Ben Santer elected AGU fellow

News release likely to peeve climate hawks a tad

Ben Santer is a man with a lot of accolades under his belt: A recipient of the MacArthur “genius” grant; an E.O.Lawrence Award; a Department of Energy Office of Biological and Environmental Research (BER) Distinguished Scientist Fellowship; contributor to all four assessment reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an organization that shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former Vice President Al Gore; and now an American Geophysical Union fellowship.

But he’d give all the awards up if it meant he could present his research on human-induced climate change to a patient audience — an audience that would listen to all the facts before making judgments about reality of a “discernible human influence” on climate.

That’s the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) news release congratulating one of our top climatologists on some well-deserved recognition.  My only quibble is the wishy washy sentence that follows:

Human-induced climate change is likely to be one of the major environmental problems of the 21st century, and effective policies to mitigate human effects on climate will require sound scientific information.

Does LLNL really need three (!) qualifiers — “likely” and “one of” and “environmental.”  One is more than enough.  Human-induced climate change is certain to be one of the biggest problems the nation and world face in the 21st century — and likely to be the biggest unless we reverse emissions trends rapidly.

Here’s more on Santer:

Providing that information is what climate scientist Santer continues doing as the Laboratory’s winner of the AGU fellowship.

Santer, an expert in the climate change research community, has worked in the Laboratory’s Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison (PCMDI) for nearly 20 years, and is a frequent contributor to congressional hearings on the science of climate change. He credits his success to the exceptional scientists he collaborated with at LLNL. “The best reward (award) is working together with great colleagues.”

In 1996, his chapter of the IPCC’s Second Assessment Report came to the cautious but then-controversial conclusion that the “balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate.”

From that point on, it has been an uphill battle for Santer to show that climate models do, in fact, replicate many different observations of climate change, and that models can serve as a valuable tool for understanding the climate changes likely to occur over the 21st century. “Ideally, governments will use the best-available scientific information to make rational decisions on appropriate policy responses to the climate change problem,” Santer said.” My colleagues and I have the job of providing that information. The AGU fellowship gives me encouragement to continue PCMDI’s research into the nature and causes of climate change, and to continue explaining what we do, what we’ve learned and why our work matters.”

Only one in a thousand members is elected to AGU fellowship each year. Santer is one of six LLNL employees who have been elected an AGU fellow. Rick Ryerson, Bill Durham, Al Duba, Joyce Penner and Hugh Heard are the others.

Santer will receive his award at the December 2011 Fall AGU Meeting in San Francisco.

Santer’s achievements include:

  • Pioneering use of novel pattern-based statistical techniques, called “fingerprint” methods, to identify the effects of human-caused changes in greenhouse gases and sulfate aerosol particles in observational surface temperature records.
  • Analysis of atmospheric temperatures, water vapor, and the height of the stratosphere-troposphere boundary, showing that accurate model simulations of climate change require inclusion of radiative forcing from human activities.
  • Contributions to the Scientific Assessment Reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the U.S. Climate Change Science Program, and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.

Kudos to Santer for recognition well-deserved.

11 Responses to Ben Santer elected AGU fellow

  1. Mike Roddy says:

    I really like Santer, and he was especially brilliant during the recent Congressional hearings.

    The problem with Lawrence is the culture. A lot of their work has been Defense and nuclear energy related, which means that LL scientists have high security clearances and a big bureaucratic organization mindset. It’s nice to have all that infrastructure if you’re a research scientist, but breakthroughs in wind and solar are unlikely to come out of that kind of organization. You need more than a garage, but creative types tend to prefer looser environments, as found at Google or Apple, for example.

    Chu is a typical former LL guy. He understands climate science, but can’t bring himself to detach from nuclear power or even gas and coal, since, like most LL members, he’s caught up in the culture of gigantism. You know, the same thing that killed the dinosaurs and the megafauna mammals. And now, maybe us, with our giant trucks, bombs, and houses.

  2. MapleLeaf says:

    Excellent news! Congratulations to Dr. Santer, very well deserved.

  3. climate undergrad says:

    Santer’s achievements also include (to my understanding) finding a critical error in the UAH satellite measurement process, refuting multiple other Michaels/Singer et al BS (ie warming is not statistically significant), and admirably dealing with harassment (some outright and some disguised as FOI requests.)

    Congratulations Dr. Santer!

  4. Steve Bloom says:

    Not to excuse it, but that phrasing is pretty stndard scientist-speak when it comes to predicting the future.

    Mike, Chu’s association was with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), an entirely different institution notwithstanding the similarity of the name.

  5. Mike Roddy says:

    Steve Bloom, you’re right, but both LBNL and LLNL often work together on papers and projects. Both are managed by UC Berkeley and DOE. Maybe I’m being unfair, but when I see oil money pouring into my old school, and nuclear industry and defense money supporting their research labs, I become skeptical about their inclination to develop truly cutting edge energy solutions.

    Obviously some very smart people work there, and do important research. I tried to get a collaboration going with LLNL in the 90’s over government sponsored and supercomputer designed improved structural steel software, and the Lawrence director was very supportive.

    My point about Chu was that he’s turning into too much of an “all of the above” without recognizing the need to get off fossil fuels soon. Long term and amorphous plans won’t get er done. And whether Chu’s attitude derives from either of the Lawrences was just a guess.

  6. Neal J. King says:

    Mike, not only was Steve Chu’s association with LBNL, not LLNL; but it was only for 5 years. Before then, he was at Stanford; before then, at Bell Labs. No connection with LLNL at all.

    The main issue I have with Chu is that he hasn’t taken a very strong attitude of “search out and destroy” the climate-change denial in the US and among the press. He has the scientific standing and the rhetorical ability to do that; and it would free up so much scientific and political energy. This is loads more important than second-guessing the engineers responsible for oil-well plugging.

  7. Mark Shapiro says:

    Mike Roddy –

    The point about gigantism is well taken. Even the best scientists, and others, can fall prey to the bigger-is-better seduction.

    Here’s the challenge. How do we marry all this insight to a little optimism? If optimism is too much, how do we comport ourselves to keep Joe’s readers working towards the goal, and to bring as many others along with us as possible?

    It’s a tough job. Worth it, but tough.

  8. MarkB says:

    Congratulations, Dr. Santer. Well-deserved.

  9. Richard Brenne says:

    Santer is great. His work includes doing the outside audits of the 12 largest climate models, and they’ve found that the average of the models typically performs better than any of the models alone. Also Santer is an avid mountain climber, and was among the group that was the last to climb Mt. St. Helens before it erupted in 1980.

    And speaking of being the last to climb a major volcano before it explodes, that is something Senator Inhofe might want to try. . .

  10. Dr. Santer is a national hero and a climate hero. The honor is most well deserved. A big congratulations!

  11. greenfyre says:

    Times headline April 27, 1940?

    “WWII likely to be one of the major foreign policy problems of coming decade”