Climate and environmental scientists are vital to the future of our civilisation. After all, they dedicate themselves to studying the planet we call home to solve climate problems despite the criticism they face.
We pulled five of the most impressive environmental scientists from our recent list of groundbreaking scientists who are changing the way we see the world.
From a glaciologist who studies the melting West Antarctic Ice Sheet to an activist who battles politicians’ “quick fixes” to climate change, here are five environmental scientists who are working to help remedy the worst problems our planet faces.
Glaciologist Eric Rignot used satellite-radar observations to
conclude that the West Antarctic glacier is quickly melting, and that there's no way to reverse it. For his remarkable 2014 study, Rignot and a team of researchers looked at the five Amundsen Sea glaciers in West Antarctica, mapping the bedrock under the ice. Because there's no ridge holding the ice in place, nothing exists to help slow the ice sheet's inevitable collapse. 'Ice is going to retreat from this sector for decades and centuries to come, and we can't stop it,' Rignot told Nature.
Rignot recently coauthored an alarming study, led by NASA's former lead climate scientist James Hansen, that concludes that glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica will melt 10 times faster than previous consensus estimates, resulting in a sea-level rise of at least 10 feet in as little as 50 years.
Rignot is a professor at the University of California at Irvine.
Climate is affected by tons of different variables, including tiny, uncontrollable shifts in our oceans to the massive amounts of greenhouse gases humans are adding to the atmosphere. As the director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), Gavin A. Schmidt develops detailed climate models that illustrate the effects of each of these factors. In 2009, he and photographer Joshua Wolfe coauthored '
Climate Change: Picturing the Science' to show how climate change is changing the face of the planet.
Schmidt is the director of NASA's Goddard Institute of Space Studies and principal investigator for the GISS ModelE Earth System Model.
The Thwaites Glacier
will inevitably collapse in less than a few hundred years, raising sea levels by about 2 feet total all on its own. The Thwaites holds the entire West Antarctic Ice Sheet together, and its loss means the inevitable loss of the entire sheet, the researchers said.
That will cause sea levels to rise up to 13 feet when it melts completely. Glaciologist Ian Joughin and his team were able to model the glacier's deterioration over the last 18 years, and used that data to predict how the melting will look in coming decades.
Joughin is an affiliate professor of Earth and space sciences at the University of Washington.
Climate change is a growing problem that humanity has yet to correct, but some politicians are suggesting that we introduce chemicals into the atmosphere that could, in theory, reduce the rising levels of carbon dioxide in Earth's atmosphere.
Speaking out against this quick fix, which could have unknown consequences on Earth's climate, is environmental scientist Ken Caldeira. At a meeting of over 12,000 scientists held in Vienna in April 2015, Caldeira addressed the dangers that this method of climate-change correction could lead to, such as drastic changes in plant growth and agriculture, which could have a devastating effect on the human population.
Caldeira is a senior scientist at the Carnegie Institute.
Michael Mann knows more about Earth's climate over the last 1,000 years than most. He's studied the history of changes in Earth's climate over the past 1,000 years to better understand how human-driven climate change of the 21st century compares. Mann has also pioneered techniques the climate scientists use today to discover patterns in past climate change to better understand how our situation may develop in the next 10, 100, and 1,000 years.
Mann is outspoken against sceptics of climate change: One of his notable achievements was helping to found Real Climate, a website run by a group of climate scientists who strive to provide the scientific facts on mainstream discussions of climate change. If you're looking for the statistics, facts, and other real science of the latest news or hype regarding what a celebrity, politician, or even the Pope said about climate change, you're likely to find it on Real Climate.
For his work, Mann has received numerous awards including the first Friend of the Planet Award from the National Center for Science Education.
Mann is a distinguished professor of Meteorology and Director of Earth System Science Center at Penn State University.
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