I was deeply saddened when I learned today of Jerry Mahlman’s passing on November 28th in Buffalo Grove, Ill. Jerry was a friend, a mentor and a true giant in the climate science community. Among his many awards, Jerry received the U.S. Department of Commerce Gold Medal, the Carl-Gustaf Rossby Research Medal from the American Meteorological Society and the Presidential Distinguished Rank Award — the highest honor awarded to a federal employee.
Credit: Carlye Calvin/UCAR
Jerry worked at NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory here in Princeton from 1970 to 2000, and served as GFDL’s Director from 1984-2000. He was also a Professor of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at Princeton. His research focused on modeling how our atmosphere responds to the buildup of greenhouse gases.
For me, Jerry represents everything that is good about science. As he came to understand the grim significance of climate change and what it would mean for future generations, he saw no choice but to speak out. He was one of our first, and one of our best, climate science communicators. His voice will be greatly missed.
My colleagues at NOAA’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory tell me that there are plans for a formal obituary notice in science news journals and a possible AMS/AGU symposia. Details to come.
By Benjamin Strauss and Robert Kopp
New York Times Sunday Review
THE oceans have risen and fallen throughout Earth’s history, following the planet’s natural temperature cycles. Twenty thousand years ago, what is now New York City was at the edge of a giant ice sheet, and the sea was roughly 400 feet lower. But as the last ice age thawed, the sea rose to where it is today.
Now we are in a new warming phase, and the oceans are rising again after thousands of years of stability. As scientists who study sea level change and storm surge, we fear that Hurricane Sandy gave only a modest preview of the dangers to come, as we continue to power our global economy by burning fuels that pollute the air with heat-trapping gases.
This past summer, a disconcerting new scientific study by the climate scientist Michiel Schaeffer and colleagues — published in the journal Nature Climate Change — suggested that no matter how quickly we cut this pollution, we are unlikely to keep the seas from climbing less than five feet.
More than six million Americans live on land less than five feet above the local high tide. (Searchable maps and analyses are available at SurgingSeas.org for every low-lying coastal community in the contiguous United States.) Worse, rising seas raise the launching pad for storm surge, the thick wall of water that the wind can drive ahead of a storm. In a world with oceans that are five feet higher, our calculations show that New York City would av...
By Michael MacCracken, The Daily Climate
Much within Amy Luers' recent Daily Climate essay on extreme weather and the climate crisis is to be commended. Indeed, cutting emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) today won't eliminate a climate change-induced pattern favoring more severe storms and extreme weather. In advocating for emissions cuts, the climate change community has to avoid backlash from a public expecting otherwise. Adaptation and resilience-building are essential to limiting impacts.
A worker walks along a charcoal field in China.
Credit: Nick McIntosh/flickr.
However, by aggressively cutting emissions of soot (black carbon), methane and air pollution (specifically tropospheric ozone), we can reduce the speed that the situation worsens. These compounds remain in the atmosphere only days to decades — versus centuries for the CO2 perturbation — so cutting their emissions can appreciably slow the rate of warming over the next several decades.
The different roles that long- and short-lived emissions play in climate change are important. So far, however, the international negotiating process has chosen to lump them into a single basket that assumes all greenhouse gases behave like CO2. This is like projecting the health of the Social Security trust fund by assuming everyone is a 40-year old male.
Halve Projected Warming
The importance of this distinction was made clear in a recent assessment led by atmospheric chemist Drew Shindell of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies [pdf]. Organized by the United Nations Env...
Hurricane Sandy has proven to be a wake-up call about the potential dangers posed by climate change, and it’s even possible — though by no means certain — that we won’t just hit the snooze button and go back to sleep as the images of destruction in New York and New Jersey begin to fade.
Assuming we stay awake, however, there’s a question about what we’ll do with our new awareness (a mere 25 years or so after climate change first hit the news in a major way). Since the early 1990’s, at least, scientists, environmentalists and world leaders have called repeatedly for climate mitigation — that is, reductions in emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in order to stave off global warming. That was also the major focus of the U.N.-sponsored treaty known as the Kyoto Protocol, which was adopted in 1997.
It makes a lot of sense: better to start eating healthy foods now rather than gorge on cheeseburgers and fries and treat your heart attack when it finally comes. But for many of us, cheeseburgers, like cheap, fossil fuel-based energy, are very seductive. That’s why the climate concerned have downplayed talk of adapting to global warming by shoring up our defenses against rising seas and other dangers. As Michael Lind wrote at thebreakthrough.org,
“Rather as peace activists during the Cold War discouraged talk about civil defense, lest it make nuclear war seem more thinkable, many Greens seem to believe that discussing adaptation would reduce support fo...
Calling Hurricane Sandy a disaster almost underplays the enormous devastation wrought by this freakish monster of a storm. Four days after Sandy came ashore just south of Atlantic City, millions are still without power, gas stations are running out of fuel, and the death toll continues to rise.
But for those of us who worry about climate change, Sandy might not have been an unmitigated disaster. The storm wasn’t “caused” by climate change, as Climate Central and others made clear. But in at least two, and possibly three ways, global warming almost certainly made Sandy worse than it would otherwise have been.
Bayville, NY on Oct. 30, 2012. Credit: Flickr/Casual Capture
That connection suggested to many commenters that after so many years of official reluctance to take on the issue climate change — including an unsuccessful U.N. conference in 2009, the failure of Congress to approve a cap-and-trade bill in 2010 and, most recently, the almost complete silence of the presidential candidates on the climate issue (in Obama’s case, a deliberate silence that dated back to the early days of his presidency) — that Sandy would serve as a long-awaited wake-up call that will bring action at last. After two years of freakish storms, killer heat waves and terrible droughts, Americans are finally connecting the dots between extreme weather and climate change, so maybe political leaders will, too.
Signs of hope were bursting out all over. “Something important has happened,” super-activist Bill McKibben declared in The Daily B...