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Who's Who in Environmental Science

Jim Hansen


Jim Hansen, b. 1941, NASA GISS atmospheric physicist, author and environment activist. Dr. Hansen has been very outspoken about the degree of alarm people should feel about climate change, and the gap between this danger and the political and economic responses.

    • Nationality
    • American

    • Subject
    • Climatology

    • Fields
    • Atmospheric Physics

    • Distinction/Qualifications
    • Elected to the National Academy of Sciences (US), 1995.

      Heinz Environment Award, 2001, for his research into climate change.

      Dan David Prize, 2007, a prestigious award for "outstanding contribution in the fields of science, technology, culture or social welfare".

      Carl-Gustaf Rossby Research Medal, 2009, from the American Meteorological Society, for his "outstanding contributions to climate modeling, understanding climate change forcings and sensitivity, and for clear communication of climate science in the public arena."

      Sophie Prize, 2010, for "his key role

    • Positions
    • NASA GISS (Goddard Institute for Space Studies) atmospheric physicist and director, 1981 - 2013.

      Adjunct professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Columbia University.

      Head of the Program on Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions at Columbia University's Earth Institute, 2014.

    • Publications
    • Global warming in the twenty-first century: an alternative scenario, 2000, paper.

      Can We Defuse the Global Warming Time Bomb?, 2003, paper.

      "Storms of My Grandchildren" is his first book, published in 2009.

      His 2012 TED Talk is entitled: Why I must speak out about climate change.

      In a famous 2007 paper, Dr. Hansen demonstrated through paleoclimate data that the ice sheets of the polar regions may not support the IPCC prediction of a 59 cm rise in sea level by the end of the 21st century.

      Global Surface Temperature Change, 2010, a paper describing the latest analysis of global temperature fluctuations.

    • Theories/Experiments
    • The "fast-feedback" mechanism, which would lead to ice sheet disintegration. Much disputed at the time of Dr. Hansen's proposal, but since proven to be correct. This mechanism raises the fear that ice melting would lead to a non-regular sea-level rise, and far beyond that predicted by the cautious IPCC reports.

      Venus cloud cover. This early work for NASA helped Dr. Hansen create models for Earth's climate.

      In a famous 2007 paper, Dr. Hansen demonstrated through paleoclimate data that the ice sheets of the polar regions may not support the IPCC prediction of a 59 cm rise in sea level by the end of the 21st century.

      Climate modelling: Radiative transfer in planetary atmospheres and the interpretation of satellite data on the Earth's atmosphere and surface, as an effective way to monitor global environmental change on Earth.

      A true environment hero, Dr. Hansen has been an outspoken proponent of action against climate change causes for 40 years. His 2000 paper "Global warming in the twenty-first century: an alternative scenario" presented many aspects of the debate which were not on the popular agenda, in particular drawing attention to the other greenhouse gases, apart from CO2, which contributed considerably to global warming, and the issue of aerosols off-setting fossil fuel burning.

      In 2008 interviews on TV and the printed press, Dr. Hansen proposed equating the actions of people, such as fossil fuel CEOs, in their deliberate promulgation of false information, to any other crimes against humanity.

      Fast-Feedback acceleration of ice melt

      Geological studies suggest that ice does not melt in a linear fashion, but is more likely to change state in sudden 'flips'. One shocking possibility is that sea levels may rise by far more than predicted. When temperatures rise by 3°C, there is geological evidence to fear a 25m or more rise in sea levels. This is not an unknown occurrence for the planet - it happened as recently as 3.5 million years BP (Before Present).

      Dr. Hansen takes pains to emphasise that the report is not meant to be alarmist, and acknowledges that there are many parameters involving broad ranges of uncertainty. One of these is the ice sheet response time. However, since the 2007 report, large parts of the ice shelf have in fact broken off far earlier than expected, giving credence to the propositions.

      Dr. Hansen wrote in his 2003 paper Can We Defuse the Global Warming Time Bomb?: "halting global warming requires urgent, unprecedented international cooperation, but the needed actions are feasible and have additional benefits for human health, agriculture and the environment."