Past event

Climate Change and Climate Enigmas Do we understand climate or don't we?

Climate change is an old problem. A few sceptics still maintain that it is clouded in uncertainty, while others say the science is settled or that we can now shut down the IPCC.

Professor Steven Sherwood, University of New South Wales, will briefly review the relatively long history of climate science and how we can be confident we have “settled” a few crucial matters – most importantly, that Earth's temperature is indeed sensitive to human activities and that even seemingly small changes have big impacts (which are mostly bad simply because our whole society and even biology are optimised for the previous climate which nourished our development).

On the other hand, there are some interesting enigmas that we have not yet solved and which should be keeping climate scientists awake at night. Most important are a variety of strange patterns appearing in records of ancient climate changes which do not agree with what our models predict should have happened. Even the observed global ocean warming over the last century does not quite look like we would have expected.

And there are certain systematic errors in how our climate models simulate the present-day atmosphere that don't seem to go away no matter how hard we try to improve the models. While these problems don't erode our confidence that global warming is real, caused by humans, and threatens our future, they do call into question how confidently we can predict what exactly is coming. Indeed they leave open the possibility of potentially nasty future surprises such as reorganisations of the global atmospheric circulation.

Professor Sherwood will end by suggesting some current and needed scientific activities to try to resolve these uncertainties.

This event is part of a Carnegie Trust-funded research workshop on Continental Climate Change hosted by Dr Michael Byrne and the Climate Dynamics Lab. The workshop will take place at St Andrews from Monday 6 to Wednesday 8 June 2022.

The public lecture will be followed by a reception in Upper College Hall.