Note from Ned: Here’s a Thanksgiving story about a short workweek from the archives. I chose it because Roger Torda from the New York Academy of Sciences emailed me a month ago. He said his organization was honoring actor and journalist Alan Alda with a lifetime achievement award for science communication.
Roger wanted a photo of Alda that I took in 2004 when he visited Alaska to record a show about global warming here. I took this photo in the building adjacent to where I now sit with my first generation digital camera. My colleague JR Ancheta was able to somehow increase her resolution so that she could appear in a video biography of Alda on November 12, 2022 in New York.
Alan Alda, actor and host of PBS’s “Scientific American Frontiers,” recently traveled to Alaska on a mission to interview scientists about the evolution of the North.
Alda and the show crew gathered footage and scientists’ opinions for “Hot Times in Alaska,” a show that was slated to air on PBS in 2004. Along the way, they asked great questions, heard candid and chilling answers and carried the message of the Alaskan scientists. to a wider audience.
One of Alda’s first stops was the International Center for Arctic Research at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. There, Alda visited Gunter Weller, a northern meteorologist and director of the Center for Global Change and Arctic System Research.
Weller often speaks to reporters, and the staff at Scientific American Frontiers impressed him. John Angier, the show’s executive producer, traveled to Alaska a month before Alda or the film crew to line up relevant interviews. Weller said he told Alda the following:
“Climate change in the Arctic and Alaska is substantial; we can see signals that it’s happened, and we see its impacts on the environment, people’s lives, and the economy of Alaska,” Weller said. “Unless the political system takes this seriously, it will be too late to do anything about it.
Weller said Alda wonders how we can blame humans for the 4 to 5 degree Fahrenheit increase in air temperature in Alaska over the past 40 years, especially since temperatures have sprouted all over recorded history, even before the industrial age. Revolution.
“Natural variability has a lot to do with climate,” Weller said. “Scientific opinion is now that anthropogenic (man-made) influences matter, even if you can’t put hard numbers to it… All of the academies of science in all of the developed countries on earth have said that we have to take this seriously.”
While on the western ridge of the UAF campus, Alda also visited the Geophysical Institute’s Glaciology Laboratory. There he met Keith Echelmeyer, the leader of a team that has determined that melting Alaskan glaciers have added a huge amount of fresh water to the world’s oceans over the past 60 years.
Per Valentine, a glaciologist whom Alda interviewed with Echelmeyer, told Alda that the amount of meltwater from Alaska’s glaciers since the 1950s is enough to cover the state in 7 feet of water, or put Texas 15 feet underground. Ancient glacial ice in Alaska has raised global sea levels by more than a quarter inch since the 1950s. That’s a lot of water from a small part of the globe.
Alda also visited John Walsh, the AU chairperson’s professor of global climate change. Walsh specializes in supercomputer models which are science’s best attempt to predict what will happen in the future. Those who work with models try to calculate present and future climate using variables such as temperature, cloud cover and historical precipitation.
“In a nutshell, models predict a warming of the Arctic Ocean by 5 to 7 degrees C (about 8 to 12 degrees F) over the next 100 years,” Walsh said. “Precipitation increases, especially over Alaska at this time, and by 2100 the Arctic sea ice almost disappears in the summer.”
Walsh said he appreciated Alda’s questions, even the tough ones, such as “What should we do about this warming?”
“We could respond individually, but the bigger issue is nationally,” Walsh said. “The job of scientists is to convince policy makers that action is needed because change is already happening here.”
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