Robert Corell, a senior research fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University, spoke at the final event of this year’s Chancellor’s Distinguished Fellows Series at the Beckman Center Auditorium on Wednesday, May 25.
The lecture, hosted by the Schools of Biological Sciences and Physical Sciences, was titled ‘Rapid Warming of the Arctic: An Early Warning for the Planet.’
Corell was the chair of the Arctic Council when it produced the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment. This four-year study, which involved over 300 scientists and eight Arctic countries, concluded that ‘the Earth’s climate is changing more rapidly and persistently than at any time since the beginning of civilization’ and that ‘these changes are more severe in the Arctic than elsewhere.’
Last year, oceans in the northern hemisphere had their warmest year on record, according to Corell. This continuing warming pattern can be seen in all of the world’s oceans and has increased significantly in the past 50 years.
Corell presented a graph that compared global temperature levels resulting from human interference with what temperatures would have been without human interference since the early 1900s. The graph shows a divergence beginning in the 1960s which continues until the present. Corell said that the biggest changes happened within the lifetime of most of the older audience members.
The AC’s study was completed with the assistance of participants from eight organizations in the Arctic region and an independent national arts and sciences committee composed of individuals selected by academies from 18 countries around the world.
‘[The study is] nested in a very interesting way, which I think gives it a different kind of legitimacy than some other enterprises that don’t have people and science communities underpinning their work,’ Corell said.
One goal of the study was to present the information in a format that the world would be able to understand.
‘From day one, we had graphic artists and science writers … try to communicate what it was we were learning scientifically,’ Corell said.
Corell explained that Earth is absorbing more energy from the sun than it is reemitting into space. This energy imbalance is confirmed by precise measurements, which show increasing heat in the Earth’s oceans.
The Arctic is experiencing a depletion of ozone at rates of up to 40 percent. The ‘hot zone,’ an area in which the ozone is significantly depleted, is in the Arctic region near Alaska and the Russian peninsula of Chukotka.
The global warming effect occurs mostly during the winter months and has greatly impacted this hot zone. Corell said that average winter temperatures in Alaska and western Canada have increased by as much as five to seven degrees Fahrenheit over the past 60 years.
Corell said that the Arctic, which is partly composed of ice that is only a couple of meters thick, is more prone to global warming effects than Antarctica, where ice is much bigger and thicker.
According to Corell, an early indicator of the changing climate is the impact on the Arctic ecosystem. For example, polar bears have been rapidly moving out of areas near the Arctic region. Humans are also affected directly by the warming, which is evident in the 380 Arctic villages that will be forced to evacuate as a result of warming at a cost of $100 million to $400 million each.
The shifting of petroleum deposits caused by global warming will also make some countries more powerful in the future, which may impact global relations.
Richard Remigio, a fifth-year applied ecology and earth and environmental sciences double major, was particularly interested in ‘the political consequences of the demise of the earth.’
‘The data presented was pretty alarming,’ Remigio said.
David Auchterlonie, a corporate turnaround manager, also found the event interesting but thought that it could be improved in one area.
‘It was highly educational,’ Auchterlonie said. ‘The amount of research that had been done was quite interesting. … I would have liked to hear a little more on Antarctica as a counterpoint.’
Rebecca Aicher, a first-year graduate student in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, liked how the topic had both scientific and societal implications.
‘[Corell] touched on some really important points about bridging science and society and listening to indigenous communities as well as scientific communities,’ Aicher said.
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