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Physics World Highlights

Hot topic: the challenges of climate change

Global warming is back on the agenda with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change set to release its latest scientific report on 2 February. Hints and leaks from scientists on the panel suggest that the IPCC will have strengthened its conclusions, previously stated in 2001, that humans are heating up the Earth.

While most scientists probably share this view, there are some who think otherwise. Many of those are either scientifically ill-informed or have dubious links with the energy industry. But one bona fide sceptic is Richard Lindzen, a climate physicist from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who was involved in preparing the IPCC's 2001 report. (p. 12)

Although Lindzen does not dispute that the Earth is getting hotter, he argues - in an interview with Physics World - that the warming is, in all probability, largely the result of natural variations in the Earth's climate. He believes that computer models of the Earth's climate, although rooted in the laws of physics, contain far too many uncertainties. Indeed, John Mitchell - the chief scientist of the UK's Meteorological Office - and colleagues describe how hard it is incorporate the impact of clouds into such climate models elsewhere in this issue of Physics World. They warn that if the clouds were modelled incorrectly, climate simulations "would be seriously in error". (p. 20)

Nevertheless, the balance of evidence does suggest that carbon dioxide being pumped into the atmosphere is having a significant warming effect. It is therefore right and prudent to limit greenhouse gas emissions as a way of dealing with the causes of climate change. However a small band of researchers is proposing various outlandish schemes to deal with the effects of climate change - an approach known as "geoengineering". As Physics World reports, these include pumping vast quantities of sulphur into the atmosphere to act as a huge Sun block, sending solar reflectors or even painting the roads white. (p. 10)

Also in this issue:
American scientists fight budget cuts
Satellites to probe mysterious auroras
Google backs telescope project
Bright future for mammoth observatory
The Bullet Cluster and dark matter
The science of origami
Measuring the electron's magnetism
More trouble for strings

Helen MacBain | alfa
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