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News & Events

Noon seminar - Land ice and sea level: Dispatches from the front

Monday, February 27, 2012, 12:00PM - 1:00PM


Tad Pfeffer



ARC room 620

As the IPCC’s 5th Assessment looms, the armies of the scientific, political and media kingdoms are drawn up in ranks upon the plain, spears, shields, and computers at the ready. Skirmishes break out on the flanks, but the main battle has yet to be engaged. A black pall hangs over the scene as the clouds gather, and the fiery eyeball of FOX News, high on its tower, glares balefully over the landscape. Scientists possess the secret weapon of truth, but even so, the outcome is by no means certain.

Recent research has advanced our knowledge of the present-day rate of sea level rise and its probable course over the next century, and scientist’s engagement in public communication had advanced far beyond what it was even 5 years ago. Nevertheless, much of the media attention to sea level research and climate change research generally – even sympathetic media attention – tends to read like a bad movie. I discuss a recent paper on GRACE measurements of land ice contributions to sea level, published in Nature, on which I was a co- author, that generated a variety of media and public responses, and consider how the public dialog appears to operate, and what, if anything, we as scientists can do to reduce the confusion that abounds in the public area.