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News & Events

Noon seminar - Lessons learned in communicating the science of climate change

Monday, January 23, 2012, 12:00PM - 1:00PM


Mark Serreze

National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC)


ARC room 620

Nowhere on the planet are emerging signals of global climate change more visible than in the Arctic. The Arctic is warming faster than the rest of the planet, with thawing permafrost, replacement of barren, windswept tundra by shrub vegetation, accelerated coastal erosion, and, most striking of all, a quickly shrinking sea ice cover. The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) has assumed a strong role in communicating the science of Arctic change to the public. Through experiences gained in responding to interview requests from the media, a growing web presence including our popular “Arctic Sea Ice News and Analysis”, trial, error, and occasional embarrassment, NSIDC scientists and staff have learned many valuable lessons. The most important of these are: 1) NSIDC’s credibility lies in its role as an honest broker of data and information. While the line separating science communication and advocacy may be grey, we must always be aware that it exists; 2) Effective communication places equal emphasis on scientific accuracy and accessibility to a wide audience; 3) Quickly acknowledge errors and accept responsibility for them; 4) Accept that data, information and the reputation of NSIDC scientists will sometimes be misused, but that making data and information freely available is more effective than trying to restrict access; 5) Vigilantly monitor how our data are represented and discussed in media and blogs, and try and set the record straight when necessary. This talk examines lessons learned from reporting recent significant events, for example, the record-setting sea ice minimum of 2007, public responses to a satellite sensor failure that led to erroneous depictions of sea ice extent, tactics of climate “skeptics,” and incorrect attribution of scientifically inaccurate statements to NSIDC. What have we learned, and how are we using these lessons to improve how NSIDC communicates climate science?