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Monday, February 12, 2001

Associated Press
Chris Wray of Blue Ridge Public Television works with a
satellite feed from Hawaii while at a Roanoke, Va., middle school.
The video feed, for the Jason project "A Living Laboratory,"
was of a volcanic lava flow. Story below.

Isle meet
makes strides in
predicting climate

International scientists devise
a plan to study how the ocean
affects climate

Taking the ocean's pulse

By Helen Altonn

International climate researchers are planning a 15-year program to work together to try to understand long-term climate changes.

"The legacy I hope we would be leaving here is an observing system and beginning of a rational attempt to sample the ocean," said Robert Weller, a senior scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute.

Weller led a weeklong workshop here last week, attended by world-wide scientists involved in the Climate Variability and Predictability Project, an international program aimed at learning how to better predict climate.

The International Pacific Research Center, a U.S.-Japan climate program at the University of Hawaii, hosted the meetings.

"I like to think we can look back in 10 or 15 years and say us CLIVAR guys did a good thing -- that we found a way to sample what is being put in and stored in the ocean in terms of heat and how it is moved around," said Weller, a physical oceanographer.

John Gould, director of the International CLIVAR Program in Southampton, New England, said a working group of about a dozen international specialists will be established "to really drive this thing forward."

He said the group will plan computer modeling experiments and plan and coordinate observations of the atmosphere and ocean to get a better understanding of how the Pacific Ocean works and how processes within it affect climate, not just in the Pacific but around the world.

The researchers want to be able to predict climate changes that occur from year to year and decade to decade as well as short seasonal events, such as India's devastating monsoons.

One of the challenges, Gould said, is to understand things on a scale of 10 years when instrumental records of climate variability go back about 150 years.

So to look at long-term climate, the scientists are seeking data from tree rings, coral rings, ice cores and sediments, he said.

Ancient records of temperature show climate has been very stable over the past 1,000 years until the last 150 years, when temperatures started to climb, he said.

If predictions are right, he said, "We are going into uncharted territory."

Even if politicians and industries acted to control greenhouse gases, global warming still would occur because gases getting into the ocean are trapped in the ocean for hundreds of years, Gould said. Two elements are involved in improving climate predictions -- observations and computer models, and both are getting better every year, he said.

Much progress was made in the 1980s with an array of moored buoys and observations from volunteer observing ships, he said.

Another new tool, he said, is an international effort called Argo to launch 3,000 observation buoys around the world's seas to measure the temperature and salinity of the oceans.

Taking the ocean’s pulse

A new tool in the ongoing effort to better understand the weather is Argo, a network of floating sensors designed to track ocean pulses.

Scientists hope to get 3,000 devices deployed to aid both long-term research and forecasting. The network is named Argo because it complements the ocean-observing satellite Jason, a joint NASA-French project. Argo was the ship of the mythical Greek seafaring hero Jason.

Although the Pacific's El Nino and La Nina phases are best known, other ocean temperature and current cycles set up climate patterns that endure for several seasons, years, even decades. But the equipment for tracking temperatures and currents has been sparse, relying on a patchwork of voluntary observations from commercial ships, a few buoys and satellites.

Argo partners include Canada, Japan, Great Britain, France, Germany, India, New Zealand and South Korea.

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