Earth’s Tipping Points & Abrupt Climate Change

Climate researcher and host of PBS’s Earth: The Operators’ Manual Richard Alley discusses abrupt climate variations in Earth’s history and what he defines as climate tipping points – leading to a discussion on whether or not Earth’s climate systems has dials, or switches.  He also addresses the socio-economic costs of climate change and why he’s optimistic about our energy future, with links to salted cod in the 1700s.  Alley also reflects on the role of scientists as advocates with some interesting implications for Albert Einstein and Charles Darwin.

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Contributor

Richard Alley
Richard Alley has provided key data and interpretations helping demonstrate that regional to global climate changes larger than any experienced by agricultural or industrial humans have occurred repeatedly, in decades to as little as a single year, and has helped reveal mechanisms and possibility of recurrence.  Through data analysis and modeling, he has helped understand ice-bed interactions with implications for fast glacier flow and sea-level change, and for interpretation of geological records, climatic changes and mountain-belt evolution.  His extensive ongoing and past service at numerous levels includes international (participant in Nobel-Peace-Prize- winning IPCC process on climate change including lead author, cryospheric chapter), US Government (advice to officials in NOAA, NSF, EPA, CCSP, etc., wrote text on Antarctic research used by US President in a speech, advice to US Vice President, President’s Science Advisor, and to Senators, etc.), and National Research Council (chaired Committee on Abrupt Climate Change).

Interviewer

Jeremy Caves
Jeremy is a PhD candidate at Stanford University who is interested in understanding long-term controls on the Earth’s terrestrial climate and oceans.  During this interval, the Earth underwent a fundamental shift in its climate, transitioning from the hot, high-CO2 climate that characterized the Cretaceous to the relatively cool, low-CO2 climate of today.  Understanding this transition can elucidate first-order controls on Earth’s climate as well as improve understanding of what our future climate may resemble given current projections of CO2 emissions.

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