Ten Hundred Words of Climate Science

Inspired by the internet comic “The Up-Goer Five”, which used only the 1,000 most commonly used words to describe the Saturn V Rocket, scientists across the internet are attempting to describe their work using the just this small set of words. And it’s tough! But one of Brookhaven’s atmospheric scientists was up to the challenge. Alistair Rogers, who works in our Environmental Sciences Department, gives it a go:

Understanding change at the top of the world so we’ll know what is going to happen later

When we drive cars and warm our homes we give out bad stuff that ends up in the air. The bad stuff in the air makes our world warmer, which is not good. Every year there is more bad stuff in the air, and our world gets a little bit warmer. Some people pretend this is not happening, they are wrong.

The green things that live outside suck up the bad stuff in the air that we give out when we drive our cars and use it to grow bigger.  This is good because the green things are slowing down the warming of our world. When the green things die, tiny life forms in the ground eat them and return the bad stuff back to the air, this is normal.

Up near the top of the world it is really cold and lots of old dead green things have been stuck in ice in the ground for a very long time.  When the dead green things are stuck in ice the tiny life forms can’t eat them and the bad stuff is stuck where it can’t make the world hotter. When ice gets warmed up it starts to go away and when it does the tiny life forms in the ground can eat the old dead green things and give out the bad stuff that makes our world warmer. When the world gets warmer more ice goes away, more dead green stuff gets eaten and more bad stuff ends up in the air which makes the world get warmer, and so on. This could make the world get hotter very quickly, and we need to know more about it.

To help work out what might happen at the top of the world years from now we are trying to understand as much as we can about the way the ice goes away, the green things that grow outside and the tiny life forms that eat them.  When we know some more about this stuff we can put what we have learnt in a big thinking box (a bit like the one you are using to read this) and use it to tell us what will happen years from now.

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I'm brainstorming for another word besides bad stuff, to make the simplification more accurate. Too bad blanket doesn't make the top 1000. Green thing food? As in: Some green thing food in the air is good. It keeps us warm and water wet. It also feeds green things. Too much green thing food in the air is bad. (I realize this does not cover all greenhouse gasses, however).

Just an FYI: The word "computer" is apparently one of the 1,000 most common words. I found this out by using the Upgoer-Five text editor to describe my job (computer programming and support at a college). After using something akin to "thinking box", and "school for big kids", I automatically started typing "computer"...and it worked. And "college" did too, which really surprised me--I could see "computer" becoming one of the most common words, but not "college".