A week in San Diego

December 8th, 2005 by David
I had to stay at the party house
Loren, Sheila, and Milenia

   I have spent the past week in San Deigo, waiting for my parents to mail me necessary documents (birth certificate, various identification forms), filling out forms, and then waiting for my new passport to arrive. The week was enjoyably spent with a friend from college, Sheila Walsh, and her two housemates, Milania and Loren. They had an extra room for me to stay in, which was great, except when I wanted to sleep after biking far and there was a party (no, that picture on the right is not staged).
   While in San Diego, I visited Scripps Institute of Oceanography, a world class research institute. This is the home of Dr. Keeling, who first measured how carbon dioxide is increasing in the atmosphere, producing the now famous “Keeling curve“.
   At Scripps, I attended a student-led environmental seminar, where an international relations graduate student talked about the global politics of oil. Oil plays a huge role in global politics, usually for the worse. I will revisit this topic when I visit Venezuela, a poor country where oil is one third of the economy.

David Pierce
John and Aerosol Measuring Device (Mass Spectrometer)

   I also talked with a few scientists about their research. John Holecek, a graduate student studying aerosols, showed me around his lab. Aerosols are small particles suspended in the air, and humans are increasing their abundance. Most aerosols have a slight cooling effect on the planet, although some do contribute to warming. The effect of aerosols on the climate, although significantly less than carbon dioxide, is fairly uncertain, and a lot of current research is directed to understanding aerosols.
   I also visited David Perice, a climate modeler and programmer. He shared with me a study he recently published in the journal Science showing that the Earth’s oceans have warmed significantly in the past few decades. He remarked, “People don’t think there is a problem because we can’t see carbon dioxide. If you could see carbon dioxide, you would see the atmosphere slowly getting darker as we burn more and more fossil fuels.”

View from Sheila's office

   After these discussions, I decided to explore the ocean myself. My friend Sheila and I took two surfboards, and enjoyed the waves just a few hundred yards from her office, which overlooks the ocean.

3 Responses to “A week in San Diego”

  1. Donald Kroodsma says:

    They do impressive stuff at Scripps. Wouldn’t it be interesting if we could actually see the carbon dioxide in the air. It would certainly make believers of more people. Thanks for taking us to Scripps.
    I look forward to a border crossing in the next few days. Let the adventure continue!

  2. Mike Murillo says:

    There’s a confusing typo in a paragraph that is more technical than others. It’s the following, ” is more uncertain and a current areas of research.” towards the end of the 4th paragraph. Anyway, I was rivitted by the information and I was dissapointed when the last sentence left me confused.

    Otherwise. Good work and I am looking forward to your border crossing and first encounters in Mexico Lindo.

  3. David says:

    REPLY TO MIKE: Well, that isn’t so much a typo as just confusing wording. I have changed the wording, but my point was that the effect of aerosols on the climate is uncertain, and this effect is a current area of research. About 20 years ago, we knew nothing about aersols. Now, we are getting much better. Aerosols come in many different types. You should look at the link provided in this post for more information.

    Here is my very breif from-the-hip summary of aerosols. Some aerosols, such as ones produced by burning of forests or dirty burning of fossil fuels, are black and absorb sunlight, making the planet warmer. Others, composed of sulfate, are reflective and reflect light back to space, cooling the planet. A volcanic erruption puts a lot of these sulfate aerosols into the atmosphere, cooling the planet. Aersols also, however, affect the formation of clouds, because particles in the air give water vapor something to condense on. This effect is very difficult to model. Aersols generally stay in the atmosphere for a short amount of time, and their effect is more local. In all, though, it seems that the effects of these aerosols on the planet is significantly smaller than the effect of greenhouse gasses.

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