Webcast Today: Rich and Poor, and the Essence of El Niño

by |April 18, 2017

el nino and rainfall map 04-2016How does El Niño work, and how does it affect our climate, food supplies and water availability? The two men whose scientific work has been key to solving these puzzles will be honored Wednesday with the Vetlesen Prize, marking a major achievement in Earth sciences. And today, they’ll have something to say about it in a pair of lectures that will be webcast at this site, beginning at 3 p.m. Eastern Standard time.

S. George Philander

S. George Philander

So, what will they talk about? Rich and poor and the climate, the basics of El Niño—a climate cycle that drives weather patterns of rainfall and drought around the globe—and the communication of science.

“The Hedgehog and the Fox: A Nelson Mandela Perspective on Global Warming” is how S. George Philander, a native of South Africa who teaches at Princeton, titles his talk.

“I will argue that, at present especially, the rich can benefit from familiarity with the perspective of the poor on the divisive, polarizing topic of global warming,” writes Philander. “Laymen, rich and poor, should know more science. How will they benefit? What is it we think they should know? Audience members are strongly encouraged to watch, at their leisure, the first four minutes of the video “A Private Universe”.

Mark A. Cane

Mark A. Cane

The other Vetlesen winner, Mark A. Cane of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, will speak about a 1985 paper by someone else that he says captures “the essence of ENSO”—the El Niño-Southern Oscillation.

“If there is time left,” he adds, “I will add a brief meditation on “the surf n’ turf: communicating science. It is often said that in this Anthropocene Age, what we have here is a failure of communication and we scientists are at fault. Not so.”

The two scientists will receive the prize at a black tie dinner at Columbia Wednesday and each receive a $250,000 award. The Vetlesen Prize was established in 1959 by the New York-based G. Unger Vetlesen Foundation, and is administered by Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. It is awarded for “scientific achievement resulting in a clearer understanding of the Earth, its history, or its relation to the universe.”

Read a full news story here, and watch a video about the winners and learn more about the prize at the Lamont-Doherty website.

Learn more about El Niño here, and about climate forecasting and the related work of the International Research Institute for Climate and Society here.

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