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July/August 2002

The Laboratory
in the News

Commentary by
C. K. Chou

The Outlook Is for Warming, with Measurable Local Effects

How Metals Fail

Converting Data to Decisions

Knowing the Enemy, Knowing the Threat

Patents

Awards

 

C. K. Chou

C. K. Chou
Associate Director of Energy and Environment

Integration Is Key to Understanding Climate Change


IN March 2001, President George W. Bush chose to delay support of the Kyoto Protocol, which recommends that industrialized nations reduce their emissions of carbon dioxide. The Kyoto Protocol is a product of the 1997 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Although the protocol addresses environmental issues, implementing it will affect the nation’s industries and economy. The President reasoned that the contribution of human-made carbon dioxide to climate change is not yet understood well enough to form the basis for a national policy.
More recently, the administration sent a report to the United Nations indicating that human activity may be affecting global climate change. As a leader in research on climate change, Livermore plays an important role in developing needed understanding of the complex causes behind our changing climate.
A recent organizational change at Livermore has simplified the framework for that research. The Energy and the Environmental and Earth Sciences directorates have been combined into a single Energy and Environment Directorate, allowing Laboratory research to more easily link environmental factors to technologies related to energy production and use.
In this new directorate, research focuses on three interrelated issues: energy technologies (which may release carbon), management of human-made carbon (which may reduce carbon’s effects on climate), and global climate–carbon modeling. Understanding the complex interactions between Earth’s system and human activities in the biosphere requires that all three issues be examined as an integrated package.
The article entitled The Outlook Is for Warming, with Measurable Local Effects is an example of this integrated approach. In examining the climate record to detect climate change, Livermore scientists separated, for the first time, the effects of volcanic eruptions and El Niño from the effects of human activity. Concurrently, they evaluated the practical effects of the interplay of human activities and the regional environment to reveal that while climate phenomena may be global, the effects can vary from location to location.
Over the next century, fossil fuel will remain the primary avenue for energy production and use. Energy emissions, especially carbon dioxide, will be the impetus behind a more comprehensive focus on the management of excess carbon. At Livermore, our climate modeling capabilities will be used to evaluate the effects of emission-producing energy technologies; carbon processes in the biosphere; aerosols, weather, and air quality; and water resources and their management.
An important technology option being examined at Livermore and elsewhere for managing excess carbon is carbon sequestration, which would collect emitted carbon and pump it into the ocean or into rock formations to be stored for thousands of years. Understanding the science behind carbon sequestration will bring us one step closer to being able to manage our climate.
As a national laboratory, Livermore does not make policy. Instead, it provides the scientific understanding that enables policy makers to make informed decisions. By integrating our disciplines and program activities, we are better able to clarify complex scientific issues. Presenting an integrated scientific position for those who do make policy helps to solve challenges of enduring national and global importance.


 


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