Key Talks from a Global Science Summit

AAAS Annual Meeting: Talks From the Earth Institute, Feb. 16-20

by |February 8, 2012

Scientists at Columbia University’s Earth Institute will present important new work on global climate, air pollution, agriculture and other issues at the Feb. 16-20 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in Vancouver, B.C. Click hyperlinks for scientist contacts and other information. Background materials will be posted just before the meeting at the AAAS Meeting Online Newsroom. More info: Earth Institute science editor Kevin Krajick, 917-361-7766. All talks will be at the Vancouver Convention Center West Building. ALL TALKS ARE EMBARGOED UNTIL TIME OF PRESENTATION, or RELATED PRESS BRIEFING.

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Global Climate Modeling for the Masses

Climate modeler Mark Chandler discusses and demonstrates the Educational Global Climate Modeling Project – an integrated suite of software that allows university students and teachers to run climate simulations and experiments on desktop computers, without the need for programmers and supercomputers used by major climate centers. EdGCM is a fully functional version of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) Global Climate Model II, and has been used in original research projects. It is now available mainly at the undergraduate level, but there is now a push to expand into K-12 settings. Chandler is affiliated with both GISS and Columbia’s Center for Climate Systems Research.

Understanding Global Climate Using Dynamic Visualizations

Friday, Feb. 17, 8:30am   Room 119-120

East Africa’s Drying and Worldwide Weather

It is a mystery why East Africa changed 2 million years ago from a moist region into the arid savannah grasslands of today. This is a vital question, as the switch may have been a turning point in human evolution, and related processes could shape future climate. Paleoclimatologist Peter deMenocal (Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory) says there is now evidence from deep-sea sediment cores that changes in relative sea-surface temperatures across wide areas of the world essentially created the wind and rain patterns of today, driving the switch. Should sea-surface temperatures shift again substantially in the future, this could drastically rearrange the weather patterns of the modern world.

Climate Change and Human Evolution

Friday, Feb. 17, 1:30pm   Ballroom A

Does Intensive Farming Really Save Land?

It is an article of faith that the spread of modern high-yield farming will reduce pressure on remaining tropical forests, because more produce will grow on less land; but does it really work that way? An interdisciplinary research group headed by Ruth deFries (Center for Environmental Research and Conservation) says it is not that simple. Using remote sensing and on-the-ground legwork, they have found that in southern Brazil, large-scale soy farms are expanding mainly into already deforested land. But in the Peruvian Amazon, high-yield oil palm plantations are expanding primarily into remaining forests. Market forces and government policies may have as much to do with it as agriculture itself, says DeFries. (In related research, team members are also studying  massive burning in the Amazon associated with clearing and maintaining farmland.)

Supporting a Decent Standard of Living Within Planetary Boundaries

Saturday, Feb. 18, 8:30am   Room 220

Climate and Rising Food Prices

Rising temperatures in coming decades may push yields of major U.S. crops off a cliff, with drastic effects for food prices, says Columbia University economist Wolfram Schlenker. Warmth may improve yields of some crops for a while, but U.S. corn and soybeans—two-fifths of the world supply—will reach a tipping point, and could plummet 30% to 80% because of excessive heat, depending on how high temperatures go. The projections rest on earlier county-by-county studies of U.S. agriculture. A new working paper takes the climate/crop projections the next step, and estimates the consequences for world food prices, which could go up 30%. The damage could be at least partly mitigated if we stop using so many calories for biofuels, says Schlenker.

Emerging Risks in the Global Food System

PRESS BRIEFING:Saturday, Feb. 18, 11am  Room 223-224


TALK: Saturday, Feb. 18, 3pm  Room 211

How to Stop Warming the Earth: Beyond CO2

Carbon dioxide is the main driver of manmade global warming, but not the only; methane and other gases are also at work; cutting them and other non-CO2 pollutants could help slow warming quickly and save lives due to improved air quality, says recent Earth Institute research. Atmospheric scientist Arlene Fiore of Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory focuses here on methane, a precursor to ozone (a main component of urban smog) 25 times more potent than CO2. Fiore will dissect how long methane can persist in the air, depending on varying temperature (for instance, higher temperatures may drive more methane from swamps and other natural sources), humidity and presence of other pollutants; how that translates to ozone pollution; and the implications for air quality and climate across the United States in coming years. Non-Carbon Dioxide Greenhouse Gases and Aerosols

Sunday, Feb. 19, 9am   Room 211

Scientific, Economic and Moral Issues of Climate Change

James Hansen, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, has become one of the scientific world’s most outspoken advocates for curbing CO2 emissions. He advocates rolling back the atmospheric CO2 concentration roughly to the largely pre-modern level of 350 parts per million. (It is now up to about 392 ppm.) Hansen will review the reasoning behind targeting 350, and discuss an energy roadmap for getting there.

Climate Solutions: Challenges of Getting to 350

Sunday, Feb. 19, 8:30am   Room 214

(Hansen will also be a discussant at Toward Stabilization Net of CO2 Levels,

Friday, Feb. 17, 1:30-4:30pm)

Media Inquiries Media Advisories

Kevin Krajick
(917) 361-7766

Caroline Adelman
(917) 370-1407

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