Field experiments: from hypothesis to policy making

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Tuesday, 19 January 2010: 4:15 PM
B203 (GWCC)
V. Ramanathan, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, San Diego, CA

The Central Equatorial Pacific Experiment (CEPEX), conducted in 1993 to test the thermostat hypothesis was my first entry into the arena of field experiments. Until then I had been largely a theoretician with some foray into the world of general circulation modeling. It was then, Joach Kuettner took me under his wing and taught me how to design and conduct field experiments that maximized the science one can extract from the data. CEPEX was a coupled ocean-atmosphere experiment, whose main aim was to measure the heat budget of the western and central pacific warm pool and the overlying atmosphere. Kuettner and I developed a simple time dependent model that was able to account for the daily to seasonal variability of the heat budget and Sea surface temperatures (SSTs). CEPEX not only addressed this issue but uncovered a major flaw in climate models' ability to simulate the solar radiation absorbed by the atmosphere. This led to the Indian Ocean Experiment (INDOEX), which uncovered the importance of black carbon solar absorption and ultimately these findings have identified black carbon as one of the effective tool in our fight against global warming. Coming back to the thermostat hypothesis, the western Pacific Ocean has warmed significantly during the last few decades, and it may be an important source for climate instability through non-linear water vapor super-greenhouse effect if the planet continues to warm in the coming decades. Should that happen, would the cloud thermostat prevent non-linear amplification of the tropical Pacific warming?