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Interdisciplinary Seminars - Global and Regional Climate Change: Underlying Science and Emerging Riddles - May 2008

Seminar 3 - Global and Regional Climate Change: Underlying Science and Emerging Riddles - May 2008

Veerabhadran Ramanathan recaps 35 years of key findings, and brings his audience up to date on the latest climate data, models, and observations which together demonstrate how CO2 is but one piece of a complex puzzle. Veerabhadran Ramanathan is a professor in Scripps Institution of Oceanography and is well-known for discovering the greenhouse effect of CFCs and numerous other manmade trace gases in the 1970s. This is an excellent seminar for understanding climate change.

Ramanathan deploys simple but extremely helpful metaphors to describe the processes behind warming. CO2 in the atmosphere, whether manmade or natural, surrounds the earth like a blanket, holding onto the radiation from the sun. When the blanket is behaving properly, enough sun’s heat stays on earth to keep biological forces humming, and the rest escapes back into space. But if this blanket gets thicker, it "prevents the body from losing heat." CO2 is particularly noxious, since it "lives in the atmosphere for a century if not longer." But it turns out we have other molecules circling the globe to worry about.

Starting in the 1970s, scientists discovered that compounds in the atmosphere, such as chlorofluorocarbons and methane, acted more powerfully than CO2 in making our "blanket" more efficient in trapping heat. They began developing models trying to describe the complex interplay of heat-trapping gases with earth’s natural climate systems. Ramanathan’s work, which involves precise observations from the surface, satellite measurements, balloons and unmanned vehicles, has convinced him "that climate change is worse than what we get from the models."

Veerabhadran Ramanathan is Distinguished Professor of Climate and Atmospheric Sciences, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego. He discovered the greenhouse effect of CFCs and numerous other manmade trace gases in the 1970s. He correctly forecast in 1980, along with R. Madden, that the global warming due to carbon dioxide would be detectable by the year 2000. He has worked with NASA to demonstrate the cooling effect of clouds on the planet, and the impacts of 'brown' clouds and greenhouse gases on rainfall, harvests of different types of crops, and the melting of glaciers.

Veerabhadran Ramanathan
Global and Regional Climate Change: Underlying Science and Emerging Riddles
(Massachusetts Institute of Technology: MIT World)
http://mitworld.mit.edu
Date accessed: 2009-02-25
License: Not applicable

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