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Global Warming: The Science Behind Us and Challenges Ahead

Start Date: March 15, 2017 - 04:15 PM
End Date: March 15, 2017 - 05:15 PM

By Prof. David Chapman
University of Utah, Salt Lake City, USA
Host: Prof. Gerard Schuster
Venue: Lecture Hall 1 (2322), Engineering and Science Hall (Building 9)

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​​Abstract: We know from weather station records that Earth's surface temperature has increased on average ​by about 1oC in the last 100 years with polar regions warming much more. Sea level is increasing, ice sheets are melting and the outer layer of Earth is accumulating heat energy. We know also that planet Earth has an atmosphere that creates a natural greenhouse effect, keeping our surface warmer than it would otherwise be. Human activities are substantially increasing the atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, principally carbon dioxide and methane, to levels far above those that have existed for the past 600,000 years. Only about half of the carbon dioxide currently being emitted into the atmosphere is taken up by natural systems; the other half adds to atmospheric concentration, annually increasing the greenhouse effect.

We do not know, on the other hand, all the details of our complex climate system sufficiently well to predict the exact consequence of greenhouse gas increases on global temperature. Should we wait for greater certainty about global warming or should we take steps immediately to stabilize possible climate change?

Global trends suggest that allowing “business as usual” is a risky path. World population has exceeded 7 billion and may rise to 9 billion in the lifetimes of our children. Standard of living is also increasing globally, but is accompanied by increases in per capita energy consumption. Because 80% of society’s energy presently is produced by burning fossil fuels, the inevitable population increase and drive towards higher standard of living simultaneously aggravates the enhanced greenhouse gas condition and, with it, global warming.

The alternative to “business as usual” is to unleash our engineering, economic, and political entrepreneurs to improve energy conservation and efficiency and move us towards greater use of renewable energy sources. Global warming may be the "smoke alarm" that pushes us to action.


Bio:  Prof. David Chapman is Distinguished Professor of Geophysics and Dean Emeritus of the Graduate School at the University of Utah. Dr. Chapman received his B.S. and M.S. degrees in physics from the University of British Columbia and his Ph.D. in geophysics from the University of Michigan. Chapman led an active research group studying thermal aspects of geological processes including geothermal energy and global warming. He is author of more than 160 publications including two Scientific American articles, four papers in Nature and one in Science. He was a faculty member at the University of Utah from 1976 through 2015. In 2006 Chapman was awarded the Rosenblatt Prize, the University of Utah’s highest award for excellence in research, teaching, and academic leadership. In 2008 he received the Governor’s Medal in Science and Technology for the State of Utah and was elected as Fellow of the American Geophysical Union. In 2010 he was elected to the rank of Distinguished Professor of Geology and Geophysics at the University of Utah.