Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

In the Firing Line of a Hot Debate

Kevin Trenberth

Kevin Trenberth was at the centre of controversy when his emails were leaked and taken out of context by climate change deniers.

By Stephen Luntz

Kevin Trenberth is finding the signal of global warming in extreme weather events while dodging the abuse of those who wish to silence him.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Kevin Trenberth once thought he would become a seismologist. If he had it would have made for a quieter life. Instead he applied his skills in fluid dynamics to meteorology, but found his words twisted to reverse their meaning in newspapers across the world and his inbox full of hate mail.

Trenberth did so well at high school maths in New Zealand that he was allowed to skip first year university and go straight to the second year of a science degree. He considers this an important factor in his choice of science over engineering, despite what he calls “the lack of a clear career path”. With honours in mechanics and fluid dynamics from the University of Canterbury, his postgraduate studies at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) involved “creating a very early climate model to study the phenomenon of sudden stratospheric warming”.

Sudden stratospheric warming events occur when there is a major breakdown in the polar westerlies, with warm air rising from the troposphere into the stratosphere. Most occur in the Arctic, but one has been observed in the south. The phenomenon was a puzzle at the time and Trenberth says he “made inroads” into understanding it.

Trenberth made his name in scientific circles with his work on the southern oscillation. “This was first discovered in the 1890s with variations in the Indian Monsoon, ” he says. Some attention...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.