"Everyone talks about the weather, but no one can do anything about it".

This is fairly accurate for weather, but is it true for climate? Climate is not just past weather, but it is a long-term average of weather and weather patterns.

The sun and the earth's orbit seasonally influence both weather and climate; sunspots have an 11 year cycle. Other influences that have long-term effects are: volcanic eruptions, changes in the distribution of sea-ice and snow, asteroids hitting the earth and increasing carbon dioxide (CO2) from burning carbon based fuels. Molecules of CO2 absorb energy much like a greenhouse traps heat from the sun. The more CO2 in the atmosphere, the more warming occurs. CO2 in the atmosphere has been increasing dramatically over the past 100 years and unless the increase slows or stops, we can conclude that the earth will become warmer in the future.

Tree rings and fossils can be used to offer us insight into the patterns of climate change but how can we predict what will happen to the climate in the future? The earth is far too big and complex to use as a laboratory, we must resort to using a mathematical representation or model to simulate it. Millions of years would be needed to calculate the behavior of the atmosphere by hand. Ultra fast computers that perform thousands of billions of operations per second are used to perform these calculations. However, computer models cannot perfectly simulate the weather or the climate. The models are accurate for some predictions, for example, deserts are geographically where they are predicted, but the models are limited. Current models cannot predict California's total winter rainfall. Scientists are constantly refining and improving the models so that better predictions can be made as gases like CO2 continue to have a profound influence on our climate.

Speaker Bios

Dr. Jerry Potter

Jerry has nearly 30 years of experience in climate studies at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory where he is now the Deputy Director of the Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison. The role of the program is to help improve climate models by carefully studying how well the models simulate the present climate. Jerry's other duties include working with laboratories and government to help improve climate models. As part of his work, he participated in several scientific exchanges in Europe, China, and Russia.

Jerry was born and raised in rural Northern California near the Oregon border. After high school, he attended UCLA and earned a BA, MA and PhD in Climatology/Geography. He started working at LLNL in 1972 in an atmospheric science group that has become an internationally recognized research organization. He has published numerous journal articles on the role of clouds in climate and the predictability of climate. Jerry’s current research interests include the role of clouds in controlling climate and climate change and long term observed moisture trends in the Tropical Pacific Ocean.

Dr. Ron Rusay

Ron is a chemist. His Ph.D. studies and research concentrated on natural product chemistry and oceanography. He spent almost fifteen years in the chemical industry in various research and management positions before returning to the college classroom. Ron currently is a professor at Diablo Valley College and a Visiting Scholar at the University of California, Berkeley, where he is involved with the Modular Chemistry Consortium, MC2. He chairs an Instructional Technology faculty cluster for the Colleges of Contra Costa, serves on the California Community College Academic Senate Technology Committee and is a member of the MERLOT (Multimedia Educational Resources for Learning and Online Teaching) Chemistry Editorial Board. Ron has been actively involved with LLNL's Science & Technology Education Program (STEP) since 1996 and is a STEP Science Education Fellow.

Eric Thiel

Eric Thiel teaches Biology and AP Biology at Amador Valley High School in Pleasanton California. Eric has been teaching science for 27 years. During these years he has served as Scence Department Chairman and Mentor teacher in two different districts. Eric has been an Information Technology instructor for LLNL's Education Program for the last 8 years, a consultant for Lucas Learning Inc for the last four years, and a USD extension program teacher for the last two years. He has organized and taught technology workshops for many local Unified School Districts and conducted a week long seminar on "Internet Technologies in the Classroom" in San Juan Puerto Rico.

Eric holds a B.S. in Biology and an M.S. in Educational Technology. He was selected as 2001 PUSD Teacher of the Year, 1999 CTAP Technology Teacher of the Year, and has been recognized as a Tandy Technology Scholar. Eric is also a Co-Founder of "Project Creek Watch", which received a Golden Bell Award for excellence in education in 1999. Eric's interest in involving students in research as part of their science experience has led to Sweepstakes awards in the Tri-Valley Science and Engineering Fair three years in a row and 2nd, 3rd, and 4th place finishes in the Intel International Science Fair.