NCAR scientists contribute
to climate change assessments
An iceberg floats in Wolstenholm
Fjord, just north of Thule, Greenland. As glaciers
and ice sheets melt, they add to the amount of water
in the ocean. The IPCC Working Group I report predicts
seas to rise 18–58 centimeters (7–23
inches) by 2100. (Photo by James Hannigan.)
When the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
began releasing assessments of climate change research earlier
this year, NCAR scientists played a major part. Some 10 scientists
in ESSL served as coordinating lead authors or lead authors,
and many more worked as contributors or reviewers.
“This probably speaks to the breadth of research in
climate science that’s being done at NCAR,” says
CGD’s Bette Otto-Bliesner, a lead author of the IPCC
chapter on paleoclimate.
The IPCC, a group representing
more than 180 governments, operates under the auspices
of the U.N. Environment Programme and the World Meteorological
Organization. Every few years, it commissions assessments
of global climate change by hundreds of scientists who are
experts in the field. This year, the panel is issuing a series
of three reports, which focus on the physical climate system
(Working Group I), the impacts of climate change (Working
Group II), and options for mitigating climate change (Working
Group III). NCAR scientists made substantial contributions
to the first two working groups.
The reports, which concluded that climate change is “very
likely” caused by human activities and may have widespread
societal impacts, garnered significant media coverage across
print, broadcast, and Web outlets. The attention may well
be one factor in encouraging dramatic changes in public perceptions
of climate change, as recent polls show that more Americans
than ever view global warming as a significant problem.
NCAR scientists took part in two national teleconferences
for the media to help reporters cover the IPCC reports, and
they were quoted in newspaper articles and television
broadcasts across the United States and overseas.
“The IPCC assessments are one of the few mechanisms
we have to synthesize the science and integrate it into a
form that’s useful for the rest of the scientific community
as well as for the general public and policy makers,” says
ACD’s Beth Holland, a lead author on the chapter on
Several key IPCC authors at NCAR—including CGD’s
Jerry Meehl and Kevin Trenberth, and ISSE’s Kathy Miller—spoke
on Capitol Hill about climate change research. They also
met with Rep. John Dingell, D-Michigan, the chairman of the
House Energy and Commerce Committee who is considering legislative
approaches to the problem of climate change.
“We were all encouraged that Chairman Dingell seemed
genuinely interested in the science of climate change,” Jerry
Jerry was a coordinating lead author for Working Group I,
helping oversee the chapter on global climate projections.
Reto Knutti and Bill Collins, both of whom were in CGD, also
helped write the chapter. (Reto, a visitor, has since returned
to the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, and Bill is
now at the University of California’s Lawrence Berkeley
Kevin served as coordinating lead author of the chapter on
observations, and ESSL director Guy Brasseur served as coordinating
lead author of the chapter on biogeochemistry. NCAR scientists
who worked as lead authors for Working Group I chapters included
ISSE’s Linda Mearns, in addition to Beth, Bette, Reto,
ISSE was the center of action for Working Group II. Paty
Romero Lankao served as coordinating lead author for the
chapter on industry, settlement, and society. Linda was a
lead author on the chapter on assessment methodologies and
the characterization of future conditions, and Kathy was
a lead author on the freshwater resources chapter.
A number of other scientists also played important roles.
For example, Jerry Mahlman (ISSE) reviewed drafts of the
Working Group I report and Susi Moser (ISSE) helped write
and review parts of the Working Group II report, including
the chapter on coastal areas.
The scientists found the work rewarding.
“It was intellectually challenging,” says Bette. “I
enjoyed the interactions with scientists in other specialties.”•
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