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Earth Day debate draws attention to shortage of climate scientists

Earth Day 1990 served admirably to focus debate on the terribly complex issues involving the environment in general and global warming in particular. The debates revealed a predictably wide spectrum of opinions on what actions should or should not be taken under conditions involving possibly large consequences, but large scientific uncertainty as well. The one point of agreement is that whatever else is or is not done, it is imperative that scientists work hard to reduce the large uncertainties that characterize current predictions of global climate change.

We need to know far more precisely how the environment will respond to the large increases in carbon dioxide and other trace gases that have already occurred and will continue for some time (even if extreme mitigating measures are taken right away) and to investigate ways of coping with and possibly reducing any climatic changes that might occur.

Why are the uncertainties in predictions of climate change so large? It might be pointed out that we lack computers of sufficient capacity and speed. Of course, more computing power is desirable, but by itself will only serve to further quantify our ignorance. Perhaps the problem will never be solved to our satisfaction, but the presumption of insolvability is more often rooted in lethargy than in sober analysis.

Ask any geophysicist what is holding up progress and he or she will invariably tell you: lack of new talent entering the disciplines of atmospheric, oceanic, and earth sciences. Ironically, it seems that the more we talk about global change, the fewer good students decide to tackle the intellectually challenging problems in the physics and chemistry of climate. Consequently, the demand for climate scientists in the major research universities and laboratories worldwide far exceeds the supply.

We direct this letter toward those MIT students who are interested in physics, chemistry and mathematics and who are not afraid to tackle very tough, complex problems. The solution of many of the problems would be important intellectual achievements, even if climate change had no practical consequences.

The opportunities for becoming involved here at MIT are large and increasing: Already a curriculum in environmental engineering is being established, based in the Department of Civil Engineering but involving many departments, and a new curriculum is forthcoming from the recently established Center for Global Change Science in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences. A few good men and women will make a big difference. Get involved.

Kerry Emanuel->

Director, Center for Meteorology->

and Physical Oceanography->

Ronald Prinn->

Director, Center for->

Global Change Science->