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Book on understanding climate change has local connection

A book explaining the what, how and why of global change science, just published by Cambridge University Press, has a TERN connection – Professor Colin Prentice, who leads the e-MAST facility, is its senior editor.

The book, Understanding the Earth system, was published this month.

Written with input from dialogues between scientists and those working in policy, it reviews research from the past decade. It emphasises the role of the biosphere and feedback mechanisms in climate change. And it expands its content in its use of original figures to illustrate each issue, and by making use of online resources, which are targeted at researchers and policy-makers.

‘Above all, what we have tried to do is demystify some of the very complex topics around climate change, and we have done so by approaching them in a quite different way to the IPCC reports and the technical literature,’ Colin says.

‘We wanted above all to explain from first principles what the observations tell us, what experiments tell us, what models can and can’t do, to cut through all that conflict about whether models are useful or not. We wanted to demystify some of the arguments – how we really know that the present warming is anthropogenic, for example, and what we can learn from past climate changes, but also to give some of the social and economic context – why there are different perspectives on how much should be done about climate change, and who should do it.’

One reviewer wrote: ‘[The book] lays out a seamless storyline from the deep past through the present and into the future that contextualises the current phenomenon of global change. Critically, the book brings humanity fully into the picture, from the impacts of environmental change to potential stewardship of the planet, while always maintaining the rigour that good Earth System research demands.’

Most of the chapter authors were involved in QUEST, the UK Natural Environment Research Council’s research program on Earth system science, which Colin led. The book is illustrated with many figures drawing on data that was gathered together by QUEST projects.

Published in TERN e-Newsletter August 2012

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