Global warming skeptics often fall back on the argument that the scientific case for global warming is all model predictions, nothing but simulation; they warn us that we need to wait for real data, "sound science." In A Vast Machine Paul Edwards has news for these skeptics: without models, there are no data. Today, no collection of signals or observations—even from satellites, which can "see" the whole planet with a single instrument—becomes global in time and space without passing through a series of data models.
The biosphere—the Earth’s thin layer of life—dates from nearly four billion years ago, when the first simple organisms appeared. Many species have exerted enormous influence on the biosphere’s character and productivity, but none has transformed the Earth in so many ways and on such a scale as Homo sapiens. In Harvesting the Biosphere, Vaclav Smil offers an interdisciplinary and quantitative account of human claims on the biosphere’s stores of living matter, from prehistory to the present day.
Sitting on the beach on a sunny summer day, we enjoy the steady advance and retreat of the waves. In the water, enthusiastic waders jump and shriek with pleasure when a wave hits them. But where do these waves come from? How are they formed and why do they break on the shore? In Waves, Fredric Raichlen traces the evolution of waves, from their generation in the deep ocean to their effects on the coast.
Geologists in the field climb hills and hang onto craggy outcrops; they put their fingers in sand and scratch, smell, and even taste rocks. Beginning in 2004, however, a team of geologists and other planetary scientists did field science in a dark room in Pasadena, exploring Mars from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) by means of the remotely operated Mars Exploration Rovers (MER).
Human history, as written traditionally, leaves out the important ecological and climate context of historical events. But the capability to integrate the history of human beings with the natural history of the Earth now exists, and we are finding that human-environmental systems are intimately linked in ways we are only beginning to appreciate. In Sustainability or Collapse?, researchers from a range of scholarly disciplines develop an integrated human and environmental history over millennial, centennial, and decadal time scales and make projections for the future.
The United States and other nations are facing large-scale risks at an accelerating pace. In 2005, three major hurricanes—Katrina, Rita, and Wilma—made landfall along the U.S. Gulf Coast within an eight-week period. The damage caused by these storms led to insurance reimbursements and federal disaster relief of more than $180 billion—a record sum. Today we are more vulnerable to catastrophic losses because of the increasing concentration of population and activities in high-risk coastal regions of the country.
More than half the globe is covered by visible clouds. Clouds control major parts of the Earth's energy balance, influencing both incoming shortwave solar radiation and outgoing longwave thermal radiation. Latent heating and cooling related to cloud processes modify atmospheric circulation, and, by modulating sea surface temperatures, clouds affect the oceanic circulation. Clouds are also an essential component of the global water cycle, on which all terrestrial life depends.
The most colossal environmental disturbance in human history is under way. Ever-rising levels of the potent greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) are altering the cycles of matter and life and interfering with the Earth's natural cooling process. Melting Arctic ice and mountain glaciers are just the first relatively mild symptoms of what will result from this disruption of the planetary energy balance. In CO2 Rising, scientist Tyler Volk explains the process at the heart of global warming and climate change: the global carbon cycle.
For much of the first half of the twentieth century, meteorology was more art than science, dependent on an individual forecaster's lifetime of local experience. In Weather by the Numbers, Kristine Harper tells the story of the transformation of meteorology from a "guessing science" into a sophisticated scientific discipline based on physics and mathematics.
Energy in Nature and Society is a systematic and exhaustive analysis of all the major energy sources, storages, flows, and conversions that have shaped the evolution of the biosphere and civilization. Vaclav Smil uses fundamental unifying metrics (most notably for power density and energy intensity) to provide an integrated framework for analyzing all segments of energetics (the study of energy flows and their transformations).