Richard Somerville

Science Director

Richard Somerville is a climate scientist and Distinguished Professor Emeritus and Research Professor at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego. He is active in climate change research, education and outreach.

He was a co-author of The Copenhagen Diagnosis in 2009. This report by 26 experts from 8 countries is a brief and readable update covering recent developments in climate change science. It was written to synthesize the latest policy-relevant climate science as input for the international climate negotiations in Copenhagen in December 2009.

Richard is the author of The Forgiving Air: Understanding Environmental Change, a new edition of which was published in 2008 by the American Meteorological Society. This accessible book presents in clear, jargon-free language the science of global change, including human-induced climate change, the ozone hole, acid rain, and air pollution. You can watch Richard speak at Scripps about The Forgiving Air, “weav[ing] critical findings in climate science into a compelling story, making the most important issues of our time understandable to all,” here.

Richard was an organizer and signatory of the 2007 Bali Climate Declaration by Scientists, an effort by climate scientists to inject quantitative scientific substance into international climate negotiations. In order to meet internationally agreed targets for limiting harmful man-made climate change, the scientists urged negotiators to reach a binding agreement in which global emissions of heat-trapping gases would peak and decline in the next 10 to 15 years.

He was a Coordinating Lead Author in Working Group I for the 2007 Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This report is a definitive summary of the state of climate change science at that time. The IPCC shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for its “efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change.”

Richard is a theoretical meteorologist and an expert on computer simulations of the atmosphere. He earned a B.S. in meteorology from Pennsylvania State University in 1961 and a Ph.D. in meteorology from New York University in 1966. He has been a professor at Scripps since 1979.

Richard’s current research is focused on key physical processes in the climate system, especially the role of clouds and the important feedbacks that can occur as clouds change with a changing climate. He is an authority on the prospects for climate change in coming decades. He has made fundamental contributions to the mathematical and physical foundations of computer models for the dynamics of fluid flows, for weather prediction, and for climate simulation. He is the author, co-author or editor of more than 200 journal articles, reports and books.

His interests also include all aspects of climate, including climate science outreach and the interface between science and public policy (see, for example, his article in Climatic Change on “Medical Metaphors for Climate Issues“). He has testified before Congress. He comments frequently on climate and environmental issues for the media. In early 2010 Richard recorded a series of television interviews with ABC news in which he discusses “Four Big Questions of Global Warming”, “Disinformation and Medical Metaphors for Climate Change” and “Our Global Warming Game of Chicken”.

In 2015, Richard was awarded the American Geophysical Union’s Climate Communication Prize in recognition of his work communicating climate science. He has received awards from the American Meteorological Society for both his research and his popular writing. Among many honors, he is a Fellow of both the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Meteorological Society.

“Perhaps the most important function of climate science on an issue of broad interest like global warming is to help educate the public and to provide useful input into the policy process. Governments, corporations, and individuals should listen to and learn from the science, just as intelligent people listen to their physicians when their health is in question. Good science input can inform wise policymaking. The role of scientists is to help assess the science and present it in an intelligible way that is policy relevant.”

– The Forgiving Air: Understanding Environmental Change

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