The Basis of Civilization—Water Science?
John Rodda and Lucio Ubertini (Eds.).
IAHS Publication 286. IAHS Press, Wallingford (2004).
334 pp. Price: US$ 111.15
This book constitutes the proceedings of an international symposium held in Rome, Italy, in December 2003. Its main purpose is to answer the question of whether or not the water crisis will bring a halt to civilization as we know it.
The authors discuss advances in water science and technology, especially through education, research, technology transfer and how we can learn from past experiences to successfully combine religion, traditions and politics on the one hand with water science and technology on the other.
The first of five chapters is entitled “The rise of understanding in water sciences”. It starts with an important and well-written account of how hydrology started between 1000 bc and ad 500 and 1930-2003.
Chapter 2 “International Year of Freshwater” describes how the UN was able to raise awareness of the central relevance of water for sustainable development and poverty mitigation. A brief analysis of this successful exercise is provided, showing how the UN can respond to the different requirements of societies. The reader can also find UN contributions to specific topics related to the International Year of Freshwater.
In Chapter 3 “Impact of water resources development and management on society”, readers will find the book’s principal contribution, which deals with experiences from the 20th century, such as water policies and the changing perception of risk.
Chapter 4 “Trends in the reduction of risks involving water, both natural and human-induced” tells how the problem of extreme events such as floods and droughts is approached in different parts of the world and shows some new tools, such as the application of fractals. It also discusses how hydrology can contribute to the solution of conflicts concerning water.
Chapter 5 “Issues of governance in the historical and current context” explores the different points of view on water and civilization as the basis for water sciences. It is interesting to see how, in the time of the Chinese Emperor Yu the Great, more than 4 000 years ago, the issue of water governance was already a matter of discussion. The section on water, civilization and governance also makes a connection with current problems and solutions and shows how water is a major development factor (the rise and fall of the Potosi silver industry, for example). This chapter stresses the role of water science in developing water balances as a tool to avoid conflict and find reliable solutions.
The overall impression is that there was a lack of general agreement at the Symposium as to whether water science is the basis of civilization. When the authors address the main focus of the symposium, however, there is a total agreement that water is the bais of civilization “because without water there would be no life as we know it and therefore no possibility for civilization develop”.
The book could have given a broader picture of what has happened in the world by including some information about civilizations that are less well known. I would, however, recommend that all our water colleagues read this book. It is helpful for understanding that water science is not only natural in scope but also includes social and cultural aspects that are just as important.
Changing the Atmosphere—Expert Knowledge and Environmental Governance
Clark A. Miller and Paul N. Edwards (Eds.).
The MIT Press, London (2001)
xii + 385 pp. Price: £18.50.
Over the last 50 years, climate science has shown how fragile and finite the global life-support system is, how all aspects of the global environment are interconnected and interdependent, and how human beings could be seen as bringing global change. The establishment of intergovernmental mechanisms such as WMO, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the associated processes involving scientists and policy-makers provide lessons for the interplay of science and politics as new ways of dealing with how issues that have a global implications are forged.
Climate science is not an independent input to global environmental governance but rather an integral part of it in a “tangled web of processes”. Changing the Atmosphere aims to show how advances in atmospheric sciences have led climate change to become “a key in the global transformation of world order” and the resulting “redistribution of power and authority in global society” in this area. It dwells on three important connections between environmental science and governance.
The first link relates to how climate research and the scientific methods impact on the basic concepts of nature that underlie international politics. New scientific instruments, techniques and facilities produce scientific knowledge for policy formulation. Climate models are seen as essential tools for generating knowledge about global climate and evaluating policy options. They also enable policy-makers and scientists to address controversies such as those related to global datasets, uncertainty and the authority of international bodies and organizations.
The next link is the development of professional communities and organizations that mediate between scientific practices and the broader aspects of political culture. Changes in research are driven to meet the broader political choices. An example is funding for weather modification research in the USA, which dwindled in the 1970s in view of growing public concern for the environment.
Of particular interest to the meteorological community is the historical development of WMO and the transformation of the International Meteorological Organization from a non-governmental to an intergovernmental institution and a specialized agency of the United Nations. Its subsequent development and structure with the Directors of National Meteorological Services playing a key role in its governance, and its unique role in global networking, global weather experiments and in so many environmental issues are seen in the context of conscious political decision-making. WMO is seen not only as a “scientific and technical organization” shielded from politics, but also as a result of global policy considerations of its Members.
The third connection concerns how people alter their values, behaviour and institutions as they develop new understanding of nature and the implications for society. Science achieves public credibility, expertise is institutionalized and both are connected to norms of justice and equity in global governance. The challenge is to maintain scientific integrity through building trust and credibility in the face of intense political pressure and tight budgets and deadlines. While decision-makers often use science to support policy issues, it is argued that, when addressing moral and political issues, they do not always seek such legitimacy from science.
Scientists—and, in particular, meteorologists—have to deal increasingly with politicians and decision-makers in the context of climate change and its implications. It is therefore essential for them to understand the institutional set-up, including WMO, IPCC, UNFCCC and its subsidiary bodies, as well as the recently established Global Earth Observation System of Systems and the interplay of climate science and policy formulation. Such a perspective is provided by the authors, who are foremost experts in communications culture, political science, philosophy, history of science, research in global change and international mechanisms.
Notwithstanding a few oversights such as 1951 being the date of establishment of WMO and reference to IPCC as an organization, the book is a must for all scientists, especially those working in the field of meteorology, climate science and the related geophysical sciences.
Weather Cycles: Real or Imaginary?
William James Burroughs.
Cambridge University Press (2003).
xi + 317 pp.
Price: US$ 45
This completely updated, new edition explores in detail the unresolved debate about the existence of weather cycles. It examines competing arguments about observed effects due to natural variability, solar activity and the Earth’s orbital parameters. A wide range of events of apparently cyclic behaviour are presented, drawing on instrumental and other records such as tree rings, ice cores, ocean sediment, corals and stalagmites. Basic statistical analyses and climate theories of non-linear systems (chaos theory) are provided to assess the data.
The book examines the complex analysis required to assess the evidence for cycles and a minimum of mathematics and statistics is needed if its comprehensive and balanced account is to be accessible to the student and expert alike.
The book is divided into eight chapters. The first seven cove the search for cycles, the statistical background, instrument records, proxy data, the global climate, extraterrestrial influences and autovariance and other explanations.
The eighth and last chapter touches on the most important problem, not only for climatology and connected sciences, but also for politicians and economists, i.e. predictions and forecasts of global warming. The author draws a number of conclusions about possible causes of climate change which indicate that human activities may be far from the only reason for these changes. He points out that computer modelling of climate change is far from reliable.
He discusses the conclusion reached in the IPCC Third Assessment Report and states his own view that, when these uncertainties are combined with climate’s natural variability, it may be difficult to determine how much of today’s global warming is natural and how much is the result of human activities. It may be more difficult than the IPCC suggests (see page 250).
The author expresses his view in general as follows: “... we ... live in a non-linear world where Devil’s staircases, flickering switches and stochastic resonance are part of the scenery. In such a world almost anything could happen and in all probability eventually will, although ... our current climate does not appear to be strongly chaotic. Our hope has to be that neither natural changes nor any changes that will be precipitated by anthropogenic activities will push us too far from the relative stability that has been a feature of the climate during the Holocene: the period that encompasses all recorded history of mankind and more.“
Mr Burroughs does not think that the effort of searching for cycles has been pointless. While it has not produced the reliable forecasts meteorologists hoped for, “it has become an integral part of our understanding of long-term climatic fluctuations (which) will almost certainly provide the basis for improved forecasting a few months or even a year or two ahead as we develop an increasingly global approach to such analyses. At the same time, the improved understanding of natural climatic variability, including the true extent of extraterrestrial influences, remains an essential component of making a more accurate estimate of what proportion of the current global warming is due to natural causes.”
Although the reader of the book may not always be fully conversant with the scientific content, he/she will be rewarded by the author’s wide knowledge of the subject.
New books received for review in the WMO Bulletin
Medium-Range Weather Prediction—The European Approach
Austin Woods. European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF). Springer (2005). ISBN 0-387-26928-2. xvi + 270 pp. Price: £77/US$ 119.95.
This book tells the story of how the Centre was conceived in the 1960s. It summarizes the political, scientific, technical and financial discussions that led to its establishment, and how it came to be built 60 km west of London, England. The development of its science and technology over the decades is reviewed.
As well as describing the development of the analysis and prediction models required for medium-range forecasting, the book covers seasonal prediction, ocean wave forecasting, ensemble prediction, use of satellite data, re-analysis of archive data, development of supercomputers and telecommunications, and commercial issues. It reviews the likely development of the science and technology in the coming years.
The Turbulent Ocean
S.A. Thorpe. Cambridge University Press (2005).
xviii + 439 pp.
Price: £45/US$ 75.
The subject of ocean turbulence is in a state of discovery and development with many intellectual challenges. This book describes the principal dynamic processes that control the distribution of turbulence, its dissipation of kinetic energy and its effects on the dispersion of properties such as heat, salinity, and dissolved or suspended matter in the deep ocean, the shallow coastal and the continental shelf seas. It focuses on the measurement of turbulence, and the consequences of turbulent motion in the oceanic boundary layers at the sea surface and near the seabed. Processes are illustrated by examples of laboratory experiments and field observations.
The Science and Politics of Global Climate Change—A Guide to the Debate
Andrew E. Dessler,
Edward A. Parson.
Cambridge University Press (2006). ISBN 0-521-53941-2.
ix + 190 pp.
Price: £19.99/US$ 34.99
The authors explain how scientific and policy debates work, summarize present scientific knowledge and uncertainty about climate change, and discuss the available policy options. They explain why the climate change debate is so confusing.
Utilization of Space Today and Tomorrow
H. Stoewer (Eds.).
xx + 410 pp.
Price: £46/US$ 79.95
Almost 50 years after the launch of Sputnik, the diversity and criticality of the technology and applications already in place to exploit the “high-frontier” is impressive. Utilization of Space aims to serve as an authoritative overview by explaining scientific space utilization, commercial and entrepreneurial issues and technological applications.
Aeronomy of the Middle Atmosphere—Chemistry and Physics of the Stratosphere and Mesosphere
G.P. Brasseur, S. Solomon.
Springer (2005). ISBN 1-4020-3284-6.
xii + 646 pp.
Price: £54/US$ 89.95
Since the Industrial Revolution, the chemical composition of the atmosphere has changed at a rate unprecedented in recent history. Ozone depletion emerged as one of the most important environmental issues of the 20th century as evidence grew for substantial human influences on the atmospheric ozone abundances over much of the globe. The science of the ozone layer and its interactions with halogenated chemical compounds are the primary subjects of this book.
The volume provides a comprehensive view of the chemical, dynamical and radiative processes that affect ozone and other chemicals in the stratosphere and mesosphere. Over recent decades, our understanding of these processes has increased dramatically. The discovery of the Antarctic ozone hole has shown that human activities can lead to major changes in our environment.