New books put environmental issues in perspective

December 14, 2000

BOULDER--Five recent books from scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) pose questions and offer insights into a range of environmental issues. What have we learned from recent El Nino and La Nina events? What are the challenges presented by havoc- wreaking storms around the world? What are the difficulties in applying scientific predictions to policy decisions affecting the environment? What do we know about the life cycle of carbon dioxide and about the effects of climate change on weather and human activity? For probing examinations by experts in the field, see the books described below. NCAR's primary sponsor is the National Science Foundation.

This roundup of recent publications lists NCAR contributors in boldface. Books are listed in alphabetical order.


Currents of Change: El Nino and La Nina Impacts on Climate and Society, second edition, by Michael H. Glantz. Cambridge University Press, 2001, 266 pp., ISBN 0-521-78672-X, paper.

The periodic warming and cooling of the tropical Pacific Ocean's surface waters generate droughts, hurricanes, fires, frosts, and floods worldwide. El Nino's impacts are now better known than the equally serious consequences of its counterpart, La Nina. Because both phenomena have generally been associated with death and destruction around the globe, we need to understand more about these events and their consequences worldwide so that their impacts can be forecast and mitigated. Nine new chapters have been added for the second edition of this landmark book. Written for a broad audience, Currents of Change explains in simple terms what El Nino and La Nina are and how they can be forecast. It examines for the first time the major El Nino of 1997-1998 and the attempts to forecast it. The book also explores what can be learned from past events and what we can do to ameliorate the worst impacts of these phenomena. The first edition has been translated into Spanish (U.S. Agency for International Development), Japanese (Zest Publishers, Tokyo), and both mainland and Taiwanese Chinese. The second edition has already been translated into Korean.

Michael H. Glantz is a senior scientist and the former director of NCAR's Environmental and Societal Impacts Group. He has published nine books on climate and society.


Effects of Changing Climate on Weather and Human Activities, by Kevin E. Trenberth, Kathleen Miller, Linda Mearns, and Steven Rhodes. Global Change Instruction Program. University Science Books, Sausalito, CA, 2000, 46 pp., ISBN 1-891389- 14-9, paper.

How does climate change manifest itself in day-to-day weather? This book, part of the Global Change Instruction Program for college undergraduates not majoring in science, approaches the topic by explaining distinctions between weather and climate. The work explores how the natural variety of weather can be systematically influenced by climate and how external influences--such as human activities--can cause change. Impacts of climate variations and societal strategies for coping with them are also discussed. The book includes topics of discussion and a glossary.

Kevin E. Trenberth is a senior scientist and head of NCAR's Climate Analysis Section. Kathleen Miller and Linda O. Mearns are scientists in NCAR's Environmental and Societal Impacts Group. Former ESIG scientist Steven Rhodes now works in the private sector.


Prediction: Decision Making and the Future of Nature, edited by Daniel Sarewitz, Roger A. Pielke Jr., and Radford Byerly Jr. Island Press, Washington, D.C., 2000, 405 pp., ISBN 1-55963-775-7 cloth, ISBN 1-55963-776-5 paper.

The idea that predictive science can simplify the decision-making process is deeply appealing in principle but deeply problematic in practice. Prediction offers a wide-ranging look at the scientific, political, and social factors involved in using science-based predictions to guide policy. The book includes ten case studies on subjects ranging from asteroid paths to climate change to nuclear waste disposal, and it proposes a practical framework for the use of predictive science.

"This is an important book, . . . illuminating and thought provoking. . . . [It] will be a useful resource for everyone from the interested lay reader and scientist, to the emergency manager, policy maker, and others involved in the 'Prediction Enterprise.' "--Bob Ryan, Chief Meteorologist, NBC4 Television, Washington, D.C., and past president of the American Meteorological Society.

Daniel Sarewitz is senior research scholar at Columbia University's Center for Science, Policy, and Outcomes and author of Frontiers of Illusion (Temple University Press, 1996). Roger A. Pielke Jr. is a political scientist in NCAR's Environmental and Societal Impacts Group. Radford Byerly Jr., now retired, was chief of staff of the Science, Space, and Technology Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives.


Storms, Vols. I and II, edited by Roger A. Pielke Jr. and Roger A. Pielke Sr. Routledge Hazards and Disasters Series. Routledge Press, London, 2000, 953 pp., ISBN 0-415-17239-X.

This two-volume work gathers current thinking from 74 researchers around the world on societal vulnerability to storms. The challenges storms pose to societies include destruction of property and loss of life, livelihood, food supplies, and communications. Storms explores a broad spectrum of events, vulnerability, and responses. Chapters are organized into sections on Storm Science and Societal Vulnerability, Tropical Cyclones, Extratropical Cyclones, Mesoscale Convective Systems, and Other Storms, including polar lows, dust storms, and space weather. Overviews of storm types, challenges to forecasting, warning and response strategies, and specific hazards from flooding, winds, hail, tornadoes, and other phenomena are examined. Detailed accounts of storms and their implications include events in Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Cuba, India, Mexico, Russia, the United States, and Vietnam. This collection provides a broad-reaching and thought-provoking account of storms and their impacts for students and scholars in atmospheric science, public policy, and natural hazards research.

Roger A. Pielke Jr. is a political scientist in NCAR's Environmental and Societal Impacts Group. Roger A. Pielke Sr. is a professor in the Department of Atmospheric Science, Colorado State University, and is Colorado's state climatologist.


The Carbon Cycle, edited by T.M.L. Wigley and D.S. Schimel. Cambridge University Press, 2000, 292 pp., ISBN 0-521-58337-3, cloth.

Reducing carbon dioxide emissions is imperative to stabilizing our future climate. In The Carbon Cycle, leading scientists examine how and why atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations have changed in the past and how they may change in the future. They look at the carbon budget and the "missing sink" for carbon dioxide. They offer approaches to modeling the carbon cycle and provide mathematical tools for predicting future levels of carbon dioxide. This comprehensive text incorporates findings from the recent reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. New insights and a convergence of ideas and views across several disciplines make this book an important contribution to the global change literature. The book is intended for students and researchers working in the field.

Tom M.L. Wigley is a senior scientist and director of ACACIA (A Consortium for the Application of Climate Impact Assessments) at NCAR. David S. Schimel is a senior scientist and head of the Ecosystem Dynamics and the Atmosphere section at NCAR and head of the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry in Jena, Germany.


NCAR is managed by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, a consortium of more than 60 universities offering Ph.D.s in atmospheric and related sciences.
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National Center for Atmospheric Research/University Corporation for Atmospheric Research

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