The Data behind our changing climate

In this segment, we visit the University of the Incarnate Word in Alamo Heights, Texas, where assistant professor of Meteorology, Gerald Mulvey, introduces us to a variety of instruments used to survey the climate’s past and present.


In this segment, we visit the University of the Incarnate Word in Alamo Heights, Texas, where assistant professor of meteorology Gerald Mulvey introduces us to a variety of instruments used to survey the climates past and present.

Now, data comes from about 13 different sources, and today, we'll actually go through about four of those sources so we get an idea of where the data comes from, how it's actually processed, and then, finally, how we can actually use it.

Here we are at the Incarnate Word Headwaters.

this is a cooperative observing station for the National Weather Service.

These are a whole series of instruments which are actually read daily by both students and faculty.

This is the simplest of the instruments.

This is merely a cylinder into which we put a dipstick, and on a daily basis, we measure how much precipitation actually occurs here.

This is a weighing-bucket gauge.

The gauge actually weighs the amount of precipitation that actually falls into it, and it actually records it inside on a microprocessor.

And, of course, it's powered by this solar cell.

Now, Chris, this is the last instrument we have here at the station.

This is a temperature gauge which measures the maximum and minimum temperature, and it's recorded, and then sent off to the National Weather Service.

One other form of data that we can actually obtain to understand the climate comes from these ocean-sediment cores.

This is a core that was collected from about 300 feet below the floor of the ocean, under about 1,000 feet of water.

From the composition of this core, we can tell something about the climate, and what was going on in the ocean waters above it.

There are also chemical qualities of the water which can tell us indirectly about the temperature.

This process starts as material settles on the ocean floor and is built up over the centuries and millennia.

Ice cores are taken from the antarctic region and from the Greenland region.

From those cores, we can tell what gases are actually trapped in when the core was actually put down.

We can also look at particulates in there.

We can also get some idea of what the temperature was like, as well as the precipitation.

Also captured are dust and pollen, which can tell us what was growing and, through that, what the climate was like at the time.

These cores can reach as far back as 80,000 years, and potentially much farther.

Both ocean-sediment cores and ice cores are key to understanding the climate of the past.

These are actually tree rings, and this is an example here, a good example, of about a 15-year-old tree.

Each of those rings represent one year's growth.

Now, the tree rings start out as light in color during the early springtime, and they actually change darker as they get towards the fall.

So it becomes very obvious what a ring is, and it's an annual ring.

The width of that ring actually gives us information about the precipitation, and a little bit about the temperature during which the tree actually grew.

This tree ring is about 89 years old, and it comes right here from San Antonio.

My students and I have been actually diligently counting all of these rings, and we're actually going to look to try to trace the climate back 89 years using this particular tree cookie.

These tree rings are very important in our research about climate.

The data is used to actually join, merge together with other sources of data, like the data we collect down in the Headwaters region and other forms of data to actually get a more complete picture of what the climate was like, particularly here in Texas.

We can actually use these data to actually help calibrate our climate models, as well as understand the direction in which the climate is actually moving.

Now, Chris, what this is, is this is actually a measuring device which we use to document the sizes in photographs.

These actually break off.

These are 10 centimeters.

And each of these individual ones are 1 centimeter, for a total of 30 centimeters in length.

So, as I put this down and a picture is taken, you can actually tell and scale off of that how big the tree rings are.

All of the data that we've been seeing, the sources of this data, are really important for us to understand both what the climate is now and what it will be like in the future, and if the climate is actually changing.

And there's every indication that the climate is shifting, and it is due to human efforts, human beings and what they do.

We have an opportunity to intervene and to try to mitigate this.

Will it work?

That's a good question.

There are a lot of people we have to convince to actually change the way they are doing things, and we have to do this to preserve life for not only our children, but also for the people of the world, particularly those who live close to the ocean, because the ocean levels will begin to rise as the water actually expands because of the heat being captured by it.

All of this focuses us on what we have to do in order to sustain our lives here in the United States and around the world.