TEDxMIT Operation: Earth

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

MIT EAPS Professors Noelle Selin, David McGee and Raffaele Ferrari discuss intricacies of the climate system and sustainability at TEDxMIT in December 2019.

Ocean, Climate and Climate Change | Raffaele Ferrari | TEDxMIT

The ocean’s role in our lives goes beyond providing food, shipping routes and leisure. The ocean provides half of the oxygen we breathe and stores immense amounts of heat and carbon that shape the climate of our planet. In the last few decades, the ocean has slowed global warming by taking up most of the heat trapped by anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. However this heat will eventually be returned to the atmosphere, affecting our climate for many centuries to come. Therefore, it is important to curb emissions as soon as possible, because there is no going back once the ocean has heated up. I am a physical oceanographer interested in the circulation of the ocean, its interaction with the atmosphere and climate. I use a combination of observations, theory and numerical models to investigate all oceanic motions from scales of centimeters to thousands of kilometers.

Air Pollution and Climate Change: Sustainability Challenges | Noelle Selin | TEDxMIT

A fundamental challenge of sustainability is to maintain and improve human well-being for present and future generations. Ensuring clean air is a major challenge worldwide, and this is fundamentally linked to the challenge of climate change. Pollutants that degrade air quality and leads to climate change come from common sources, like power plants and vehicles, and climate change can also make air quality worse, through wildfires and warmer temperatures. Addressing both air pollution and climate change simultaneously is key to ensuring human health and well-being both today and in the future. I argue for a people-centered approach to thinking about these issues as sustainability challenges, in order to identify solutions. Noelle Eckley Selin is an Associate Professor in the Institute for Data, Systems and Society and the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences. Her research uses atmospheric chemistry modeling to inform decision-making on air pollution, climate change and hazardous substances such as mercury and persistent organic pollutants (POPs).

Using Ancient Lakes to Understand Future Rainfall | David McGee | TEDxMIT

David Mcgee works in the department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences at MIT. In his talk he explains what his group does to understand how rainfall patterns have changed during natural climate changes the past, and what this tells us about the future of water availability in response to human-driven climate change. 1. We can use our observations of the past to begin to understand how this climate beast works. One way that we can do this is to run state-of-the-art climate models with the conditions of ancient climates, as shown on the right here, to explore what changes in the climate system are necessary to produce the rainfall changes implied by paleoclimate data. We need to better understand the climate system. One of the really exciting, and troubling, aspects of the paleoclimate record is its capacity to surprise us, with changes that are larger or more abrupt than we might have expected. It's important to emphasize that our fundamental understanding of climate change at the global scale--warming with rising greenhouse gas levels--is extremely robust. Where more research is needed is into how climate change will play out at the regional level--in what areas are its impacts on water availability, floods, and heat waves going to be most severe, and how large will these impacts be. Paleoclimate data can help with these investigations, by providing data that ground-truth our understandings of the scale of past rainfall changes. David McGee’s research focuses on understanding the atmosphere’s response to past climate changes. By documenting past changes in precipitation and winds using geochemical measurements of stalagmites, lake deposits and marine sediments and interpreting these records in the light of models and theory, he aims to offer data-based insights into the patterns, pace and magnitude of past hydroclimate changes. His primary tool is measurements of uranium-series isotopes, which provide precise uranium-thorium dates for stalagmites and lake deposits and allow reconstructions of windblown dust emission and transport using marine sediments.

Story Image: from left, EAPS Professors Raffaele Ferrari, Noelle Selin and David McGee (Credit: Photos by Dave Rezendes, John Werner Photography)