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W. Richard Peltier, CGCS Director

Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada Peltier Image

University Professor of Physics, University of Toronto

Paleoclimatic/Geodynamic Perspectives on Planetary Climate Futures

The problem of global environmental change has become a focus of intellectual concern of every advanced society. As scientists working within the Centre for Global Change Science at the University of Toronto, we contribute to building the base of understanding of the biological, chemical and physical processes that govern the evolution of the planetary environment. We are especially interested in improving the accuracy of the predictions we make of future climate/environmental conditions due to anthropogenic influence.

In my own research group, a significant component of the effort involves the development and use of models of the coupled atmosphere-ocean-sea ice-land surface processes system that are employed to make such predictions. One example of this aspect of the current work is that with Dr Gordon Stuhne on the design of a new unstructured grid model of the global ocean circulation and connected sea ice cover that may be employed to more accurately model the polar regions. A primary interest in all of this work is to employ such models to predict climate regimes of the (sometimes distant) past as a means of better constraining the same models that are employed to predict the climate future in response to greenhouse warming..

An equally important focus of the work in the group involves the continuing development and application of the “gravitationally self-consistent” model that is employed to predict the impact upon global sea level due to the melting of land ice in the polar regions. This model, that has been developed in my group over the past several decades, is the “gold standard” in this area of science internationally and enables accurate mathematical analyses of the interactions that occur between the oceans, continental ice sheets and glaciers and the underlying solid Earth that collectively contribute to the determination of both  regional and global sea level history. An interesting current application of this model involves work to interpret the time dependent gravity field data that are being collected by the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) dual satellite system that is now in space. Data from this system have already established that the ice cover on Greenland and the mountainous region of the west coast of Alaska has experienced a significantly accelerated rate of melting in response to high latitude warming.

This work, as well as several other components of my programme, is now tightly connected to the Polar Climate Stability Network, a Canadian national endeavor funded by the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Science and a consortium of Canadian universities. I act as the Principle Investigator of this network, the Secretariat of which is also housed in the Department of Physics at the University of Toronto. The PCSN involves the collaborative research of 10 primary co-investigators from seven different Canadian universities as well as the contributions frm a number of scientists based in evironment related government science departments. The functioning of this network began in late 2005 and is scheduled to continue through 2010. Our goal is to better understand the evolution of climate in the north polar region as warming continues so as to more accurately predict its impacts. For further information on the PCSN please visit the Network website by following this link.