A Symposium Presented by the Department of Earth, Atmospheric & Planetary Sciences and co-sponsored by the Lorenz Center and the Houghton Fund

Wednesday, January 27 2016
Kirsch Auditorium, MIT Stata Center (32-123)

Taking action on climate change has become a dominating issue—globally, nationally, locally and even here at MIT. Yet so many questions remain. How much and how quickly will climate change? How will these changes manifest and where? What are the greatest risks posed by a changing climate and how likely are these worst-case outcomes? What is the science behind climate change, and how can basic research inform our efforts to avert, mitigate and adapt to its impacts?

Essential knowledge built through basic climate research lies at the core of all these questions. We would not even recognize that earth's climate is changing were it not for the cumulative efforts of climate scientists over the past five decades, many of them here at MIT. And we cannot hope to improve the climate outcome for ourselves and future generations without the vital, ongoing contributions of fundamental climate science research.

Touching on everything from the essentials of planetary climate through the complexities of Earth's climate system to the challenges of finding the will to act on our knowledge to address current climate change, the symposium features talks and discussion by faculty experts from across the spectrum of climate research at MIT, and keynote speakers Marcia McNutt (Editor-in-Chief of Science) and Justin Gillis (Environmental Science Writer for The New York Times).

Bjorn Stevens
Director, Max Planck Institute for Meteorology

NEW ENGLAND AQUARIUM, Thursday, October 15, 2015

Lecture Summary:

Water shapes our atmosphere. This seemingly simple molecule plays a defining role in some of the earliest recorded attempts to rationalize the cosmos, is resplendent in mythology, and has long been an element of folklore. In the late 19th century, watching water was a crucial component of the first systematic attempts to predict the weather. In the 20th century it became apparent that a comprehension of the global climate system is intimately linked to an understanding of water. What is it about the mighty water molecule that makes it so important? Can an understanding of a few key facts about water help one better comprehend our atmosphere, patterns of weather, climate and climate change?


Prof. Bjorn Stevens is a director at the Max-Planck-Institute for Meteorology where he leads the Atmosphere in the Earth System Department and is a professor (§17) at the University of Hamburg. Prior to moving to Hamburg Dr. Stevens was a full professor of Dynamic Meteorology at the University of California of Los Angeles. He received a PhD in Atmospheric Science in 1996 from the Colorado State University in Ft Collins CO, and holds a Bachelor and Masters of Science in Electrical Engineering from Iowa State University.

Professor Stevens' research blends modeling, theory and field work to help articulate the role of aerosols, clouds and atmospheric convection in the climate system. He has made pioneering contributions to both understanding and modelling of mixing and microphysical processes and their impact on the structure and organization of clouds. Likewise his contribution to an understanding of how clouds respond to warming, and how radiative forcing responds to aerosol perturbations, has proven fundamental to our present comprehension of the susceptibility of Earth's climate to perturbations.

Prof. Stevens served as a lead-author of Chapter 7, "Cloud and Aerosols" for the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and co-leads the WCRP Grand Science Challenge on Clouds, Circulation and Climate Sensitivity. He is the lead principal investigator for the HD(CP)2 project, High Definition Clouds and Precipitation for Climate Prediction, a national project supported by the Germany Ministry of Education and Research.

Prof. Stevens serves on a number of international advisory boards, has served as editor of leading journals in his field and has been honored by a number of awards, including the Clarence Leroy Meisinger Award of the American Meteorological Society, as well as fellowships from the Advanced Study Program of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and the Alexander von Humboldt Society.

Professor Peter Molnar, University of Colorado at Boulder

"Big Cats, Panama, and Armadillos: A Story of Climate and Life"

NEW ENGLAND AQUARIUM, Thursday, October 16, 2014

Lecture Summary:

Three million years ago, ice covered Canada for the first time, the first Ice Ageť in hundreds of millions of years. In that first Ice Age, the sheet of ice covering Canada reached as far south as Missouri. Approximately 100 subsequent Ice Ages have occurred since that time, with the retreat from the last one occurring between 20,000 to 10,000 years ago.

Concurrently, ancestors to mountain lions crossed the Isthmus of Panama, from North America to South America to wreak havoc among animal life there, while giant Armadillo-like animals moved in the opposite direction into North America. Mountain lions and armadillos are but two among many species that made such journeys, in what biologists call the Great American Interchange.ť



Peter Molnar is a Professor of Geological Sciences at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and is a fellow in the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) .

His research focuses largely on these two questions: (1) how large-scale geodynamics cause deformation of the Earth’s crust, including earthquakes and the building of mountain ranges, and (2) how shifting continents, emergence of islands, growth of mountains, etc. affect climate on geologic time scales. His work has included fieldwork in remote parts of the world, and numerical calculations of processes that obey rules of fluid mechanics, but he is incompetent, and unwelcome, in a laboratory. He teaches a graduate seminar in “Tectonics and Climate,” and with Lon Abbott, he teaches an undergraduate writing course on geologic development of the Rocky Mountains.

Peter Molnar received the 2014 Crafoord Prize in Geosciences for “for his ground-breaking contribution to the understanding of global tectonics, in particular the deformation of continents and the structure and evolution of mountain ranges, as well as the impact of tectonic processes on ocean-atmosphere circulation and climate.”

Professor John Wettlaufer

"Sea Ice, Climate and Observational Mathematics"

NEW ENGLAND AQUARIUM, Thursday, October 10, 2013


Lecture Summary:

To better understand Earth's climate, we seek theories that predict observations regionally and globally, from human to geologic time scales. But what are the relevant observations? And how do we construct useful and realistic theories? We grapple with these questions by creating a mathematical observatory and focusing its telescopes on Arctic ice and climate.




John Wettlaufer is Professor of Applicable Mathematics at Oxford and the A.M. Bateman Professor of Applied Mathematics, Geophysics and Physics at Yale. He is one of the world's leading authorities on the physics of ice and its role in climate. A Fellow of the American Physical Society and a Guggenheim Fellow, he has held visiting appointments at Cambridge University and the Nordic Institute of Theoretical Physics in Stockholm.

Faculty Forum Online
Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013, noon-12:30 p.m. (EST)
Climate Research: Time for a New Direction
MIT Professor Explores a New Direction in Climate Research

Professor Kerry Emanuel

Kerry Emanuel

Research aimed at predicting future climate activity has primarily focused on exceptionally large and complex numerical models. While this approach has provided some quantitative estimates of climate change, those predictions can vary greatly from one model to the next and produce significant uncertainties in the projected outcome. Attempts to reduce these uncertainties have largely failed.


In this broadcast, Professor Kerry Emanuel of MIT's Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences will discuss a new approach to climate science that emphasizes basic understanding over black box simulation.


After Emanuel presents a brief overview of climate research, he will take questions from the worldwide MIT community via video chat on Tuesday, Feb. 5, from noon to 12:30 p.m. (EST).


Emanuel is a cofounder of the Lorenz Center, an MIT think tank devoted to understanding climate activity, and the author of What We Know about Climate Change, which The New York Times called "the single best thing written about climate change for a general audience."

Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013

Time: Noon-12:30 p.m. (EST)

Faculty Forum Online live webcast and interactive chat

Click here to watch on demand.

More about Kerry Emanuel:

Professor Timothy Palmer

"Predicting Climate in a Chaotic World: How Certain Can We Be?"

NEW ENGLAND AQUARIUM, November 1, 2012

Timothy Palmer

This year's John Carlson Lecture was given by Royal Society Professor of Climate Physics at UK's Oxford University, Tim Palmer, who gave an engaging talk about the limitations of contemporary weather and climate forecast models, and how despite them, even for such an inherently chaotic system, there is still the possibility of making meaningful predictions.

Edward Lorenz's pioneering work on systems whose evolution is unpredictable and chaotic was motivated by a skepticism about the use of statistical models to predict next month's weather. And yet, on the web and elsewhere, one can find predictions not only of next month's weather, but also of the human effect on long-term climate. Can we have any confidence at all in long-range predictions of weather? And should we believe these estimates of human-induced climate change? Or is the whole notion of predicting long-term changes in climate misguided and unscientific?


Predicting Climate in a Chaotic World: How certain can we be?


The talk, to the packed Simons IMAX theater, was followed by a dinner for faculty, donors and guests in the Aquarium.



Pictures from the Fall 2012 Carlson Lecture
Pictures from the Fall 2011 Carlson Lecture

A Man for All Seasons (School of Science Profile of John Carlson)

Tim Palmer

Monday, May 7, 2012

Leo Kadanoff "makes a Splash"

Professor Leo Kadanoff was the first Visiting Scientist the Lorenz Center in Spring 2012, and was a Houghton Lecture speaker. Professor Kadanoff, a professor emeritus of physics and mathematics at the University of Chicago and a member of the Perimeter Institute, has made fundamental contributions to research in phase transitions, dynamical systems, fluid flow, and complex systems. He will return to the Lorenz Center for another two-week visit in late October.

Leo Kadanoff

Leo Kadanoff giving seminar Small Programs, Big Ideas: In Praise of “Little Science” Image: H. Queyrouze

During the week, Leo met with faculty and researchers within EAPS, the School of Science, and across MIT. He also gave two Houghton Lectures, entitled Making a Splash; Breaking a Neck: The Development of Complexity in Physical Systems on April 27th and Small Programs, Big Ideas: "In Praise of “Little Science” on May 3rd.

The Lorenz Center presents the John Carlson Lecture Series

The John Carlson Lecture communicates exciting new results in climate science to the general public. Free of charge, the lecture is made possible by a generous gift from MIT alumnus John H. Carlson to the Lorenz Center at MIT.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Earth's Surprising Climate History

Paul Hoffman

Speaker: Paul Hoffman, Sturgis Hooper Professor of Geology Emeritus at Harvard University

Lecture summary: The geological record shows that Earth's climate has changed in dramatic and surprising ways. Harvard geologist Paul Hoffman will share his fascination with the give and take between those who discovered the ancient changes and those struggling to develop theories of climate change. His story ranges from the beginnings of climate change as a science to his own involvement in the controversy over the ultimate climatic disturbance: snowball Earth.

Time: 6:30 p.m. Community Reception; 7:00 p.m. Lecture

Location: 32-123

Open to: General Public

Cost: Free

Sponsor(s):MIT School of Science

For more information, contact:
Shira Wieder

Earth's Surprising Climate History