Climate Change — Hollywood Fiction or Reality?

May 26, 2004
Image from Movie Day After Tomorrow
Rising seas due to an exaggerated climate event overwhelms the Statue of Liberty in the May 2004 movie "The Day After Tomorrow." Photo credit: Twentieth Century Fox

Two centuries since the start of the Industrial Revolution, the human population has increased six-fold, and economic activity an estimated fifty-fold. The sheer number of people on the planet and the intensity of economic activity are having profound effects on the long-term global climate, threatening to disrupt vast biological, geochemical, and social systems in future decades. This is fact.

Carbon dioxide levels today are nearly 30% more than they were prior to the industrial revolution. What is truly unprecedented about current carbon dioxide levels is the speed in which they have risen In the millions of years of known geological history, the Earth has never experienced such a rapid rise. The signature of human influence is unequivocal.There is no doubt that we have caused this change to the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels. Broecker Video

The Earth Institute at Columbia, whose members include many of the world’s leading experts in earth, biological, social, and health sciences, work on a broad body of research related to climate and climate change:

  • The paleo record — millions of years of geological history — is examined to reveal previous shifts in climate and how the Earth responded. (Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO)) deMenocal Video
  • Today’s ocean and atmospheric circulation, the two largest systems affecting world climate, are observed and studied in relation to changes in temperature, precipitation, ecology, etc. (LDEO, Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS)) Schlosser Video
  • Modeling studies incorporate historical and current data to forecast potential climate related phenomena like floods and droughts, particularly in regions of the globe where populations are most vulnerable and least able to adapt. (LDEO, GISS, International Research Institute for Climate Prediction (IRI))
  • Carbon capture and sequestration are a major focus of research as world reliance on fossil fuels is only expected to increase with economic growth in most countries. (LDEO, Earth Engineering Center) Lackner Video
  • A major effort is underway to understand the relationship between the health and well being of the human population and the condition of the species and ecosystems upon which we depend. Climate change is increasingly altering those conditions, and thus having a profound affect on the quality of our lives and options for the future. (Center for Environmental Research and Conservation (CERC))

Continued scientific and technological research is critical to help us understand, mitigate, and adapt to changes. However, it is widely felt that it’s not a lack of science but rather a lack of public understanding and political will preventing us from taking actions that could be taken today to stem human forced climate change. Purdy Video

Earth Institute scientists are working to enhance the sophistication and specificity of climate forecasting and to create new social, political, and economic mechanisms for using scientific data to build resilience to climate variability and change on the world’s most vulnerable regions. Mutter Video

What Causes Abrupt Climate Change?

What causes abrupt climate change? How can we tell that it has happened before and what could cause it to happen again? Scientists from Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory answer some of the most frequently asked questions about climate:

The Earth Institute at Columbia University is the world’s leading academic center for the integrated study of Earth, its environment and society. The Earth Institute builds upon excellence in the core disciplines –earth sciences, biological sciences, engineering sciences, social sciences and health sciences –and stresses cross-disciplinary approaches to complex problems. Through its research training and global partnerships, it mobilizes science and technology to advance sustainable development, while placing special emphasis on the needs of the world’s poor.

Climate Experts
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wally broecker WALLY BROECKER
Newberry Professor, Earth & Environmental Science, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, the Earth Institute at Columbia University
Associate Professor, Earth & Environmental Science, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, the Earth Institute at Columbia University
Vinton Professor of Earth/Environmental Engineering, Earth & Environmental Science, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, the Earth Institute at Columbia University
klaus lackner KLAUS LACKNER
Ewing Worzel Professor of Geophysics, Department of Earth and Environmental Engineering, Columbia University, the Earth Institute at Columbia University
mike purdy MIKE PURDY
Director, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, the Earth Institute at Columbia University
Deputy Director and Associate Vice Provost, Earth Institute at Columbia University