Science On a Sphere at COP15

NOAA's Alexander MacDonald Animates Options for Earth's Future on Giant, Luminous Globe.

December 9, 2009
Sandy MacDonald at COP-15.

Photo by Beth Russell/NOAA

Sandy MacDonald with SOS at COP-15.

Alexander MacDonald, NOAA Earth System Laboratory Director, made the Earth spin a little faster on Tuesday, using the visually powerful Science on a Sphere™ to illustrate how climate change will transform the planet if we do nothing about our emissions of greenhouse gases.

MacDonald presented a live "SphereCast" from the United Nation's Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, Tuesday evening, speaking to local audience of about 30 and many hundreds more who watched the presentation from 11 museums and other institutions around the world.

Swirling greens and blues replaced reds in the world's oceans as MacDonald flew forward in time from 1900 to 2100, to show how acidification is increasingly threatening ocean ecosystems, including those we rely on for food. In the atmosphere, reds replaced yellows as the continents heated 3, 5, then 10 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than today.

Science on a Sphere™ depicts real data in the case of MacDonald's climate presentation, the colors came from global observations, including historic ones, and from sophisticated computer models that simulate Earth's climate based on current scientific observations and understanding. In his SphereCast, MacDonald presented simulations from three, independent global climate models, all of which are able to reproduce current climate conditions.

He also used those climate models to illustrate that policies—such as those under consideration at Copenhagen to limit greenhouse gas emissions—can change the planet's future. Dealing with emissions now would limit the damage done by 2100, he showed.

"The future's really in our hands," MacDonald said. "This is the critical time. We can’t wait to the end of this century to respond. The Earth is changing fast."

MacDonald, who invented Science On a Sphere™, SOS, nearly a decade ago, directs NOAA's Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado, and also serves as NOAA's Deputy Assistant Administrator for Research Laboratories and Cooperative Institutes. SOS is now installed in 41 science museums and other institutions around the world.

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