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"will Then Meet In Secret"
02-06-2007, 06:48 PM,
"will Then Meet In Secret"
Quote:The group of 50 researchers, representing the work of thousands more, will then meet in secret to put the finishing touches on the report. And on Friday they will release what experts call the most thorough and ambitious scientific assessment of world climate in history.


A chilling conclusion on global warming
U.N. report confirms the planet is heating up

Sunday, January 28, 2007
Star-Ledger Staff

The United Nations is poised to release a report on climate change so grim and so vast in scope that scientists involved in the six-year study say it will end the debate on global warming.

The report will say that global warming caused by human activity is no longer a theory. It is a fact.

"This is slam dunk city," said Jerry Mahlman, the retired director of the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory at Princeton University, who reviewed a preliminary draft of the report. "We are certain that global warming is the real deal. We expect the warming of the planet to be pretty much incontestable."

Charged with producing a definitive examination of the causes and effects of a planetary atmosphere overdosing on carbon dioxide, members of the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will gather for opening ceremonies in Paris tomorrow.

The group of 50 researchers, representing the work of thousands more, will then meet in secret to put the finishing touches on the report. And on Friday they will release what experts call the most thorough and ambitious scientific assessment of world climate in history.

"The report provides a full assessment of all the research and events of the past six years or so, since the last report in 2001," said Kevin Trenberth, a study author who heads the climate analysis section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado. "During that time, there are nearly six new yearly records of temperature, and all are in the top 10 warmest years. The observational record has been extended back in time as well as up to date, and the evidence for warming is widespread."

For days, news outlets have been reporting specific conclusions culled from many versions of drafts composed in the years since the last U.N. study was completed. Those close to the process said no detail is definitive until it has been assessed and agreed upon by the group.

The report is geared for multiple audiences, including the public, government leaders and scientists. While details such as the precise change in sea level may be debated this week, several scientists involved in the effort said the report will ask and answer four basic questions:

# Can humans affect the climate system and, if so, what changes have been observed? The report will say that natural factors alone can no longer explain the changes seen in the second half of the 20th century, citing a new physical understanding of the climate system.

# How sure are we that humans are responsible for climate change? The report will say that it is a virtual certainty that humans have caused the change, meaning that the scientists are "99 percent" certain.

# How different will the climate be in the future? The climate, its chemical mix now substantially altered by higher concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide, will continue to warm. Ice sheets will continue to melt, making sea levels rise.

# How has science changed our understanding of global warming since international efforts were launched in 1990? All the evidence has come together, scientists say, to form an internally consistent story.

The report is likely to build political support in Congress for legislation to curb carbon dioxide emissions and other action expected to address concerns about warming.

U.S. Rep. Rush Holt (D-12th Dist.), a physicist who has long followed the issue, said he is anxious to move on it.

"The debate over the existence of global warming is over, and science has won," Holt said. "The question now is whether we will take the steps necessary to reverse the damage that has been done. We must support clean and sustainable energy technologies, cap greenhouse gas emissions, and conserve. Failure to do so risks our economy, our environment and our children's future."

President Bush, for his part, mentioned "global climate change" in his State of the Union address last week, the first time he has done so.

He also laid out an energy plan to reduce gasoline consumption. Bush has fought measures that might lessen the impact of climate change because he has said he is afraid it will hurt the economy.

Scientists at Princeton University's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, are playing a central role both in preparing the report and providing grist for it.

Climate researcher Venkatachalam Ramaswamy is one of two coordinating lead authors for Chapter 2 of the 11-chapter report, which explores atmospheric changes. The lab's senior research meteorologist Ron Stouffer is a lead author for Chapter 8, which examines the effectiveness of computer-based climate models. And fellow lab staffer Isaac Held, a senior research scientist, is a lead author for Chapter 11, which assesses the effects of warming on regional climates.

Also, models designed at the lab simulating climate change over the past two centuries are central to some of the report's major conclusions. And the work of many researchers at the facility, located on Princeton's Forrestal Campus, is reflected in the vast amount of material appearing in the assessment.

The endless gatherings and e-mail exchanges leading up to this week have represented, according to Ramaswamy, "an excruciating vetting and review process."

The report has been put together by 140 lead authors from 33 countries, tapping into the minds of many more.

Rather than combining science, impact and policy suggestions as in the reports issued in 1990, 1995 and 2001, authors of this report are members of "Working Group 1," which is focused only on the science. Other reports will be released throughout the year to cover other aspects.

To ensure the report reflects the best available scientific information with a range of views, the text has been reviewed by members of the working group and then sent out for two more rounds of scrutiny. Specially assigned review editors stayed on authors to make sure they responded to comments made during the process.

"This is the ultimate in scientific peer review," said Ramaswamy. "It is much tougher to get a point in (an) IPCC Working Group 1 document than in any peer-reviewed scientific journal, since every point has to be thoroughly substantiated to the satisfaction of several tens if not hundreds of reviewers."

The nearly 2,000 scientists involved in the study were selected from a larger pool nominated by governments using criteria like extent of scientific expertise, home country (to assure diversity of region) and a spectrum of views, from die-hard environmentalist to the more recalcitrant skeptic.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was established by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme in 1988.

"When you think about it, it's the most complex thing we've ever studied," said Peter Altman, deputy director of the Washington, D.C., environmental group Clear the Air, who has followed the scientific group's work closely. "They want to understand how things work. They are just driven by a thirst for that. And they want to get it right."

Kitta MacPherson may be reached at or (973) 392-5836.

© 2007 The Star Ledger
© 2007 All Rights Reserved.

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