by Judith Curry
The American Physical Society (APS) has a new Topical Group on the Physics of Climate (GPC).
From the GPC website:
The objective of the GPC shall be to promote the advancement and diffusion of knowledge concerning the physics, measurement, and modeling of climate processes, within the domain of natural science and outside the domains of societal impact and policy, legislation and broader societal issues. The objective includes the integration of scientific knowledge and analysis methods across disciplines to address the dynamical complexities and uncertainties of climate physics. Broad areas of initial scientific inquiry are described in the Areas of Interest below. These are expected to evolve with scientific progress, while remaining entirely within the domain of natural science.
The focus of the Topical Group on the Physics of Climate (GPC) is on the physics of climate processes and measurements. It is not intended to encompass the wider scope of physics associated with other environmental issues. The intended product of the GPC is physical insight and understanding of value to members of the Topical Group, APS members as a whole, and the broader scientific community concerned with climate issues. It is not concerned with matters of policy, legislation, or regulation. It is intended to be a mechanism for physicists with relevant skills, backgrounds, and interests to interact, to present research insights, to learn about and exchange views on the science, and to generally advance the physical understanding of climate.
Five specific initial areas of focus are listed below. These are based on the current perceived needs of climate science and are likely to change as that science progresses.
- Climate as a complex dynamical system, leading to a better understanding of the natural modes of the climate system, their coupling to each other and to exogenous forces.
- The physics of climate influences, leading to a better understanding of the mechanisms, magnitudes, and timescales by which anthropogenic and non-anthropogenic processes affect climate, including for example, greenhouse gases, solar variability, and unforced influences such as internal modes of variability.
- Insight into the nature, magnitude and timescales of climate sensitivity, arising from feedbacks including clouds, water vapor and the hydrological and carbon cycles, at the surface, in the atmosphere and in the oceans.
- The physics of proxies used to infer the properties of past climates for which instrumental records are not available, leading to a better understanding of past climates and their relation to the present climate.
- The computational physics and statistical analysis of climate model and measurement systems, leading to a better understanding of the methods, capabilities, and limitations of climate models and climate simulation predictions.
Specific natural science areas underlying these issues include fluid dynamics, modeling of nonlinear systems, the physics of complex systems, gas phase physics and chemistry, radiation/heat transfer, phase transitions, measurement science, computational physics, statistics, and biological physics.
- Chair: James Brasseur Penn State University
- Chair-Elect: Robert Behringer Duke Univ
- Vice Chair: John Wettlaufer Yale Univ
- Secretary/Treasurer: Ken Minschwaner New Mexico Tech
- Member-at-Large: Judith Lean Naval Research Lab
- Member-at-Large: John Marston Brown Univ
- Member-at-Large: Warren Warren Duke Univ
- Member-at-Large: Judith Curry Georgia Inst of Tech
- Member-at-Large: Daniel Rothman MIT
I (along with Daniel Rothman) are the newest members of the Executive Committee. Note all members of Executive Committee are elected by the GPC membership. Some background on my own involvement in this. About 18 months ago I was contacted by Roger Cohen about the new GPC. He encouraged me to join. I was sufficiently intrigued to join the APS and the GPC. Soon after, I was invited to give a Plenary talk at the APS April meeting (2012) on the topic of the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project. I was subsequently nominated to be on the ballot for Member-at-Large, and was elected to this Committee a few months ago.
The motivation for the formation of the GPC is tied up with the controversy surrounding the 2007 APS Statement on Climate Change:
Emissions of greenhouse gases from human activities are changing the atmosphere in ways that affect the Earth’s climate. Greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide as well as methane, nitrous oxide and other gases. They are emitted from fossil fuel combustion and a range of industrial and agricultural processes.
The evidence is incontrovertible: Global warming is occurring.
If no mitigating actions are taken, significant disruptions in the Earth’s physical and ecological systems, social systems, security and human health are likely to occur. We must reduce emissions of greenhouse gases beginning now.
Because the complexity of the climate makes accurate prediction difficult, the APS urges an enhanced effort to understand the effects of human activity on the Earth’s climate, and to provide the technological options for meeting the climate challenge in the near and longer terms. The APS also urges governments, universities, national laboratories and its membership to support policies and actions that will reduce the emission of greenhouse gases.
There was controversy surrounding this statement, including Correspondence published in Nature by Fred Singer, Hal Lewis, Will Happer, Larry Gould, Roger, Cohen, and Robert Austin entitled Petitioning for a revised statement on climate change (note can’t find an online version with active link). WUWT has followed the controversy, here are some of the links:
- Hal Lewis: my resignation from the APS
- APS Responds! Deconstructing the APS response to Dr. Hal Lewis’ resignation
- Nobel laureate resigns from the APS to protest the organization’s stance on global warming
In 2010, the APS did provide an addendum to their statement.
History and context of the GPC is summarized in the first Newsletter (March 2013), which was prepared just prior to March APS meeting. With regards to the March meeting (held last week in Baltimore):
A great deal of discussion within the Program and Executive Committees lead to the development of two excellent sessions as described below. In addition, the chair of GPC was invited to join the organization committee for the Kavli Plenary session, and two speakers were invited to speak on the physics of climate.
It should also be mentioned that the process of choosing invited speakers for the GPC March meeting sessions was not without argument. The aim by both the Nominating Committee, charged with driving the effort, and the Executive Committee, who worked with the Program Committee in both developing and discussing potential speakers, was to strive for excellence in scientific research, a theme continuously emphasized. Unfortunately, disagreements arose that led Roger Cohen to resign. Roger was one of our members-at-large and a major contributor to the organizational process from the beginning. It was with great regret that he left the GPC Executive Committee and it is our hope that evolution of the GPC will realize the goals that we all had in its creation: a strong emphasis on quality scientific research outside the public debate. We feel that we have made a good start in that direction with these inaugural events.
See the newsletter for the list of speakers. Unfortunately, none of the presentations are publicly available other than the Kavli lectures (Graeme Stephens and Lonnie Thompson). I was invited to give a presentation at the APS meeting last week, but unfortunately was unable to attend.
WUWT has two posts on Roger Cohen’s resignation:
- More turmoil at the APS over global warming issue
- The APS Topical Group on Physics of Climate: reply to Roger Cohen, by Warren Warren.
Jim Brasseur, Chair of the GPC, was interviewed on APS TV last week, the youtube video can be found here.
JC comments: So why am I participating in the GPC? I am hoping that the different ‘culture’ of the APS is more conducive to taking an unbiased look at the science, stimulating more physicists to get involved in climate science, and focusing on challenging issues at the knowledge frontier. A corollary to this statement is that I am concerned that the American Geophysical Union has gone too far over into the land of advocacy, and is rewarding scientists for their ‘alarmism.’ The GPC is a work in progress; I hope that by serving on the Executive Committee that I can influence the objectives and outcomes of the Committee.
Here is my advice to the GPC: First, drop the APS Statement on Climate Change. The timing and content of the 2007 statement indicates that it is entirely derivative from the IPCC AR4, albeit more ‘alarming.’ The 2010 addendum doesn’t add much. So what is the point of the statement? Apparently, to ‘inform the public’ on this controversial issue by appealing to the ‘authority’ of the society. Does anyone pay attention to the APS statement as their primary source of information (e.g. rather than the IPCC or the NRC)? I suspect that no one paid any attention to the APS statement until Happer et al. started complaining about it, resigning, etc. All this detracts from the scientific and public credibility of the APS.
Second, focus your efforts on the knowledge frontier, e.g. the controversies, the uncertainties, the known unknowns. Too much climate research is focused on taxonomy, and not enough on fundamental physics-based research. This is where the APS CPG can have its greatest impact. Graeme Stephens’ Kavli talk is presented in this spirit: focusing on what we don’t know in terms of the Earth’s energy balance, and discrepancies between models and observations. And make these presentations publicly available (e.g. for the invited speakers, make the public availability of their ppt a condition for their travel reimbursement).
I remain optimistic that the APS GPC can have an important impact on climate research. So far, I am enjoying my interactions with this group. Time will tell. In the mean time, I am hoping that more members of the APS will join the GPC, and that physics-minded non-APS members will consider joining. Climate research would greatly benefit from a larger infusion of physics and physicists.