The eyes of the world will be on Stockholm, September 27th, 2013, when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change- I.P.C.C. releases it’s latest findings. Five years ago, that panel won a Nobel Prize for it’s climate work. And Atmospheric Science Professor Don Wuebbles from the University of Illinois, shared in that high honor. Chief Meteorologist Tom Skilling traveled to Urbana last week to catch Dr. Wuebbles for a preview of their report before he left for Sweden.
Friday marks the fifth time since 1990 that the IPCC has released it’s assessment of the science on climate change. Armed with the latest data, Dr. Wuebbles says they’ll state in stronger terms than ever before; the climate is warming, that warmer temperatures are creating more extreme weather events, and humans are driving this.
Hurricane Sandy, killer floodwaters, and raging wildfires. Scientists from all over the world, including Dr. Don Wuebbles, say our changing climate may be impacting these extreme weather events. “So we have a lot of concerns about what those changes in climate can mean to us. It’s virtually certain that human activities are responsible for the changes in climate that we’ve been seeing over the past 50 years.” Professor Wuebbles is part of a United Nations organized community that brings together the world’s greatest science minds. 830 authors volunteer their time and expertise to increase our understanding of what’s going on with earth’s climate system. “So it’s really a look at the science by the scientists to assess what is it we know? What has changed in our knowledge? And to make recommendations then to governments to say is this important enough you should be worrying about it?”
Wuebbles tells WGN that the IPCC report will state that warming temperatures are creating a really different climate on our planet. The melting of ice near the poles could raise sea levels by one to four feet by the end of the century, swamping coastal cities like Miami and New York. The report also links climate change to more extreme weather events. “So if we say it’s virtually certain, that means it’s 99-100% likelihood that this observation is real. Because the media often wants to treat this as a contentious issue, they want to show both sides, they actually get the impression there are two sides. And in fact the reality is, there really isn’t another side to this.”
Their confidence grows with each improvement in supercomputers. This brand new, National Petascale computing facility is located on campus at the University of Illinois. “Just listen to that roar,” says Tom. “These are supercomputers at the University of Illinois crunching numbers. The climate is a complex system. So’s our atmosphere. And it takes a lot of computing power to forecast and visualize it.” Trish Barker from the National Center for Supercomputing Applications explains just how big this computer really is. “The Blue Waters supercomputer is one of the biggest supercomputers anywhere in the world. It’s the biggest at a University campus anywhere in the world. And it can do quadrillions of calculations every second. If you wanted to do a quadrillion calculations you would need millions of years with a calculator.” Professor Donna Cox is the director of the visualization team at NCSA. “The numbers though become more real to people when they can see them thru the visualization process.” Cox and her team at U of I have been working with Don Wuebbles and other scientists to transform complex mathematical computations into stunning, simulated video displays. “We have many many testimonials from scientists that once they’ve seen their data visualized, moving, evolving that they have made new discoveries.” For instance, tornado researchers couldn’t see double funnels in their data, until it was visualized. This partnership of art and science is a powerful tool to actually show people the warming of the atmosphere both now and in the future. And Wuebbles says, also what is possible if we become better stewards of the environment. “How can we take our understanding of the complex science of what’s going on in the climate system and translate it into something that the public can readily understand and say wow, this tells me why this is so important.” Great computer power also allows scientists to get down to much better resolutions on smaller scales, like predicting regional climates. “Illinois may be becoming more like eastern Texas, more like the Dallas area for example, where most of the summer is above 90 degrees and you have a month of 100 degree days. Well, that’s not Illinois as we know it.” That scenario is for the end of the century and assumes continued heavy use of fossil fuels. Wuebbles says here in the Midwest, we have a greater likelihood of extreme precipitation events, followed by mini-droughts. That could have huge implications for Illinois agriculture. “Climate change is happening,” says Cox. “And we have to communicate that. There’s no hidden agenda here. ”Wuebbels says, “Climate change clearly is a world problem. It isn’t just a US problem by any means. It’s not that we’re gonna totally prevent future climate change. But we can keep it to the level where we’ll have much less effect than if we follow the pathway we’re on now.”
Look at what happened with aerosols and the ozone layer. Wuebbles was among the scientists in the 80’s who determined that our use of certain chemicals was depleting the ozone layer which protects us from the sun’s harmful rays. The nations of the world united and have turned that around. And it’s not just the IPCC making these climate change claims. The World Meteorological Organization, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the National Aeronautic and Space Administration are on board as well. You can read much more about this topic by clicking these links.
Producer Pam Grimes and Photojournalist Steve Scheuer contributed to this report
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
World Meteorological Organization
NOAA- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
NASA National Aeronautics and Space Administration
NCSA National Center for Supercomputing Applications
NCSA Visualization Lab