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UCSD Scientists Get Piece of Nobel Peace Prize for Work on Global Warming

Ioana Patringenaru | Oct. 15, 2007

Scripps Researchers (Photo / Victor W. Chen)
Scientists Ralph Keeling, Naomi Oreskes and Lynne Talley all participated in a press conference Friday at the Scripps Institution of Oceanograpy. (Video clips require QuickTime)
Video inside!Keeling
Video inside!Oreskes
Video inside!Talley

A group of UCSD scientists saw their work recognized internationally Friday when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and former Vice President Al Gore received a Nobel Peace Prize for their fight against global warming.

Thousands of scientists took part in the IPCC’s efforts. A few hundred, including five researchers at UCSD’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography, have played lead roles in the panel’s reports issued since 1990. More than a dozen other Scripps scientists have participated as contributing authors and reviewers.

Richard Somerville, a Scripps researcher and a lead author of the IPCC’s latest report, said the Nobel Peace Prize shows the reports represent the gold standard in climate science. He also said he hopes the public, decision makers and the media will now realize that the research is solid and legitimate.

“If you want to know what’s going on in climate science, you don’t ask a talk show host, or a science fiction author,” Somerville said. “You ask the experts."

The Nobel Prize committee cited the IPCC for its two decades of scientific reports that have "created an ever-broader informed consensus about the connection between human activities and global warming," according to the Associated Press.

The IPCC’s fourth report, released earlier this year, stated with near-certainty that global warming is man-made. It also predicted temperatures will probably increase by 3.2 to 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100; sea levels will rise by 7 to 23 inches; and many of the world’s most populated regions will face severe water shortages.

In addition to Somerville, Scripps Professor Lynne Talley was a lead author on one chapter of that report. Scripps Professor V. Ramanathan and Mario Molina, a Nobel laureate and UCSD professor of chemistry and biochemistry, served as review editors. Scripps's Jeff Severinghaus and Ralph Keeling contributed as reviewers.

Al Gore and Ellen Revelle

Climate Change Exhibit

The award represents a great recognition for Scripps, said UCSD science historian Naomi Oreskes.  “It really is a vindication of the work that people have been doing here for more than half a century,” she said.

UCSD founder Roger Revelle and Scripps researcher Charles David Keeling laid the foundations of global warming research in the late 1950s. Keeling started tracking the amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The data, known as the Keeling Curve, show levels rising inexorably since 1958. It is featured prominently in Gore’s documentary about global warming, “An Inconvenient Truth.”

During a visit to UCSD in May, Gore said that Revelle, who taught him at Harvard, had been an inspiration. “He and Dave Keeling changed the world and made it possible for all of us to understand what we’re facing here,” the former vice president said.

Dave Keeling’s son, Ralph Keeling, was one of the reviewers on the fourth IPCC report. “I played a rather minor role,” he said Friday. “But I am proud for my colleagues and I am proud for Al Gore and his role in communicating the importance of this problem.”

Ralph Keeling (Photo / Victor W. Chen)
Ralph Keeling

Gore got some details wrong, and scientists told him so, Somerville said. But overall, “An Inconvenient Truth” is a good movie and a good introduction to the issue of global warming, the Scripps researcher added. “No one has done more to alert people to the issues,” Somerville said.

Like his colleagues, he added the award took him by surprise. He found out about it when his phone started ringing at 4 a.m. Friday. The BBC was on the line, requesting an interview.

Talley, a lead chapter author, got a call from Scripps’ public relations office. When she checked her e-mail, she found a message from IPCC Chairman Rajendra K. Pachauri, telling scientists they now all were Nobel Prize laureates. Talley also received an e-mail from Gore. “Congratulations, I am deeply honored to share this with all of you,” he wrote. Oh – and her parents chimed in too. She added she doubted she and her colleagues would receive a medal, plaque or a monetary recognition.

Gore has said that he will donate his share of the $1.5 million prize money to the Alliance for Climate Protection, a bipartisan nonprofit organization devoted to changing public opinion worldwide about the urgency of solving the climate crisis, according to the Associated Press.

Closer to home, Somerville said he hopes San Diegans will now pay more attention to the issue of climate change. He also said he hopes voters will put pressure on their elected officials to enact policies to curb global warming. “I would like to see more action,” Somerville said.

Lynne Talley (Photo / Victor W. Chen)
Lynne Talley was one of the lead authors on a chapter in the IPCC's latest report.


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