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Updated 10:00 AM February 2, 2009




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  Distinguished University Professor Lecture
Professor takes on climate change skeptics

Despite scientific consensus to the contrary, a few climate change skeptics don't believe humans are causing global warming. They blame the sun's cycles, or they base a divergent theory on a tiny piece of the planet's temperature history.
(Photo by Scott Galvin, U-M Photo Services)

At an upcoming Distinguished University Professor Lecture, Joyce Penner will give evidence to support and refute some of the popular criticisms of the human-caused climate change theory.

Penner is the Ralph J. Cicerone Distinguished University Professor of Atmospheric Science in the Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences. Her talk is titled "Climate Change Science: Can the Skeptics Ever Be Convinced?" It takes place at 4 p.m. Feb. 16 in the Rackham Amphitheater.

"I'll go through some of the common arguments against climate change and what the scientific community has done to look at them," Penner says. "I'll discuss whether the skeptics' arguments have validity, and some of them do. Some of the arguments are based in reality and provide future avenues for research that will eventually enable climate change science to rest on a firmer foundation."

Climate change critics have recently drawn ammunition from the World Meteorological Association's data, which shows that temperatures appear to be falling since 1998. It's true, Penner says, but it's important to look at climate cycles more broadly.

There's also some truth in the skeptics' claim that current computer models of climate change aren't reliable, Penner says. She finds fault in particular with how the models predict aerosols in clouds will affect the climate. Aerosols are fine particles such as smoke and dust that affect cloud thickness.

Current models say aerosols will make clouds thicker, exacerbating future warming. But Penner says this might not be the case, and that aerosols might in some circumstances thin clouds out.

Penner's research focuses on how atmospheric aerosols interact with clouds and the effects this has on climate change. She was the coordinating lead author in 2001 for a chapter of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's report to the United Nations and a co-winner of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.

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