ESRL Quarterly Newsletter - Winter 2009

Alexander E. MacDonald, Director ESRL

Director’s Corner


In December, I was honored to be a member of the NOAA delegation attending the international climate talks in Copenhagen. It was fascinating to see the whole international community grappling with the very difficult problems being driven by anthropogenic changes to our Earth system.

I was pleased to be given two key communication challenges during the conference. The first day, I gave a presentation on how the United States monitors and understands the dynamics of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. ESRL’s Janet Intrieri and others here (Pieter Tans, for example) and at NASA and the National Science Foundation were instrumental in helping me pull together the presentation.

I also gave several presentations at the U.S. exhibit, where ESRL’s Science On a Sphere® was a centerpiece. I’d like to thank my ESRL colleagues, especially William Bendel, Beth Russell, and other members of the SOS team in the Global Systems Division for their extraordinary work during the conference and organizing behind the scenes.

In a live “SphereCast,” I used SOS to discuss and illustrate climate change for audiences at museums around the world and many others who chose to watch online. Beth gave a well-attended presentation to a delegation from the U.S. House of Representatives, just before President Obama’s speech. SOS was also “on” nearly constantly at the two-week conference, sometimes displaying climate data quietly in the background, often driven by scientists discussing Arctic sea ice changes, climate change impacts on wildlife and wild lands, and other topics.

After the Copenhagen conference, Dr. Lubchenco sent a very kind thank you to ESRL’s SOS team: “The Bella Center was abuzz with kudos for you and the US Center… You have made all of us very proud.”

NOAA had a very strong presence at Copenhagen, and representatives throughout the agency played important roles. Among them: James Overland of the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL) spoke about the rapidly warming Arctic; PMEL’s Richard Feely focused on ocean acidification; Tom Karl, Director of the National Climate Data Center, presented research on extreme weather in a changing climate and climate change impacts in the United States; and Frank Niepold from our Climate Program Office discussed the importance of climate literacy. NOAA administrator Jane Lubchecno gave a critical talk on the impact of climate change on oceans and other ecosystems.

U.S. negotiators played a positive, progressive role in this conference, articulating the need for strong action to mitigate some future warming, and to deal with the changes already inevitable. At the end of Copenhagen, however, international negotiators did not come to agreement on legally binding action. Countries agreed to emissions-control objectives and to develop international monitoring systems, and richer countries pledged to help poorer ones in dealing with climate change impacts.

—Alexander MacDonald