In January the 2016 MIT Independent Activities Period (IAP) featured two programs presented by graduate students and postdoctoral fellows sponsored by the Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change (JPSPGC) —one focused on climate science and policy, the other on challenges and opportunities in scaling up wind energy.
Organized by graduate students, the Introduction to Climate Science and Policy program provided a fast-paced but accessible introduction to the earth’s climate system and the links between scientific and societal aspects of climate change. The program consisted of eight sessions on climate science and global and local climate policy, six of which are now available online.
EAPSters B.B. Cael (Follows Group), Mara Freilich (Flierl Group), and Megan Lickley (Solomon Group) presented the three climate science sessions: climate science basics, the mechanisms of climate change, and uncertainties in global climate models.
In the lead-off session, B.B. Cael presented fundamentals of climate science, emphasizing solar radiation and greenhouse gases, the carbon cycle and earth’s heat storage.
“We can think of the Earth system as an energy balance, where the earth is trying to put out as much energy as what’s being taken in,” said Cael, “but that picture is complicated by greenhouse gases, which are pushing the energy that the earth is trying to let off back at the surface of the earth, and so the earth has to heat up in order to compensate.” He noted that while solar radiation, greenhouse gases and heat are simple phenomena, interaction and feedbacks among these and other elements of the climate system can be complex and difficult to predict.
In a companion session on the mechanisms of climate change, Mara Freilich illustrated the concept of a positive feedback loop. In one example, she noted that rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere boost radiation absorption, thereby increasing atmospheric temperature. This, in turn, produces more evaporation, which (since water is itself a greenhouse gas) increases radiation absorption and further heats the atmosphere. Freilich explored feedbacks and interactions among the water cycle, clouds, aerosols (volcanic and anthropogenic) and ocean circulation in the climate system.
Megan Lickley presented a session on climate change projections and uncertainty. Lickley focused on uncertainty in the rate of global warming, sea level rise and storm activity, and how everything from coarse time and space resolution to inaccurate representation of climate system feedbacks can propagate uncertainty in climate models.
This story is exerpted from the original story at JPSPGC News
Story Image: B.B. Cael began his talk by recalling the Carl Sagan quotation that our planet is like "A mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam" - image credit: JPSPGC