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Leading climatologists tell Geotimes what key earth science data they need most
by Lisa M. Pinsker

Dick Lindzen,
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

“Measurements of water vapor and clouds and precipitation and temperature on time scales of hours and a spatial resolution of 5 kilometers in the horizontal and 1 kilometer in the vertical would be great, so would radiosound measurements of wind throughout the tropics.  Unfortunately, we don’t know how to get the water vapor data.  Satellite orbits rarely meet the resolution requirements.  As a result, any currently envisaged global observing system would be inadequate for at least some essential components.”

James Hansen,
NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies

“I have been saying for several years that the three key climate measurements are: ocean heat storage, ocean heat storage and ocean heat storage. That’s not entirely facetious as there are different aspects to it we need to know accurately — the dependence of heat storage on time, depth and geographical location. This information would help us figure out a lot about the forcings of climate and climate response. ... As for climate forcings, the big uncertainties are with aerosols, both their direct forcing and their indirect effects via clouds. These depend sensitively upon aerosol characteristics, particularly the composition and size distribution. We must have detailed monitoring of aerosol microphysics including composition specific information. It is not enough to measure the optical depth or back-scattering coefficient of the aerosols. I strongly advocate making global satellite measurements that use the full information potential in observable radiance .”

Lonnie Thompson,
Ohio State University

“Ice core archives contain some of the few records of climate forcings and often at an annual resolution. They include past variations in greenhouse gases trapped in the air bubbles; variations in past volcanic eruptions recorded in the tephra and sulfate in the ice; variations in solar irradiance recorded in cosmogenic nuclei such as 10 Berilium and 36 Chlorine; mineral dust; and the anthropogenic aerosols from human activity on the planet. The global record of these forcings and others are necessary to understand what caused natural climate variations in the past and thus better understand and model future climate activity due to human activity. The problem is that this cannot be done without the global paleoclimate observing system that captures these archives — be they ice, corals or trees before they disappear. ... As an example, six cores were recovered from the remaining icefields on Kilimanjaro in 2000. At the same time, aerial photographs were made of the ice fields and a comparison was made to the first map of these icefields made in 1912. It clearly reveals that Kilimanjaro has lost 82 percent of its ice cover in the last 88 years. Our projection is that, based on what has happened since 1912, sometime around 2015 the ice fields will disappear from Kilimanjaro and the only ice will be in the freezers here at Ohio State University.”

Jeff Kiehl,
National Center for Atmospheric Research

“There is very little data on oceans, things like a long time series of global ocean temperature. There are limited data sets that people are using, but that’s an area that we certainly need a lot more data on. There are some observations on surface energy exchanges between the land surface and the atmosphere, but again that is just at certain points; it is not a global data set, which is what we would need for doing the best job evaluating the models. The models produce a lot more information than we have observations for, and this is not a satisfactory situation. You’d like to have more observations than things you are modeling, but unfortunately, it is just not the case for global modeling.”

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