Understanding Weather, Climate & Climate Change: Interview with Dr. Sam Miller, Prof. of Meterology

Understanding Climate, Weather, and Climate Change:

An Interview with Dr. Sam Miller,

Associate Professor of Meteorology

Plymouth State University

Sam Miller has been a professor of meteorology at Plymouth State University since 2005, and currently teaches meteorological analysis, atmospheric thermodynamics, instrumentation and quantitative data analysis, weather forecasting practicum, satellite meteorology, and radar meteorology. He is also finishing his textbook on applied thermodynamics for meteorologists. I met Sam when he began doing volunteer organizing work with the Clamshell Alliance in January, 1990. Sam and I spoke about climate change in January 2014. The goal is to make clear what's happening now, what could happen in the future, and what’s causing it.

Roy Morrison. What's the difference between climate and weather?

Sam Miller: Weather refers to instantaneous or short-term conditions at a given time and at a given place. Climate is a combination of long-term averages and the extremes for given parameters. Averages – called “normals” – are based on 30-year means. You can think about “microclimates,” which may only refer to a single location, or you can consider larger geographic regions. We usually think about climate regionally or on a continental or even global scale. Climate in many locations clearly has enormous annual variation. In the middle latitudes we experience more than a 100-degree Fahrenheit temperature range annually, considering the coldest temperatures in the winter and the warmest temperatures in the summer. But climate change, some combination of natural and anthropogenic variation, is usually much smaller than this. That’s one of the reasons, I think, why some people continue to insist that climate change isn’t real.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)i obtains its data for climate change research from many thousands of weather stations around the world. In the U.S. alone, there are over a thousand weather stations taking readings 8,760 hours a year for many decades. Until about 1990, these were mostly manually operated. Since then they’ve been largely automated. Using hourly – sometimes more frequent – observations, we can compute the daily mean, the high, and the low temperatures. All these data end up in the National Climate Data Centerii. They are quality controlled and stored away for easy access by researchers and members of the public. The dataset of millions of measurements is very, very robust.

RM: If weather already fluctuates 100 degrees F, what's the big deal if there's a 5 degree Fahrenheit, or 3 degree Celsius in average global climate?

SM: The term “global warming” gave people the wrong idea, even if it’s correct on the large scale and over a period of years. “Climate change” is a better term, because it doesn’t imply that the world just gets progressively warmer and warmer. I think that’s actually caused a lot of confusion, and it’s given ammunition to the professional deniers, who use every cold spell as an opportunity to shout that “global warming” can’t be happening. Climate change results from large-scale, long-term global warming, but it manifests as more frequent extremes in weather and ever more dire consequences, like droughts or torrential downpours, for example.

The real concern about the effects of global warming is not so much about the changes in the average temperature, but the effect this has on the climate system. What's happening is not just like turning up the house thermostat from 69 to 74 degrees in winter. So it's warmer and heating bill goes up. Who cares? Climate change is not just about averages. For example, global warming has resulted in more heat being transported away from the equator and toward the poles. The temperature rises we’re seeing in polar regions are several times greater than at the equator and the weather consequences of such temperature changes are sometimes extreme.

RM: Can the climate, like the weather, also be subject to sudden change?

SM: Weather clearly is subject to swift and dramatic change. That’s another way of saying “non-linear,” which means that it will do surprising things that might have been difficult to imagine if you’d been sitting in one place and watching it from hour to hour. It often does, but doesn't always change either slowly or at a constant rate. For example, we have something called “fronts” in the middle latitudes, which are the boundaries between two very different airmasses. When a front goes past your position, it can bring some pretty sudden weather changes. I’m sure you’ve experienced this. A hot, sunny summer day suddenly gives way to pitch black skies and severe thunderstorms.

Weather, mostly a manifestation of the atmosphere, is a non-linear system. The atmosphere is also coupled with other non-linear global systems – like the ocean or the biosphere – and that means that the climate is also subject to sometimes highly non-linear changes, which can be sudden and dramatic on geological or even human time-scales. These changes are often driven by differences in the balance of energy, particularly the net balance of how much solar energy hits the earth and how much of that solar energy is either reflected or absorbed.

But dramatic change doesn’t always happen. There are some feedbacks that hinder extreme change, just as there are other feedbacks that can amplify and speed up changes. For the last 11,000 years, a period we call the Holocene, there's been a predictable rhythm of the seasons and the range of weather fluctuations within the seasons. Large-scale changes to the climate overall have been relatively short-lived, but that doesn’t diminish how important some of these smaller climate variations have been in human history. There’s a terrific book on the subject by Brian Fagan called The Long Summeriii. By that he means the Holocene – the recent interglacial period. I highly recommend this book. It speaks to the importance of climate change in the development of human civilization. Another book with an even longer outlook is A Brain for All Seasons, by William Calviniv. This book talks about the importance of climate change in human evolution.

Somewhere between 4000 and 6000 years ago the interglacial warmth peakedv. Our records indicate that we were seeing cooling, and the world was heading down toward next ice age. That’s based on the temperature data we've been able to collect or reconstruct for the last 15,000 years. The world was going through an overall, gradual cooling trend (with a lot of short-term variation) until 150 years ago, when energy-trapping gases began to be released with the dawn of the industrial era.

What's of concern is that it doesn't take a very large energy imbalance at all, on a global net basis, added to the system to change the climate. All it takes is just about half a watt per square meter on average globally. It seems small, but when you add up this imbalance of incoming versus outgoing over the entire surface of the planet, you realize it’s a lot of energy on a global scale. It’s still pretty small compared to the roughly 700 watts per square meter added from solar energy reaching the surface of Earth. But industrial civilization, by pumping many billions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere yearly, has changed the chemistry of the atmosphere, and increased the amount of heat trapped in the oceans and the atmosphere. This small energy imbalance is responsible for the climate changes we’ve seen over the last 100 years.

RM. How did the climate system evolve to maintain almost just right conditions? We don't often get summer freezes during growing seasons in temperate regions, for instance, that would wipe out crops like in 1819 when in New England there was the year without summer?

SM: Again I think we have to be pretty clear that the “recent” period, called the Holocene, is pretty exceptional when compared to the last million or so years. Most of the last million years has been ice-age, with only relatively brief interglacials. The interglacials typically last ten or fifteen thousand years, while the ice ages last more than 100 thousand years each.

From ice core records we can see that the last million years has been marked by what are essentially two “stable modes,” which are a characteristic of complex deterministic systems like the climate. Another word for this kind of system is “chaotic,” which means it follows the laws of physics as we understand them, but its behavior is highly non-linear. One of those modes – the dominant one – is the cold mode. We call that mode “ice age.” The other stable mode is the warm or interglacial mode. The warm mode is only active a minority of the time. Shifts between these modes are driven by orbital mechanics, called Milankovitch Cyclesvi, which are then taken over by positive feedbacks. The result is a pretty dramatic shift, when viewed on geologic time scales.

Once the climate drops into one of these two stable places – hot or cold – other feedbacks serve to keep it there pretty solidly, like a bowling ball sitting in a valley. Small perturbations might nudge it a bit toward warmer or colder temperatures, but ultimately the stability of the mode prevails. The bowling ball rolls back to the bottom of the valley. This can continue for thousands of years, but ultimately is undone, triggering a shift to the opposite mode, by the orbital stuff all adding up in the right way and triggering positive feedbacks again. In this case, the bowling ball is pushed right up to the top of the hill, and rolls down into the next valley. That was the story until about 150 years ago, when human activities became the dominant climate forcing. In other words, another way to think about human-induced climate change is to call it climate destabilization. We’re not just dealing with a bowling ball and two valleys anymore.

You can also think about the long-term stability of the climate system from the perspective of the Gaia Hypothesis. James Lovelock was one the researchers who originated the Gaia Hypothesisvii. The basic idea is that, once life is established on the planet, the process of evolution helps to stabilize the planet’s climate to some degree. Producing and maintaining the oxygen atmosphere, for example, with just the right amount of carbon dioxide to keep the temperature hot, but not too hot, is a co-evolutionary expression of the Gaia ecosphere. This co-evolutionary action of life is one thing that distinguishes Earth from Mars, which looks to be a pretty dead planet, and is freezing cold with little free oxygen. (An oxygen atmosphere is pretty unstable, since oxygen is so chemically reactive. Without all this life on Earth to keep the free oxygen content up so high, it would quickly react away and combine with other elements. On Mars it combined with iron and made rust, giving the planet its red color.) Venus is another dead world, with little ability to regulate its internal temperature other than simpler physical and chemical processes, so, being closer to the Sun and therefore getting more incoming energy than Earth, it’s super hot with an enormous amount of carbon dioxide. Venus is essentially a runaway greenhouse. James Hansen discusses it in his book Storms of My Grandchildrenviii, which is another great read.

Earth's climate balance can be thrown off by events such as massive volcanic eruptions or meteor collisions that throw up a lot of fine particles or change the chemistry of the atmosphere, and upset the energy balance. This has sometimes resulted in great extinction events, such as the meteor strike that killed off the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Over time, the balance of the system was reestablished and life could survive and again thrive. But the system is not coping well with humanity suddenly pouring billions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and changing the global heat balance very, very quickly. Our direct measurements of the current chemistry of the atmosphereix, along with the proxy records we have of the past – ice coresx and other natural records – show that the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is now increasing 30 times faster than at any time in the last million years, and carbon dioxide levels have reached a point much higher than at any time in the last million yearsxi. We’re creating an immensely difficult problem, so it’s really up to us to do something about it before some non-linear event is triggered, like the Paleocene Eocene Thermal Maximum or the Younger Dryas Event.

RM: What was the Paleocene Eocene Thermal Maximum? What was the Younger Dryas Event?

SM: The Paleocene Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM)xii occurred about 55 million years ago, and was a global warming event that led to a die-off of 90 percent of ocean species. The best working theory is that this was caused by meteor collision at a high latitude, which caused melting of the permafrost and the release of enormous amounts of methane, a powerful and relatively short-lived greenhouse gas. So there was a positive feedback cycle there. More methane caused more warming, which caused more melting and more methane to be released. This eventually resulted in about a 6-degree Celsius increase in global average temperature. As the methane broke down into carbon dioxide, it was then partially absorbed by the oceans, forming carbonic acid, and causing one of the world’s great mass extinctions. It lasted about 200 thousand years.

The Younger Dryas Event was much more recentxiii. About 12 thousand years ago, as the world was emerging from the last major ice age, an ice dam broke somewhere in interior Canada, and an enormous lake of fresh water from melted glaciers spilled into the North Atlantic. Since fresh water is less dense than salt water, this glacial melt sat there like a lens in the North Atlantic, shielding the underlying salty ocean water from heat removal by the atmosphere. The result was that the formation of North Atlantic Deepwater was shut off, which in turn switched off the Gulf Stream. Well, the Gulf Stream is the final leg of what we now know as the Great Ocean Conveyor Belt – a global ocean current that transports equatorial heat to high latitudes. This is the mechanism that keeps northern Europe – places like the British Isles – much warmer than other places with a similar latitude. So, you shut off the Conveyor Belt, and northern Europe doesn’t get the heat we usually think of it getting, and it freezes up. In what could have been as short as a few decades, the whole world froze up again – dropped back into the ice age, the cold climate mode. That lasted 1300 years. Eventually, the Conveyor Belt restarted and the world started warming up again. So the Younger Dryas was a case of a strong negative feedback – the Milankovitch astronomical cycles were pushing the world toward the warm interglacial mode, but the sudden release of all that meltwater into the sea triggered a negative feedback, a damper if you will, and pushed the world back toward the cold mode.

RM: Explain the increase in extremes, not just global average resulting from climate change.

SM: Climate is a complex system with semi-stable modes. Within the warm mode, such as the Holocene of the last 11,000 years, we understand very well what a typical spring , fall, summer, and winter is like in a given location. The variations around the mean condition for a season are distributed like a bell curve. We call this a “normal distribution.” About 69% percent of weather events take place with one standard deviation, higher or lower than average; 95% within two standard deviations; 99% within three standard deviations.

Within a mode, changes are somewhat linear. So, if you warm the atmosphere by a little, you cause an upward shift in the upper end of the normal distribution, and you get extreme events associated with the warmer condition occurring more often. Of course, if you push it upward far enough, you can trigger a non-linear shift into a different stable mode, and you have an entirely new climate with weather that is quite different and potentially very unfriendly to us. One possibility is a sudden shift into a “hot mode,” something like the PETM. Of course it wouldn’t look exactly like the PETM, since that occurred 55 million years ago, when the arrangement of continents and the global ocean currents were quite different than they are today.

RM: What will the weather look like in the coming years if we continue on the current path?

SM: So let’s assume that we nudge the global climate system toward warmer temperatures, without triggering any catastrophic shifts toward some other mode. If we continue on the climate change path, more heat will mean more evaporation, and therefore more water vapor in the atmosphere. Well, water vapor is a powerful greenhouse gas, so that causes the warming to accelerate. The recondensation of all that vapor into liquid water releases latent heat, which is the power source for tropical storms. So more warming means more powerful hurricanes.

But it’s much more complicated than that. Since the polar regions are heating up more quickly than the equatorial region, the Polar Jet Stream – which is driven by the temperature difference between the equator and the poles – will get weaker. The jet stream and the Polar Front, which is the boundary between polar and tropical airmasses near the surface of the Earth, are the driving force behind midlatitude storms, like the big winter storms we’re used to in New England. Blizzards, Nor-easters, that kind of storm. So if you make the jet stream and the Polar Front weaker, you wind up with weaker winter storms, at least as we understand them.

Another consequence we see is an extension northward and intensification of something called the Subtropical Ridgexiv. This is an area of semi-permanent high pressure near 30 degrees north (and south) latitude. It’s part of the Earth’s large-scale circulation. Warming up the atmosphere causes the Subtropical Ridge to get stronger and move farther away from the equator, and in fact that’s been shown to be occurring. The center of the Subtropical Ridge has moved northward by about 250 miles from its previous position already.

Combine this with the weakening of the Polar Jet Stream and the Polar Front, and a third possible consequence of climate change is that convection becomes a more important process than it has been in the middle latitudes. In other words, thunderstorms, tornadoes, and showery precipitation become more common during the traditionally cold times of year, when historically steady precipitation and flat clouds (call stratiform clouds) have been more dominant. You can think of this as another way of saying that weather becomes more “granular” in our part of the world – more local in scale.

RM: What are predictions for climate change by the year 2050-2070?

SM: If we continue on the current path of increasing carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere, we’ll probably see by 2050-2070 a global temperature increase of something like 5 degrees Fahrenheit (3 degrees Celsius)xv. This is blowing through the 2 degree Celsius rise considered to be maximally tolerable, with a sea-level rise ranging between 9 inches to two feet. Such a temperature rise will be disastrous for biodiversity. 40-50% of plants and animals cannot adapt so quickly, so we’re likely to lose those species. That’s half the world’s species. That loss of biodiversity is also discussed in a report by Nicholas Sternxvi, who used to work for the World Bank.

Climate in today’s major breadbaskets in 2050-2070 will shifting out of bounds. Lester Brown’s WorldWatch Institutexvii reports that, for every one degree of warming beyond some critical point, there’s a 10 percent decrease in plant productivity, so the food crops that we try to grow in the current breadbasket regions will see significant decreases in yield. The climate models are indicating that there will be entirely new climate for five billion people, more than half the people on Earth. It will be hotter and dryer for the most part, with more frequent extreme heat waves and droughts, and more frequent extreme precipitation events. Once unleashed, changes of this magnitude are both long lasting and probably irreversible by human actions on any time-scale that matters to us. Carbon dioxide, the gas that’s driving this change, has a residence time in the atmosphere of thousands of years. So any changes we initiate are likely to stay in place for a very long time.

RM: What are predictions for climate change by 2100?

SM: This is grim if we keep polluting. A recent paper by some Australian researchers indicates that we can expect by 2100 CE about 4 degrees C of warming (around 7 degree F), with sea level rise of 2 or 3 meters (about 6-10 feet)xviii. This will inundate the coastal environment. Winter storms whipping up waves will easily top existing seawalls. Most of the world’s major cities are on the coast or nearby. Places like Miami and Washington and New York will be under water, or severely threatened on a regular basis.

RM: Where are world's grain producing regions that are particularly sensitive to the kind of climate-weather changes you are discussing?

SM: Cereal grains are based on four or five wild grasses, such as wheat, rice, and maize (corn). The major food producing areas of U.S., China, and Russia (in zone between 40 and 50 degrees north latitude), where we cultivate the domesticated forms of these grasses, are increasingly susceptible to drought. These droughts, which we’ve seen quite a lot of in the last decade, are caused by the northward movement and intensification of the Subtropical Ridge, and another form of persistent high pressure ridge called an Omega Block. These high pressure ridges create stable, very hot and very dry climate. Precipitation that does occur often happens in extreme events, creating flooding and severe soil erosion (which is already a problem in the American Midwest).

Already, in 2012 and 2013, the expansion and intensification of the Subtropical Ridge brought heat and drought to western-central US and to the Ukraine and Kazakhstan, and along with an Omega Block over south central Asia, brought epic floods to Pakistan. So the world's bread baskets are threatened by climate-change related droughts and floods.

There is already only a small amount of reserve wheat. The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization indicated that the 2012 global reserve food supply was just 75 days, the lowest since 1974xix. And in six out of the last 11 years the world consumed more than it produced. So we’re creating a situation of growing food insecurity. Climate change makes this even more insecure, because of the way it impacts food production.

It seems to me that political systems, like climate systems, are non-linear. Climate-related food shortages can quickly lead to political instability, such as we saw in Egypt. The Arab spring uprisings were predicated by drought in North Africa that sharply increased the price of wheat.

RM: What are the dynamics of a likely scenario if, and I emphasize if, we keep pouring billions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and don't change our ways?

SM: Our big concern is changes in several dynamics of the climate system that are linked together and reinforce one another. Pushing just one of these dynamics in the wrong direction is bad. Push several of them in the wrong direction, and the future of our civilization is under grave threat. Here's an example of an unhappy chain of events we could be setting into motion by failing to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide we add to the atmosphere.

First, the warming polar regions see melting ice that will inexorably raise sea-levels and threaten much of the global population that lives near the coast with floods, not just from normal weather events, but from great storms crashing over sea walls and dikes. We can conservatively project an average sea level increase of six feet by 2100 CE if we do not change our ways. And this is not a worst case scenario. A six foot increase in mean sea level will not just flood island nations and low lying areas such as Florida and Bangladesh but threaten coastal areas globally. Hurricane Sandy, a supercharged hybrid tropical-midlatitude storm that did something upward of 70 billion dollars in damagexx, was a small taste of things to come if we continue on this path.

Second, warming doesn't just melt ice, it also melts permafrost and methane hydrates (under the Arctic Ocean seafloor) formed by rotting ancient vegetation, potentially freeing huge amounts of methane. This is a positive feedback that will dramatically enhance climate change.

Third, melting ice does not just raise sea levels. It decreases the Earth's albedo. Ice reflects a lot of sunlight, but bare ground and open ocean are heat sinks. This will further accelerate melting of permafrost and methane hydrates, resulting in more temperature increase. This is another positive feedback.

Fourth, the warming atmosphere intensifies and shifts the global Subtropical Ridge poleward, toward the great population and food production centers particularly of the Northern Hemisphere. This is a drought mechanism that creates calm, hot, dry conditions, and is responsible for the great deserts like the Sahara and the Gobi at 30 degree north latitude, as well as the Australian desert in the southern hemisphere.

Climate change causes it to intensify and shift poleward into the temperate zone, and threaten some of the world's grain producing regions in the middle latitudes of the United States, Russia and Ukraine, and China. The Subtropical Ridge is already 250 miles further north than in the last century. And drought conditions are already threatening to become the new normal in the U.S. from Texas to the Dakotas. Australians have already defined this as their new normal.

Fifth, warming in the polar regions, as we've seen this winter, can weaken the isolation of the Polar Vortex (which, like the Subtropical Ridge, is part of the Earth’s large-scale, general circulation), and allow intense cold outbreaks to sweep southward in some places, while temperature increases greatly in others, as it did in Europe and Russia this winter. In other words, the extreme cold outbreaks we saw in January of this year are entirely consistent with “global warming,” which becomes even clearer when you look at the temperature on a global scale, and not just a continental scale.

Sixth, adding huge amounts of fresh water melt from melting glaciers in Greenland to the high-latitude Atlantic ocean could weaken or shut down the global ocean conveyor belt, where cold and dense salty ocean water sinks and is replaced by warmer lighter ocean water from the Gulf Stream. For the past 11,000 years, this circulation has resulted in much warmer temperatures in high-latitude Europe. If this shuts down, the entire world could be cast into an artificially-induced rerun of the Younger Dryas Event – a mini ice-age. This would shut off food production in the middle latitudes just as effectively as a super heat wave and drought. With the world food reserves already down to 2 ½ months, any interruption on food production is another disaster in the making. The U.S. Department of Defense published a white paper on this possibility in 2004xxi, because of its grave implications for national security, and called it a “low-probability, high-consequence event.”

For the record, I think that last scenario is looking less likely. It turns out that the amount of meltwater being added to the North Atlantic is at least an order of magnitude too small to trigger shutdown of the conveyor belt. Some recent measurements by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, using radar altimetry from a satellite, indicate a lot of short-term fluctuations in the flow of the conveyor belt, but no long-term slowdownsxxii. So it looks as if some kind of a thermal maximum scenario, like the PETM, is more likely than a rerun of the Younger Dryas Event.

RM: What do you recommend we do?

SM: First of all, Roy, I’m not sure I can provide you with a happy ending. Given the way our political, cultural and economic systems appear to have failed to absorb the enormity of our “problem,” I’m not at all convinced that we have the means to “avoid the unmanageable, and manage the unavoidable.” By the way, that’s a catchphrase I’ve heard at the big conferences – such as the annual American Meteorological Society meeting – where regulatory officials and scientists talk about climate change and what we should do about it. But it seems to me that the political class is dragging its feet, as if we had many decades before critical points are reached. But we don’t have that much time. In fact, I think we’re out of time. We’ve already set off a methane positive feedback in the Arctic. The permafrost and methane hydrates are melting now, and methane is already venting to the atmosphere. I think the challenge now is one of adaptation – and not making matters worse, not one of avoiding the trainwreck. The train is already crashing.

I’m speaking as somebody with a stake in the future: I have a young daughter, and I want her to have a full life. But despite my best efforts to provide for her future, I’m not sure she’s going to have a good one. I am also a student of our civilization and I would dearly like to see it continue in some way. I love its art, music, literature, and science. I guess you could call me a humanist. But the way we’re going now is not going to cut it. Business as usual is untenable on every level. If we don’t change direction fast, we’re probably doomed. That’s what James Lovelock says in his 2007 book, The Revenge of Gaiaxxiii, and I think he’s probably right.

I understand that you think we have the means to pursue a global ecological growth strategy that makes economic growth equivalent to ecological improvement. This effort would try to use the present economic system to undo the damage it’s already done. So the choices are between business and pollution as usual leading to self-destruction on the one hand, and the pursuit of sustainability and a global renewable energy system and sustainable agriculture on the other. Because I’d like to see something of our civilization survive the next 100 years, I hope you’re right that we can somehow turn this around.

Another possibility is that the Derrick Jensens of the world are right, that is, that “civilization” as we’ve understood it for the last 10,000 years is ultimately unsustainable, and that we’ve got to fundamentally change the ways that we interact with each other and with the world as a whole. I’m inclined to think this group of thinkers is closer to the truth. But I know you don’t agree with me. That’s okay. In the end, I’m just a weather forecaster with a Ph.D.

RM: We can and must pursue a high-growth, zero-pollution future. At bottom, the challenge we face is political, not technical. One way forward is the global ecological growth strategy I've described in the Pursuit of An Ecological Future

http://www.ciwg.net/files/82334853.pdf available on line.

The choice we face is not between polluting, high-growth and no-growth. The choice is between self-destruction and an ecological growth system building a prosperous and sustainable future. Ultimately, what happens will depend on what all of us do, and the mass withdrawal of consent from business and pollution as usual, and the new path that emerges. This is our duty and our opportunity. The future of our families, our children and their children is at stake.

Side Bar

Sam Miller served in the USAF from 1978 to 1989. For most of that time he was a weather observer and forecaster, and worked in California, northern New York State, northern Maine, and southeastern Turkiye. In 1989, he left the USAF and moved to Concord, where he began work on several degrees at the University of New Hampshire: A bachelor’s in physics, a master’s in physical oceanography, and a Ph.D. in earth sciences. From 2000 to 2003, he was on the research staff at UNH's Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans and Space, in the Climate Change Research Center. After completing his doctoral degree in 2003, he spent two years with the National Weather Service in Alaska.

In 1991, he used his knowledge of both physics and meteorology to help establish the C-10 Radiological Monitoring Network (C-10/RMN) around the Seabrook reactor in southeast New Hampshire. The C-10/RMN began as a citizen-run manually operated system, but grew into a fully-automated network, and has maintained about 25 radiological and meteorological stations within 10 miles of Seabrook for more than 20 years. He's continued to work with C-10, and in 2008, as a Professor at Plymouth State University, with the help of a graduate student, completed a study that analyzed an 11-year record of the Network's airborne radiological data.

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