Terrestrial planet climate meeting in Boulder


A few weeks ago, NASA organised a meeting on comparative planetology (Comparative climatology of terrestial planets, 25-28 June 2012, Boulder CO).

The objectives of the meeting were similar to the Exoclimes conferences – bring together the specialists of atmospheres of different planets, from Earth to exoplanets. The focus, though, was on terrestrial planets, with most sessions centred on Earth, Venus, Mars and Titan, and just a couple of talks on exoplanets.

It was great to be there, since the meeting was out of my “confort zone” and I learnt a lot of new things. It’d be difficult to give any sort of summary of a whole meeting – I brought back thirty pages of densely scribbled notes – so I won’t even try. If I had to cut what I took from the meeting to a Tweet, it would be this:

on terrestrial planets, clouds are really important, and very, very difficult to understand and model, even with tons of data. It’ll be even trickier for exoplanets. (do spaces count on Twitter?)

Two of the highlights were not even part of the meeting proper. First, on the very afternoon with the session about the effect of dust and clouds on global warming, the forest above Boulder took fire, and a thick cloud of smoke briefly engulfed the whole town. The fire abated by the next day (Colorado Springs, farther south, was not so lucky and dozens of homes were destroyed).

Two types of clouds important for terrestrial planet atmospheres: condensation clouds, and ash clouds. Both could be seen above Boulder on June 26.

Second, we had a wonderful demonstration of “science outreach, US style”, with “Bill Nye the science guy” inspiring the audience with wonderful energy and wit, and a panel made up of some of the conference pundits answering the question of the very young audience. Just look at the board advertising the event:

As a European I found this event impressive. Instead of the familiar doom-and-gloom of climate change talks, the message was that the issue was a challenge that the young people in the audience had to stand up to. “Go figure it out!” was Bill Nye’s recommendation to the youth worrying about making fusion work or burying carbon dioxide.  By the end of the evening I had got the virus too, and was almost thinking that dumping megatons of iron in the ocean to boost algal growth, or sending a flotilla of giant mirrors in orbit to block the sun out, were all swell ideas that would see us through this small problem. Yeah!



About Author

I am a professor of planetary science at the University of Exeter. My specialty is the study of exoplanets, in particular the observation and modelling of exoplanet atmospheres. I have done my PhD a the University of Geneva and worked in Chile, France and Switzerland.