May 14, 1998
Vol. 17, No. 16

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    'Facing the Challenges of Global Warming'

    Symposium on 'most important scientific problem in world today'

    By Shula Neuman
    News Office

    Dean of Physical Sciences David Oxtoby calls global warming "perhaps the most important scientific problem in the world today," but it is misunderstood even by some scientists. As a response to that lack of information, Oxtoby and his colleagues are planning a public symposium, "Facing the Challenges of Global Warming," from 3 to 6 p.m. Wednesday, May 27, in Kent 107.

    Scientists have been looking for years for signs that the production of so-called "greenhouse gases," especially the carbon dioxide produced by the burning of fossil fuels, is creating a slow but inevitable warming of the earth's climate. Until recently, any small warming has been difficult to detect because of the relatively large natural variations in Earth's weather. But in recent years, clear signs have begun to emerge that human activities are warming our global climate, with potentially catastrophic results that range from the large-scale dislocation of farming regions to a rise in sea level that could submerge coastal areas inhabited by millions of people.

    The symposium originated with a letter circulated by a prominent scientist in a field unrelated to climate studies. In it, he claimed that global warming was either not occurring or that its effects may not be harmful.

    "I and several of my colleagues received this letter, and we thought it was evidence that there is a compelling need for better information about the evidence for global warming," Oxtoby explained. "Fortunately, some of the most thoughtful people in this field are at the University. I think people who attend the symposium will gain a much better understanding of what is happening to the climate and what it may mean for all of us if present trends are not reversed."

    Scheduled speakers for the symposium include Ralph Cicerone, Dean of Science and newly appointed Chancellor of the University of California at Irvine and a national authority on global warming; Raymond Pierrehumbert, Professor in Geophysical Sciences, who studies the fluid dynamics in the atmosphere, in the oceans and on other planets; D. Gale Johnson, the Eliakim Hastings Moore Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus and an authority on international agricultural development; David Archer, Associate Professor in Geophysical Sciences, who models the physical and chemical transport of carbon dioxide in the world's oceans-variations in the atmosphere's carbon dioxide have been linked to global temperature changes; Doug MacAyeal, Professor in Geophysical Sciences, who studies the relationship between the polar caps and Earth's climate; and David Jablonski, Professor in Geophysical Sciences and an authority on the evolution, diversity and extinction of life forms over the past several hundred million years.