Note: Over the last two weeks, I’ve conducted an interview with a mentor of mine, Bill Patzert, a meterologist and oceanographer with JPL. I’ve never met Bill, and only talked to him a few times on the phone, and I don’t even remember why exactly I first contacted him years ago, but he’s been hugely helpful and has become a real friend nonetheless.
I was thrilled when he agreed to be interviewed at length by me for Grist. Please check it out. If you have any interest in the climate of the Pacific Coast and the Southwest, I think you’ll be glad you did. Here we go…
To a layperson, the world of climatology can be an intimidatingly foreign land. Denizens of this world, known as scientists, speak a daunting, often-impenetrable blend of acronyms (AGW, IPCC, WPAC, ENSO), Latinisms (anomalies, coterminous, precipitation deficits) and math (confidence limits, regression-based, boundary knots).
Besides the sheer complexity of global climate systems, the dreariness of this jargon may be one of the big reasons the general public has been slow to awaken to the seriousness of the threat of global warming. In fact, a conference on climate change organized by Yale last year called for "training scientists to
speak in language that is understandable to different
One scientist who needs no such training is Bill Patzert, an oceanographer and meteorologist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, an institution closely linked to NASA. In the world of science, Patzert is known for his work matching TOPEX satellite weather data to the actual behavior of the Pacific Ocean and its weather systems, especially El Nino and its less-well-known counterpart La Nina. In the media world he is a go-to guy for comments on weather patterns for the LA Times, the San Diego Union-Tribune, and CBS News, among many others.
Patzert, who has briskly guided my reporting on climate questions for years, generously agreed to an extended email interview for Grist. Since he has become known for his work with the media, and even won medals for his outreach efforts, I thought I’d begin with a question about why the rhetoric of climatology is so turgid and difficult. His answer was more than I bargained for: