Straight Talk on Earth-Watching from IPCC Pioneer Jerry Mahlman

As an energy writer I am often frustrated that the low hanging fruit of energy innovations — such as carbon capture and storage — are not being seized, or at least not at the pace that the science suggests is needed to avert major climate impacts in my lifetime. Despite the seeming flood of climate science being reported by the media these days, climate scientists feel a similar frustration that they are not being given the tools they need to really flesh out the climate picture and nail down the myriad uncertainties in climate models. I ran smack into this frustration interviewing Jerry Mahlman, a senior climatologist who created one of the first global climate models and helped to bring the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to life.

In my Q&A with Mahlman, which ran today on Earthzine, he decried the sorry state of the Earth observing systems needed to track climate change. As Mahlman, a climate modeler, puts it, “The world must think that we climate modelers are essentially infallible simply because nobody seems to be interested in checking us out by looking at an appropriate and proper dataset. We don’t think of ourselves as infallible but what we’re getting is NASA and NOAA providing pretty seriously inept observational systems.”

The National Academy of Sciences agrees with Mahlman. The scientific body, usually circumspect in its advice to Congress, issued a report last year warning that the U.S. Earth observation satellite programs are “in disarray.”

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