To better understand Earth's climate, we seek theories that predict observations regionally and globally, from human to geologic time scales. But what are the relevant observations? And how do we construct useful and realistic theories? Offering his reflections on these and other questions, Professor John Wettlaufer was the keynote speaker at the Lorenz Center’s third annual John Carlson Lecture on Thursday evening, October 10, 2013.
As last year, the lecture was held in the Simmons IMAX Theater of the New England Aquarium (NEAQ) which co-sponsored the event. The John Carlson Lecture Series, generously funded by MIT alumnus John Carlson, aims to communicate new results in climate science to the general public. The NEAQ shares a similar goal in regard to climate change, leading a consortium of aquariums and zoos committed to helping its visitors better understand the consequences of global warming.
Close to 300 people filled the Simons IMAX Theater to hear Wettlaufer, Professor of Applicable Mathematics at Oxford and the A.M. Bateman Professor of Applied Mathematics, Geophysics, and Physics at Yale, present "Sea Ice, Climate and Observational Mathematics.”
In a lecture which interwove the philosophy of science and the challenge of understanding and predicting climate behavior, Wettlaufer emphasized that what we need to know is not only how to recognize, but also how to understand uncertainty. Taking scientists' attempts to understand and make predictions about the Arctic sea-ice cycle as an example, Wettlaufer stressed the value of simple mathematical models, notwithstanding the perennial challenge to understand how much complexity is necessary to achieve "what one might call realism."
With research that combines fieldwork in the Antarctic, experiments in his own lab, and mathematical theory, Wettlaufer is one of the world's leading authorities on the physics of ice and its role in climate. A Fellow of the American Physical Society and a Guggenheim Fellow, he has held visiting appointments at Cambridge University and the Nordic Institute of Theoretical Physics in Stockholm.
Those who attended this year’s Carlson Lecture included Martha Amram PhD '87 (XV); PhD '67 (XIX); Colin Masson, 90 (VI-3), SM '91 (VI A), PhD '07 (ESD); and Neil Rasmussen 76 (VI-1), SM '80 (VI).
John Wettlaufer is Professor of Applicable Mathematics at Oxford and the A.M. Bateman Professor of Applied Mathematics, Geophysics and Physics at Yale. He is one of the world's leading authorities on the physics of ice and its role in climate.