2 Minutes with W. Richard Peltier
April 10, 2012
What do our planet's interior, surface plate tectonics, the life cycle of glaciers, and ocean circulation have in common? Quite a bit, as demonstrated by Richard Peltier, who recognized early in his research career the deep interrelationship between land-surface processes, continental ice sheets, sea ice, and the circulations of the oceans and atmosphere. Dr. Peltier is the 2011 winner of NSERC's Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal for Science and Engineering.
|W. Richard Peltier||
I work in the area of planetary physics, which is to say I'm interested both in the interiors of planets, the interior structure of planets, as well as what goes on on the surface - in the atmosphere, in the oceans. In particular, I'm very interested, and have been for the last decade or more, in the problem of climate change.
Well, I have been developing theories of ice age occurrence, that is the fact that this planet has experienced intense periods of glaciation over the past million years of Earth history almost on a metronomic, 100,000-year cyclic fashion. And so the question naturally arose why did this occur, and this takes you directly into the issue of planet system evolution. What are the forces which force the climate system to evolve in such striking ways?
There's so much that accompanies the evolution of the planet that really can't be understood from a purely oceanographic or atmospheric science or ice dynamics perspective, that these different components of the system are so tightly linked that you really can't understand anything unless you're willing to focus on the system as a whole.
The same theory that I've developed to explain sea level history and so on during ice age events in the last million years of Earth history is now being brought to bear to help us to understand what's happening to sea level rise as a consequence of the fact that both Greenland and Antarctica, as well as mountain glaciers all over the world, have begun to lose mass, processes that are causing sea level to rise at present at the rate of almost three millimetres every year.
One of the main problems that we're facing in the context of trying to predict exactly what's in store for us again has to do with what we expect will be the history of surface ice cover. However, as I've said, the models we're using to make these projections have no skill when it comes to their ability to predict the dynamical behaviour of these massive accumulations of land ice on the planet. So there are major caveats that we have had to add to the projections that we make of how far warming will proceed and what the major effects of that warming will be.
NSERC has been an enormous supporter of my research right from the outset. It enjoys an enormously positive reputation in the world among scientists everywhere for the manner in which it manages itself.