December 13, 2017
Last year at the 2016 AGU Fall Meeting, I was honored to be invited to join a panel of presenters for the AGU-JPGU Great Debate on Geoscience and Society. First held at JPGU in 2016, the Great Debate features scientists from the United States and Japan that comment on questions posed by the session moderator, AGU Fall Meeting chairperson Denis-Didier Rousseau.
This year’s Great Debate explored natural hazards (specifically volcanic eruptions and floods) and their connections to climate change. Panelists included Victor Baker, Alan Robock, Takahiro Sayama, Gavin Schmidt, and Atsushi Toramaru. The Debate was broken down into three sections: facts, communication, and education.
Some of the main points of discussion during this event include the following:
- Global climate change and the increasing number of disasters needs to be put in context. For example, in Louisiana, there is a loss of wetlands, the presence of geoengineering, and other natural and human changes in the environment.
- Most flood studies have been completed on small flood events, with the results extrapolated to large floods. This means that we have very little data on major floods (beyond data from paleofloods). The geologic record shows that there were periods in the past where very large floods occurred in clusters – and we are currently in one of these periods.
- We can define a coupling of hazards and their effects. For example, severe storms in Japan will cause landslides. Hurricanes will cause flooding (made more severe by paved surfaces). The 1980 eruption of Mount Saint Helens triggered the melting and flooding of the snowpack on top of the volcano.
- Volcanic eruptions can impact climate. Atmospheric and ocean circulation may be changed at different scales from the cooling during a large volcanic eruption. But we cannot predict major volcanic eruptions, and there are many uncertainties still to explore with past eruptions.
- Communication needs to be improved when it comes to natural hazards, especially when it comes to preparations for an event and actions during an evacuation. Attention needs to be paid not only to the message that scientists are sending out, but how different audiences (public, policymakers, etc.) are receiving and perceiving these messages.
- There are many “publics” and not one strategy will work to communicate with all people. The example provided by Gavin Schmidt was a ski slope that has many different types of runs, from the bunny slope to the black diamond. Different people are on different pathways, so it is critical to “know your audience.”
- Education is a challenge, as increasing science literacy cannot take place just in schools – most people are currently not in an education system. Social media and cell phones provide opportunities for teachable moments.
- Despite the changes in climate and hazards, along with the communication and education pieces, there are reasons for optimism – individuals and communities are working together to improve conditions of Earth systems in the present and for the future.
The entire Great Debate was recorded and is available for viewing here:
The Great Debate offers a unique opportunity for scientists from both nations (the United States and Japan) to address issues and challenges relating to the Debate topic. This year, there seems to be more similarities than differences in the facts, communication, and education of natural hazards and climate change.