How do we know that humans have led to climate change?

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Sunday, 6 July 2008

One of the world's leading climate change scientists will give a free public seminar at the University of Adelaide at 11:00am on Monday 7 July to help explain how humans have contributed to global climactic changes.

The seminar, by Dr Ben Santer from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the United States, is organised by the University's Research Institute for Climate Change and Sustainability (RIsCCS).

Dr Santer's research has been invaluable in helping to identify a human-induced "signal" in observed records of climate change. His current research focuses on evaluating how well computer models simulate present-day climate, and on improving our scientific understanding of the nature and causes of climate change.

He served as Lead Author of "Detection of Climate Change and Attribution of Causes" of the 1995 Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). For his contributions to climate change research, Dr Santer received a MacArthur Fellowship in 1998 and the US Department of Energy's E.O. Lawrence Award in 2002.

"Ben was famously responsible for the IPCC 1995 Report's landmark statement that there was a 'discernible human influence on global climate', a message now strongly reinforced by a further 12 years of scientific research," says Professor Barry Brook, Director of RIsCCS at the University of Adelaide.

WHAT: Public Seminar: How do we know that human activities have influenced global climate?
by Dr Benjamin D. Santer (Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory)

WHERE: Lecture Theatre 102, Napier Building, North Terrace Campus, University of Adelaide

WHEN: From 11:00am-12:00pm Monday 7 July

COST: Free - all are welcome


Human activities have significantly altered not only the chemical composition of Earth's atmosphere, but also the climate system. Identifying human effects on climate is a difficult statistical problem. "Fingerprint" methods are typically used for this purpose. These methods involve rigorous statistical comparisons of modelled and observed climate change patterns.

Fingerprinting assumes that each individual influence on climate has a unique signature in climate records. The climate fingerprints in response to different forcing factors are typically estimated with computer models, which can be used to perform the controlled experiments that we cannot conduct in the real world.

One criticism of the findings of previous scientific assessments is that they have relied heavily on fingerprint studies involving changes in the Earth's surface temperature. Recent fingerprint work, however, has considered a variety of other climate variables, such as ocean heat content, stratospheric temperatures, and atmospheric water vapour.

These studies illustrate that a human-induced climate change signal is identifiable in many different variables and geographic regions, and that the climate system is now telling us an internally- and physically-consistent story.


Contact Details

Professor Barry Brook
Director of Climate Science, Environment Institute
The University of Adelaide
(now at University of Tasmania)
Mobile: +61 420 958 400

Mr David Ellis
Deputy Director, Media and Corporate Relations
External Relations
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 5414
Mobile: +61 (0)421 612 762