October 19, 2007

Experts Help Gore Address Climate Change

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Oak Ridge National Laboratory researcher Virginia Dale likes to say the scientific process is all about studying vast amounts of evidence over time. In the case of global climate change, the Department of Energy lab has crunched 100 trillion bytes of information in its high-performance computers. The results went into the international studies credited by Al Gore for his Nobel Peace Prize.

"Basically one third of all the (computer) runs that were done were done at the Oak Ridge lab," said David Erickson, a climate modeling expert who helped brief the former vice president during a multimedia show-and-tell at the lab two years ago.

Colleague John Drake said Oak Ridge also helped develop models used at the two other participating computer centers at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California.

"From where we sit, it was very satisfying to know that we communicated a good chunk of the actual work that was done," Erickson said. "Obviously, Al Gore is an effective communicator."

Gore's documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth," won two Academy Awards last year and has been credited with changing the debate in America about global warming. The Nobel announced last week may do the same internationally.

The former Tennessee senator shared the Nobel with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations network of scientists. The panel has explained the dry details of global warming in thousands of pages of footnoted reports every six years since 1990.

Several Oak Ridge scientists contributed their own research to that effort - with studies tracking the rise in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to measuring the impact of deforestation and transportation on the planet. Some also reviewed the work of others.

"The scientific world has been slowly, carefully documenting the evidence for over 20 years about climate change, the forces that cause it and the impact that it has," said Dale, an ecologist who has studied deforestation trends around the globe.

"The scientific process is to build upon small pieces of evidence, and the papers build and build on that. So the validation in the scientific world that this is out there is pretty strong," she said.

"But what this prize does is really move that into the arena where it has public validation."

Transportation specialist David Green said the Nobel recognition accomplishes two things.

"I think it makes it that much more difficult for people who don't want to address this problem to say it is not necessary to do so," he said. "It also gives an impetus to all countries around the world to work on the problem more seriously."

Green said the Nobel committee recognized that climate change is much more than an environmental issue. It could lead to disputes over water, rising sea levels and changing habitats. It could lead to war.

"Climate change is likely to be a destabilizing influence on world," he said. "It is likely to lead to conflicts between nations, which is one more reason to address the problem."


Oak Ridge National Lab: http://www.ornl.gov/