activity and to what extent. Argo  robotics is one example of improved technologies that Emanuel mentioned. Granted, it is possible that we may never know or not know any time soon how human activity affects climate change, but if we could invest in advancing technology then may be it is possible to truly evaluate climate change. However, technology seems to only be able to measure climate change so far and not able to predict future climate change. I am sure there are several predictions available, but I am also sure those predictions all contradict each other. It seems to be more valuable if we can predict climate change to prepare for any potential disastrous changes. Either way investing in technology measuring climate change seems necessary in addition to accurately representing climate change in the media and textbooks.

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