The University Record, October 21, 1998

Geologist Pollack meets with Vice President Gore on global warming

By Sally Pobojewski
News and Information Services

It’s not unusual for an article published in Science magazine to generate a lot of attention.

So when U-M geologists Henry Pollack and Shaopeng Huang were notified that their article, “Climate Change Record in Subsurface Temperatures: A Global Perspective,” was scheduled to appear in the Oct. 9 issue, they were prepared for phone calls and e-mail messages from journalists and other scientists.

What they weren’t prepared for was a personal invitation from the vice president of the United States.

“Monday evening, I got a call from Rosina Bierbaum, assistant director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the Executive Office of the President,” Pollack said. “She told me Vice President Gore had read the Science paper and asked if I would participate in a press conference on global warming with him on Wednesday. Could I be in Washington by Tuesday evening?”

Pollack is one of several geologists who take the Earth’s temperature by lowering sensitive thermometers into boreholes drilled from the surface. Because subsurface rocks preserve a record of actual surface temperature changes over time, boreholes are an important data source for scientists studying global climate change. In their Science paper, Pollack and Huang presented temperature data from 358 boreholes spanning four continents and five centuries that confirmed that the Earth is getting warmer and the rate of warming has been accelerating rapidly since 1900.

“The 20th century is the warmest and has experienced the fastest rate of warming of any of the five centuries in our study,” Pollack said.

A summons to Washington is not the sort of offer one can refuse, so the afternoon of Oct. 13 Pollack was at Detroit Metro airport enduring a series of delayed flights. He finally arrived in Washington after 9 p.m. to find a message waiting from Bierbaum. Because congressional budget negotiations were in a delicate stage, the press conference had been cancelled. Instead Pollack was scheduled for a series of private briefings with Gore; Neal Lane, director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy; and administrators at the National Science Foundation, which has been the principal funding source for his research.

“It was a very relaxed meeting,” Pollack said, describing his “15 minutes of fame” in the vice president’s White House office as a photographer circled around recording the moment for posterity. “I was pleased that Vice President Gore had read the paper and found it interesting. He was kind enough to say he remembered my testimony about borehole temperatures and global warming before his Senate committee several years ago. It’s clear he is aware of the current state of knowledge in the field.”


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