MIT Climate Symposium: Progress in Climate Science

On Oct 2nd, 2019 MIT hosted it’s first of the six series symposium in raising awareness and sharing research and development around climate concerns. The event held in MIT’s Kresge Auditorium campus was open to public and was graced by a international panel of academics and researchers. 

The Keynote speech was delivered by Susan Solomon, the Lee and Geraldine Martin Professor of Environmental Studies and Chemistry, who presented an overview of the state of climate science, explaining that the vastness of the timescales involved “is one of the things that makes this problem so fascinating.” However, she added, it also presents a real challenge in communicating the urgency of the issue, because carbon dioxide emissions being produced now can persist in the air for centuries, with their effects building over time.

One of the daunting things that she highlighted was: Even if the world were to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions at today’s level, the temperature would continue to rise, and sea level would continue to rise even more. Anywhere from 50 to 100 percent of the expected temperature increase from a given amount of carbon dioxide “is in the pipeline,” she said, because it takes time for the changed atmosphere and oceans to reach a new state of equilibrium: “The temperature stabilizes after a few hundred years, but the sea level just keeps going and going.”

After her talk, a panel of Atmospheric Scientists and Professors explained how the effects of a warming atmosphere will vary depending on local conditions. “Some countries will see larger monsoons,” for example in India, where rainfall could actually double in some regions due to changes in atmospheric circulation patterns. They concluded that these outstanding questions regarding the details of these changes and possible solutions could be crucial for regional planning.

A key term that was introduced during this conference was “Climate Sensitivity,” which is the sensitivity of the Earth’s climate to increases in atmospheric CO2 concentration; It dictates how much global temperatures will rise in response to human-caused CO2 emissions. Estimates have put climate sensitivity somewhere between 1.5C and 4.5C of warming for a doubling of pre-industrial CO2 levels.  The range here is too wide and recently have been reduced to 0.5C to 2C.  Here’s a link for anyone who wants to delve into this deeper. Special emphasis was on climate feedback systems, including how water vapor, clouds, surface reflectivity and other factors will change as the Earth warms. Climate feedback is the processes that may amplify (positive feedback) or diminish (negative feedback) the effect of warming from increased CO2 concentrations or other climate forcings – factors that initially drive changes in the climate.
It’s impossible to capture everything that was spoken at the symposium, but one thing is clear: Each of us has a responsibility towards our planet. It begins by understanding the issue and then taking actions.  Local to MA and RI can spread the word about these free events hosted by MIT. Those farther away can watch the event’s live stream.  You can find further details about the event here.