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Spotlight: Warren Washington, super modeler

The man behind the climate models

Warren Washington literally wrote the book on climate modeling. Introduction to Three-Dimensional Climate Modeling, which he co-authored with Claire L. Parkinson in 2005, is the classic graduate-level text in the field. A former head of the American Meteorological Society and an adviser to every president -- Republican and Democrat alike -- since Jimmy Carter, Washington has devoted his life to creating increasingly precise and accurate computer models of Earth's climate. "What people need to understand is that these are not untested models scientists have dreamed up," says Washington, now a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). …

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Spotlight: David Inouye, ecologist

Evidence of climate change springs ahead with blooming wildflowers

Spring certainly seems to arrive earlier these days than it used to. But is it a sure sign of global warming or just natural variability? After decades of careful research on wildflowers, University of Maryland ecologist David Inouye has some definitive -- and disturbing -- answers. This summer Inouye returns to the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory for the 40th consecutive year to study changes in wildflower populations some 9,500 feet high in the Rocky Mountains near Crested Butte, Colo. His work offers some of the most detailed understanding yet about climate change and its effects on alpine plant and animal …

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living

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Spotlight: Camille Parmesan, Field Biologist

Are butterflies the silent harbingers of global warming?

Camille Parmesan studies the effects of global warming by chasing butterflies. Sounds fanciful, but it is anything but. Her careful field observations of butterfly populations have produced compelling evidence of how climate change has already affected our living planet. In several landmark studies, she has helped pave the way for a body of eye-opening research that has tracked changes in numerous populations of plants and animals. It all started back in the early 1990s, when Parmesan was a graduate student happily studying the diet of the Edith's checkerspot butterfly (Euphydryas editha). She was drawn into the field by her love …

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living

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Spotlight: Keith Cherkauer, agricultural and biological engineer

Tracking surface water on a warming planet

Keith Cherkauer studies mud. It's a dirty business that has revealed a lot about global warming. As he trudged through rural Indiana farmland earlier this spring, Cherkauer, an agricultural and biological engineer at Purdue University, paid close attention to the way his boots sank more than an inch into the mud before they reached the solidly frozen soil below. The way surface water travels under these soil conditions fascinates Cherkauer -- and worries him too. For the past decade, he has been monitoring soil temperatures and patterns of freezing and thawing in the upper midwestern region of the United States. …

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Spotlight: geologist Cameron Wake

Glacier gumshoe seeks secrets of climate change in ice

It takes a certain kind of person to gather ice cores from remote glaciers, cart them back to a lab, and unlock the clues they contain about the climate record. Such a person needs to be hardy and skilled enough in the field to lead expeditions loaded with equipment into some of the world's most rugged-and frigid-mountain terrain. Back at the lab, this person needs technical acumen and a meticulous attention to detail in order to measure the cores' trace chemicals down to the parts-per-trillion level. To be a glacial detective, in other words, a person needs to be a …

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Spotlight: Scott Luthcke, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

Weighing Greenland

Scott Luthcke weighs Greenland -- every 10 days. And the island has been losing weight, an average of 183 gigatons (or 200 cubic kilometers) -- in ice -- annually during the past six years. That's one third the volume of water in Lake Erie every year. Greenland's shrinking ice sheet offers some of the most powerful evidence of global warming. Luthcke is a scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. He specializes in space geodesy, a branch of earth sciences that monitors Earth from space by measuring changes in the planet's shape, orientation, and gravitational field. Lutchke …

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Spotlight: Climate Scientist Julia Cole

Finding evidence of climate change in the caves of the American Southwest

Julia Cole finds evidence of the climate record in some fascinating places. Cole is a geologist at the University of Arizona. Most recently, her research has led her deep inside a limestone cave 50 miles southeast of Tucson. Preserved there, within stalagmites that have formed on the floor of the dark, perpetually humid cave, is what Cole calls "a robust archive" of climate history in the desert southwest. The stalagmites contain an almost continuous climate record that dates back tens of thousands of years to the last ice age, a time when ice sheets covered much of North America. Subtle …

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