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Leading climate scientist speaks about global warming

By Stephanie Harris
On April 14, 2008

One of the world's leading climate scientists spoke at SSU on Monday, April 7.

The seventy-fifth season of the "What Physicists Do" lecture series welcomed Professor Inez Fung to speak about global warming and its effects.

The University of California at Berkeley Professor of Atmospheric Science and Codirector of the Berkeley Institute of the Environment presented "The Warming Will Accelerate the Warming" lecture to a room of students, faculty and community members.

The lecture featured various graphs and equations that focused on ancient air bubbles, the water cycle, global temperature change and melting glaciers to display the research done by Fung and the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change, which was credited with the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007.

According to Fung, who has been making sophisticated models of the earth's atmosphere for over two decades, the twenty- first century warming depends on the rate at which carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gasses increase. Research from the past five years reveals that CO2 levels have been rapidly rising.

"For us in this business it is not a happy thing to be proven right," said Fung.

Currently, scientists know the physics of energy systems and clouds based on satellite data. Fung re-creates the earth's atmosphere to learn how different scientific processes work.

Various modeling groups test multiple samples from around the country and then combine their data in order to find a standard fit. Researchers use the information gathered on subjects such as the positive and negative effects of clouds and water to prove that climate change alters the processes that store carbon on land and in the oceans. As a result they have found that climate change accelerates climate change itself.

"Temperature changes the entire biological atmosphere. The warming accelerates the warming," said Fung.

Fung referred to the work of physicist Lewis Fry Richardson who pioneered the modern mathematical techniques used to forecast the weather. Although Richardson's data was later proven incorrect, his work revealed the strengths and limitations of mathematics and physics when predicting climate change.

"I never knew how much physics went into it. I had no idea there was so much as far as graphs, grids, equations, and computers go," said Abby Ritzman, SSU sophomore.

As a student enrolled in Astronomy 100, Ritzman is required to attend an installment of the "What Physicists Do" lecture series before the semester concludes. After discussing the global warming issue with her father while at home for spring break, Ritzman decided the lecture on global warming would expand the knowledge she had already gained from the recent conversation and her Environmental Studies course.

As one of only a handful of students in attendance, Ritzman suggested that students arrive at the lectures with some background knowledge on the topic being discussed. She attended the Feb. 25 installment, "The Evolution of Galaxies in Different Environments," and admits she needed clarification on some of the material.

"They are there because they want you to know more, but they also want you to already know something," said Ritzman.

Fung also cited the Stern Review's Projected Impacts of Climate Change, which emphasizes the devastation ecosystems will experience and the various extreme weather events that will result as an effect of global warming.

"I find it interesting that nothing in the history of earth has affected our planet the way humans have," said Kimberly Carman, a second year physics major, attends the "What Physicists Do" lecture series every Monday night.

"I want to be immersed in the sciences. I hope that a little bit of their smartness will rub off on me," said Carman.

Carman is studying to achieve astronomy and math minors, on top of a degree in physics. She proudly sports the "Sonoma State Physics. Our Homework is Harder" t-shirt, and plans to continue her studies by concentrating on astrophysics in graduate school.

Over her career, Fung has received many awards including the prestigious Roger Revelle Medal of American Geophysical Union and the World Technology Award.

Fung was also recognized for her work when she was listed amongst the "Scientific American 50" for the year 2005.

Her biography, written by Renee Skelton, is titled "Forecast Earth." The book documents the scientist's journey to America and includes her research and analysis regarding global warming.

When Inez graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1979 she was only the second woman to graduate with a doctorate in meteorology.

The National Academy of Sciences web site "I Was Wondering...A Curious Look at Women's Adventures in Science" hosts Fung's creative home page, which includes quotes, facts, photographs, and information about the climate modeler's latest studies.

"It's not whether you believe it or not. We all need to look at our future in a proactive way," said Fung.

"I am always excited when the speaker is a woman. I definitely consider Inez Fung a role model. She lets me know that it is possible for me to make it," said Carman.

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