Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Atmospheric science in the pod world

In keeping with the times, Nature now does a weekly podcast (transcripts also available) featuring brief interviews with scientists about research published in the journal.

The most recent one includes an interview with Gabriel Vecchi, who in addition to being a good frisbee player, is a scientist working at GFDL, a US government atmosphere and ocean modeling laboratory in Princeton. His important paper in Nature on examines how climate change is affecting atmospheric circulation in the tropics. You may have seen this mentioned in the general news last week (try Newswise or the SF Chronicle)

For years people have suggested that climate change will reduce circulation in the tropics (in part by reducing the north-south gradient in temperature). Gabe and his colleagues used observations and computer simulations to demonstrate that human-induced warming since the has weakened something atmospheric scientists call the Walker Circulation by 3.5%. Sounds obscure, but hold on. The Walker Circulation is the movement of air across the tropical Pacific - rises in the west, sinks in the east - a fundamental part of the climate system, something you learn in very basic atmospheric science. So that seemingly small percent change amounts to a substantial change in the movement of air around the planet.

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