December 16, 2009

Perspectives from Inside the U.S. Center

Ned Gardiner, NOAA Climate Program Office

Maurice Henderson of NASA GSFC, Beth Russell of NOAA Science On a Sphere, Les Adams of NOAA Exhibits, Dr. Lubchenco of NOAA and Mike Biere of NOAA Science On a Sphere.

Maurice Henderson of NASA GSFC, Beth Russell of NOAA Science On a Sphere, Les Adams of NOAA Exhibits, Dr. Lubchenco of NOAA and Mike Biere of NOAA Science On a Sphere.

Ned Gardiner and Beth Russell of NOAA with General Wesley Clark, United States Army (retired).

Ned Gardiner and Beth Russell of NOAA with General Wesley Clark, United States Army (retired).

 

It's unequivocal: NOAA's Science on a Sphere is a hit at COP15. This is the first time that the United States has arrived at an international negotiation on climate with a crowd-pleaser. In this case, the crowd-pleaser is a focal point for scientific observations and model projections. The sphere is therefore a strong statement about the role and importance of science in US government activities.

It isn't just US delegates and staff who appreciate the prominence of Earth science at COP15. Looking through the stack of business cards accumulating in my pockets is quite a cross-section of people. Politicians, congressional staff, lead scientists from the IPCC, entrepreneurs, military leaders, and even presidential candidates from past elections. People from all walks of life and countries too numerous to list here have been spellbound and enthralled by NOAA's Science on a Sphere here at COP15.

When one of us is not presenting to a large group, I take time to speak with as many people as I can. One official observer from Bangladesh asked, when will sea level rise by 1 meter? For him, this is more than an academic question: he tells me 30 to 35 million people in Bangladesh live on land 1 meter or less in elevation. Several meteorologists hadn't ever seen geostationary satellite data portrayed on a three-dimensional sphere and focused on wind and weather patterns in southern Africa. Numerous authors from the IPCC AR4 wanted to talk about details of science that have emerged since the fourth assessment, but each of them appreciated that their scientific discoveries are being conveyed to a larger public. Museum and science center leaders inquired how to get science presentations in their own institutions or how they might obtain the hardware and software for their own use.

The conference is noticeably changing. Numbers of attendees are dwindling as conference organizers limit the number of people allowed to enter the Bella Center, where negotiations are ongoing. Four of us are focused on Earth science communication at the US Center: Mike Biere and Beth Russell from Earth Systems Research Laboratory; Maurice Henderson from NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center; and myself, from NOAA's Climate Program Office. Les Adams, NOAA's exhibits manager, has also been here since a week before the conference began, helping the State Department design and put together the entire US Center. When the conference ends, we'll all look back with satisfaction on reaching so many people who are actively engaged with decisions that affect the future of Earth. We are fortunate to have a platform for explaining Earth science concepts to such an audience.