The Difficult Gestation and Birth of the International Programs of Climate Change and Space Weather

LASP Science Seminars

The Difficult Gestation and Birth of the International Programs of Climate Change and Space Weather

Juan G. Roederer
(LASP)
June 22, 2023
4:00 PM MT/MST

The international programs of Climate Change (led by the IPCC) and Space Weather (originally created as the GEM project) are twins conceived in 1984 and born in 1988, mothered by the International Geosphere-Biosphere Program (IGBP) and fathered by several scientists engaged in a fierce battle about the approach to be followed at the level of in international earth system science. I am not a climate scientist, but as Foreign Secretary of AGU and chairman of the US Academy Polar Research Board’s Panel on Arctic Research, I was involved in this process since its beginning in 1983 with the Academy’s Foreign Secretary, Thomas F. Malone. There were two feuding groups. One consisted of geo- and space physicists, who were duly aware of new developments in complex systems studies, in which “everything was coupled to everything else but nothing was proportional to anything”, full of lurking nonlinearities that lay in the way of long-term prediction-making. They recommended a cautious, mainly basic-science approach. The other group consisted mainly of meteorologists and environmentalists, with expertise in weather forcasting, bio-conservation, and the development of pertinent numerical models, who were pressing for sharply focused research on only that which is immediately evident and relevant. I will describe in detail the scientific issues in dispute (some of which are resurfacing again in full force), spiced with anecdotes about the surprisingly unprofessional behavior of some participating science leaders. Needless to say that the “globalists” lost the grand battle, but there was an important positive spin-off: some of the space physicists who had been booted out banded together and created what has evolved into the Space Weather Program. Of course, magnetic, ionospheric and solar storms had been known for a long time, and so was the quest for forecasts. But now there was a need for a unified, quantitative picture of the whole solar-terrestrial system and its subtle but crucial coupling to technological, maybe even biological systems on and around our planet. Knowing how these programs were originally generated may shed some light on what is happening right now scientifically, politically and internationally—in both, climate change and space weather research. I will conclude with a list of lessons learned, of which the last one, based on good old thermodynamics, modern information theory and recent neuroscience may raise some extra concerns… Note: A succinct description of these issues can be found in my recent paper First Shots of the Climate Revolution: an Untold Story, Frontiers in Astron. Space Sci., 2022 (doi: 10.3389/fspas.2022.1025466).

Upcoming Science Seminars:
Sep. 28, 2023
Developing Tiny Telescopes to Address Some of the Largest Questions in Astrophysics
Briana Indahl
(LASP)