The Earth is continuously undergoing climate change, but the current rate of increase of both temperature (Diffenbaugh and Field, 2016) and atmospheric CO2 levels (Zeebe et al., 2016) may be unprecedented in the past 66 million years, per currently available data. Since the mid-1800s, it has been understood that small changes in atmospheric gases, including CO2, can alter the Earth’s climate. (For a good historical summary, see Ortiz and Jackson, 2020; for two of the seminal papers, see Foote, 1856, and Arrhenius, 1896). Currently, we rely on global climate models, modern data collection, and research advances to predict future changes and to understand the details of the rapid changes that have been observed over the past 150 years. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has concluded that anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are extremely likely to be the dominant cause of observed climate warming since 1950 (IPCC, 2014). The IPCC goes on to conclude that impacts on natural and human systems will be significant and include risks to "health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security, and economic growth" (IPCC, 2018).
SEG joins nearly 200 other scientific societies worldwide and the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in agreement with the IPCC that significant action should be taken as soon as possible to begin reducing GHG emissions. SEG supports our stakeholders in academia, government, and industry who seek to achieve net zero CO2 emissions through efforts such as the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, and the Towards Sustainable Mining initiative. Further, among the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals are affordable and clean energy for all (SDG 7) and the need for climate action (SDG 13). These two goals are deeply intertwined, and solutions will require the contributions of applied geophysicists.
Achieving the goals for global climate action is a major challenge, and applied geophysicists can contribute in many consequential ways that include:
- The U.S. National Academy of Engineering has identified developing Carbon Sequestration Methods as one of the Grand Challenges for the 21st century, and the International Energy Agency recently noted that achieving net zero is not likely possible without carbon capture, utilization, and storage (IEA, 2020). Geophysical tools are crucial for effective exploration, site characterization, and monitoring of geologic reservoirs for CO2 sequestration.
- The Earth’s large ice masses are rapidly changing in response to the warming climate. Geophysical methods play a vital role in monitoring and understanding dynamics of the Earth’s cryosphere (glaciers, ice sheets, permafrost sea ice, and snow).
- It is well understood that a major shift to sources and storage of renewable energy (wind, solar, etc.) will result in a dramatic increase in demand for a broad suite of critical minerals and metals. Geophysics is essential for exploring, targeting, and characterizing the strategic ore deposits required to meet this growing demand.
- Geothermal energy is available in many parts of the world and will play an increasingly important role in meeting the growing demand. Geophysics is needed to identify and develop subsurface geothermal reservoirs.
- Continued warming of the climate coupled with an increasing global population is anticipated to adversely impact the availability of fresh water supplies over large regions. Hydrogeophysics is needed to identify new sources of groundwater and effectively manage existing water resources.
Given the anticipated impact on humanity and the associated disruption of the global energy economy, it is imperative that geophysicists rise to meet the challenges posed by climate change. SEG will support its members who are engaged in geophysical research, publication, and open dialog on climate change and its impacts.
Arrhenius, S., 1896, XXXI. On the influence of carbonic acid in the air upon the temperature of the ground: The London, Edinburgh, and Dublin Philosophical Magazine and Journal of Science, 41, no. 251, 237–276, doi: 10.1080/14786449608620846.
Diffenbaugh, N. S. and C. B. Field, 2013, Changes in ecologically critical terrestrial climate conditions: Science, 341, no. 6145, 486–492, doi: 10.1126/science.1237123.
Foote, E., 1856, Circumstances affecting the heat of the sun's rays: The American Journal of Science and Arts, 2nd Series, 22, no. 66, 382–383, https://ia800802.us.archive.org/4/items/mobot31753002152491/mobot31753002152491.pdf, accessed 3 February 2021.
IEA, 2020: Energy Technology Perspectives 2020. Special Report on Carbon Capture Utilisation and Storage: CCUS in clean energy transitions, https://www.iea.org/reports/ccus-in-clean-energy-transitions, accessed 3 February 2021.
IPCC, 2018: Summary for Policymakers. In: Global Warming of 1.5°C. An IPCC Special Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty, https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/, accessed 3 February 2021.
IPCC, 2014: IPCC Fifth Assessment Report, Summary for Policymakers, https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2018/02/WG1AR5_SPM_FINAL.pdf, accessed 3 February 2021.
Ortiz, J. D. and R. Jackson, 2020, Understanding Eunice Foote’s 1856 experiments: Heat absorption by atmospheric gases: The Royal Society Journal of the History of Science, doi: 10.1098/rsnr.2020.0031.
Zeebe, R. E., A. Ridgwell, and J. C. Zachos, 2016, Anthropogenic carbon release rate unprecedented during the past 66 million years: Nature Geoscience, 9, 325–329, doi: 10.1038/ngeo2681.