Climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) plays a vital role in assessing the state of the science on this issue, and their latest report, Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis, the first of three reports in the sixth assessment cycle, is a milestone in our understanding of the problem and a testament to the hard work and dedication of scientists from around the world. One of the scientists who contributed to the latest IPCC report is Sara Blichner, a post-doctoral researcher at the Department of Environmental Science.
Blichner’s work focuses on understanding and reducing the uncertainty in anthropogenic aerosol radiative forcing, specifically biogenic organic aerosols. She aims to make the organic aerosol component in climate models more precise by following the chain of how trees emit gases that react in the atmosphere and produce aerosols, resulting in a cooling effect on the climate.
Contribution towards Chapter 6
Chapter 6 of Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis focuses on short-lived climate forcers, which include pollutants like black carbon, methane, and ozone. As a contributing author to the report’s sixth chapter, Blichner’s role involved processing data and producing figures for that chapter that were reproducible and adhered to the principles of open science.
“The report is a very important piece of work and involved a lot of impressive people. It became the basis and frame of reference for policy making on questions of vital importance for humanity. I definitely want to be a part of it again, if I can,” says Sara Blichner.
She got involved in the latest IPCC report in 2018 while completing her PhD thesis.
A rewarding experience
Sara Blichner admitted that she was inspired to go into climate science after reading previous IPCC assessment reports and being invited to contribute to one has been a highlight of her career. While the amount of work that goes into these reports is significant, the rewards for a climate scientist make the effort worthwhile. In fact, according to Blichner, it is among the most impactful things climate scientists can do in their field. It provides opportunities to expand their network and gain a better overview of the climate field and its interdisciplinary connections:
“The more involved you are, the more you learn, the better a researcher you become,” says Blichner.
A member of EU-project FORCeS
Blichner is also involved in the EU project FORCeS, coordinated by researchers from Stockholm University. She is excited to be part of this EU-project with so many ”interesting” people and institutions involved.
“I work with an Earth System Model and we want to incorporate as many features of organic aerosol as possible into the model. But we must be smart though. Too many variables will slow the simulations down too much and render the model impractical, so we need to choose the essential ones. It is also really cool to be part of this EU-project,” admits Blichner.
Looking forward, Blichner plans to stay in climate science, both doing research and teach. She believes that when policy catches up with climate science, there will be a need for different kinds of research questions.
“In the future, as we start to see real climate action, it will become clear that a lot more intricate understanding is needed. For example, determining the net effect of planting a forest involves the effects of changing albedo (reflectivity of the surface), aerosol, changes to meteorology (winds/rainfall) and carbon storage. Some of these new questions are already here, and they are going to be even more relevant to answer,” she concludes.
Blichner’s contribution to the IPCC report and the FORCeS project highlights the crucial role that scientists play in advancing our understanding of climate change. Her dedication to finding more precise ways of modeling aerosols is critical in ensuring that policy decisions are grounded in the best possible scientific knowledge. As climate policy evolves, the need for interdisciplinary research will only become more pressing, and scientists like Blichner will continue to play a vital role in driving this research forward.