February 2008

Watching Australian weather for 100 years

On 1 January 2008, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology marked its centenary. Activities planned during the year include the launch of a history of the Bureau of Meteorology and a new edition of Climate of Australia, as well as centennial celebrations around the time of World Meteorological Day on 23 March and open days during Science Week in August.

Centenary celebrations

50 year jubilee (article in WMO Bulletin, April 1958)

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Fiftieth anniversary of the global CO2 record

Leaders of science, business and policy discuss adaptation and mitigation strategies

In the face of decades of increasing world demand for energy, scientists have made tremendous strides toward understanding and reducing uncertainty in key areas of climate change. They have not, however, made comparable progress in helping the public grasp the implications of these findings.

Those were among the highlights of the 50th anniversary of the global CO2 record symposium and celebration, held from 28 to 30 November in Kona, Hawaii, near the Mauna Loa Observatory, where Charles David Keeling began measuring atmospheric carbon dioxide half a century ago.

In the keynote address, National Academy of Sciences President Ralph Cicerone emphasized the importance of long-term scientific measurements like those made by Dave Keeling. Referring to measurement of emerging systematic trends, Cicerone noted that this year’s Arctic sea-ice minimum shattered the previous record, set in 2005, by 23 per cent and was substantially lower than models’ projections.

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He pointed out that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (1992) requires stabilization of greenhouse gases at a level below “dangerous” anthropogenic interference with the climate system. But, even as we watch atmospheric carbon dioxide climb and observe its effects, the term “dangerous” has yet to be characterized.

Expounding on the urgency of the potential climate changes and impacts, Richard Somerville, a contributor to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (Working Group 1), showed how IPCC’s projections have not exaggerated climate change and may even have underestimated future changes.

Avoiding high risk scenarios would require limiting the increase in global average temperature to 2ºC over that of pre-industrial time—doing this would require reducing global greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50 per cent below their 1990 levels by the year 2050, Somerville said.

Bruce Braine, vice president for strategic policy analysis at American Electric Power (the largest US supplier of energy), pointed out that achieving targets like zero-carbon-emissions is aggressive, but potentially feasible.

Rising to meet the challenges of increasing energy demands in a changing climate, Rob Socolow illustrated that we can fulfill the world’s energy needs for the next 50 years using only existing technologies and—importantly—avoid a doubling of carbon dioxide levels compared to its pre-industrial level (Science, 13 August 2004, Vol. 305).

Chuck Kutscher of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory demonstrated how the USA could cut its carbon emissions by 70 per cent by the year 2030. Julio Friedmann of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory described the utility of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology, noting that the major obstacle is scaling up existing technology.

Michael Walsh, executive vice president of the Chicago Climate Exchange, said society needs to pursue “every possible mitigation” strategy, and said society’s leaders need to get good information “out there.”

As Cicerone argued, climate change is “not just for scientists” anymore. The implications of climate change are broader than the natural environment. They are projected to affect multiple levels of society, the world’s economies, the status of the world’s poorest people, and the struggle for control of finite resources.

Throughout the event, the role of scientists—not only as researchers but also as communicators of current scholarship on and understanding of climate science—resurfaced. Tony Haymet, director of Scripps Institution of Oceanography, closed the conference and challenged participants to redouble their efforts to inform the public. To spread the word about the urgent need to confront climate change, he urged participants to talk to two groups with whom they would normally not talk, to emphasize how serious the projected climate changes are, and explain the clearly attainable options for adaptation and mitigation.

Full report

Presentations, transcripts, and posters are available on the Conference Website.

WMO Atmospheric Research and Environment Programme

Jim Butler, US NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory, and Melinda Marquis, Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, University of Colorado, USA

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