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Climate Change Emergency – Dr Emily Shuckburgh

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Last week 14 Long Road students from A level Physics and Geography attended the “Climate Change Emergency” lecture by Dr Emily Shuckburgh at the Cambridge Cavendish laboratories.

Dr Shuckburgh has a Mathematics degree from Oxford and a PhD in Applied Mathematics, has worked for the British Antarctic survey and is researching the mathematics of climate change. She is directing work on the use of AI to assess environmental risk and the Cambridge Zero project. Her talk gave details of the science of the changes in our global climate, particularly the role of the southern Antarctic ocean in CO2 and heat exchange.

We saw a graph of the cyclical change of global temperatures over the last 800, 000 yrs., essentially since our very early evolution, the range represents a climate extreme from between Africa and an Ice Age, until 0 BC since when it has risen. The mathematics was explained by using the Physics principle of Black Body radiation and the theory of the greenhouse effect allowing short wave Electromagnetic waves in through the atmosphere but not allowing longer wavelength waves back out into space. Dr Shuckburgh showed that the key issues from the increase in global temperature were:

  1. Changes in biodiversity across the globe. Wildlife can find cooler habitats in higher areas , but those at the highest levels become extinct. There are 1 million species due to become extinct in the next decades, more than ever before.
  2. The normal distribution of large events is very sensitive to small changes, if the distribution curve moved a small amount there is a very much higher increased risk of events occurring.
  3. Catastrophic changes are becoming much more likely: release of trapped methane reserves, Amazon forest die back, collapse of the ice sheets in Greenland and are predicted to cause a 1 metre sea-level rise (and most large populations are in cities by the sea)

To conclude Dr Shuckburgh outlined that action is needed to achieve a global reversal of CO(to get back to 1980 levels by 2050), this would be expected to return to sustainable levels for the planet. She demonstrated that only one sector in the UK had reduced emissions, Power production,  and showed that all others were essential at the same levels as they had been for years. This has been as a result of government led initiatives to increase solar and wind power generation. The IPCC recommended a global net zero emission by 2050, yet no major countries are on track to achieve that.

Dr Shuckburgh was pleased to point out a number of ways in which scientific work in Cambridge was aiming to help, all very much STEM related: development of new electric cells, AI to manage environmental resources and risk, New building technologies (not concrete), development of how we measure prosperity , alternative transport (electric cars, planes, automated) and CO2  capture methods.

Her final message was that the solutions were going to have to be designed and put in place by the students who were listening to her!