Ben Santer elected AGU fellow

April 8, 2011
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Ben Santer elected AGU fellow

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.

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.

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.