Ice cores provide remarkably accurate records of climate changes locally, regionally and globally. Ice-core records of ice age cycles contribute to our understanding that Carbon Dioxide (CO2) has been “the biggest control knob” of Earth’s overall climate, and thus that if we continue burning fossil fuels and releasing CO2 into the atmosphere, we will have large impacts on climate. Ice-core records also show how changes in ocean circulation have had large, rapid regional impacts. The existence of such abrupt climate changes contributes to our understanding that, if scientists are wrong about the influence of CO2 on climate, changes are likely to be more-damaging than expected rather than less-damaging. Fortunately, additional scholarship shows that we have the means to address these problems and be better off in the future.
Dr. Richard Alley is Evan Pugh Professor of Geosciences and Associate of the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute at The Pennsylvania State University. He studies the great ice sheets to aid in prediction of future changes in climate and sea level, and has conducted three field seasons in Antarctica, eight in Greenland, and three in Alaska. He has been honored for research (including election to the US National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society, the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement, the Heinz Prize, the Revelle Medal of the American Geophysical Union, the Seligman Crystal of the International Glaciological Society, and others), teaching (four teaching-related awards at Penn State), and service (including the American Association for the Advancement of Science Public Engagement with Science Award, the Public Service Award of the Geological Society of America, the American Geological Institute Award For Outstanding Contribution To Public Understanding of the Geosciences, and the Schneider Award for Science Communication). Dr. Alley has served on many advisory panels, including having chaired the National Research Council’s Panel on Abrupt Climate Change and participated in the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (which was co-recipient of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize), and has provided requested advice to government officials in multiple administrations including a US Vice President, the President's Science Advisor, as well as committees and individual members of the US Senate and the House of Representatives. He has authored or coauthored over 240 refereed scientific papers, was presenter for the PBS TV miniseries on climate and energy Earth: The Operators’ Manual, and author of the book. His popular account of climate change and ice cores, The Two-Mile Time Machine, was Phi Beta Kappa’s science book of the year in 2001. Dr. Alley is happily married with two grown daughters, two stay-at-home cats, a bicycle, and a pair of soccer cleats.
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Last updated: 11/03/20
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