DIAS highlights Ireland’s contribution to study of Earth Systems to mark 50th anniversary of Earth Day today

Archives show DIAS scientists drawing public attention to global warming as far back as 1940s

Scientists at Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (DIAS) were drawing attention to the consequences of global warming as far back as the 1940s. To mark Earth Day today (22.04.20), the Institute is highlighting the contribution its researchers have made to studying Earth Systems and climate change over the past eight decades.

Commenting today, Dr. Eucharia Meehan, CEO and Registrar of DIAS, said: “Today marks the 50thanniversary of Earth Day and, internationally, the organisers have chosen the theme of ‘climate action’ for this milestone year.

“At DIAS, 2020 is also a milestone year. It marks 80 years since the Institute was established by then Taoiseach Éamon de Valera, in 1940. So our work on studying how the Earth’s systems operate, and contributing to the tracking of climate change dates even further back than Earth Day itself – spanning the past eight decades.”

Archive newspaper reports

Newspaper archives reveal how DIAS scientists were drawing attention to unusual weather events and possible climate change as far back as the 1940s.

“We have an article from the Irish Press, for example, about a report published by DIAS in December 1949, describing the ‘phenomenal’ weather events of that year,” said Dr. Meehan.

“More significantly still, in November 1950, Professor Leo W. Pollak – the first head of the School of Cosmic Physics at DIAS – gave a public lecture entitled ‘Is the Earth Getting Warmer?’. The lecture received a lot of attention at the time, much of it centred on Professor Pollak’s assertion that Skerries could replace the ‘world-famous seaside resorts in the South of France’ if the trend toward warmer temperatures continued.

“His lecture also highlighted a warming-up of Northern latitudes over the previous 20 years, resulting in receding glaciers and changing patterns of fish migration. A subsequent report in the Irish Press focused on how fishermen and scientists were in agreement on the fact that temperatures were rising. According to the report, Blasket Island fishermen had spoken of ‘seeing strange fish which even the old men could not identify’, as well as a recent influx to the islands of birds that were ‘without names in local nature lore’.”

Contemporary Achievements

Also commenting today, Professor Chris Bean, Head of the Geophysics Section and Director of the School of Cosmic Physics at DIAS, said the Institute has played a lead role in building understanding of how the earth works as a whole, known as the Earth system, and the reasons why it is changing

“It is fascinating to see how far our understanding of the reasons for global warming has come,” he said. “One of the striking things about the archive newspaper reports, for example, is that the journalists are speculating as to why the changes being documented by DIAS scientists are happening. Now, thanks to scientific advancements, we know the reasons why.

“The Earth is a connected system where the solid Earth, the oceans, the atmosphere and life on Earth all interact in complex feedbacks. Understanding the component building blocks of that system helps us to understand the whole Earth system itself.”

Professor Bean highlighted some of the contemporary achievements of DIAS researchers in relation to Earth Systems and climate change, including:

  • Increasing our understanding of volcanoes: During 2016 and 2017, groundbreaking new insights into the working of volcanoes were published by DIAS geophysicists. Their work demonstrated that the upper two kilometres of the Earth’s crust is substantially weaker than previously thought, which has fundamental knock-on effects on eruption initiation and the nature of precursory seismicity. These findings could lead to improved eruption forecasting, which is particularly important because scientists expect glacier-covered volcanoes to erupt more frequently, as ice continues to melt in the years to come.
  • Developing a worldwide reference model for Earth scientists: In 2013, the publication of a global tomographic model established DIAS as a leader in seismic tomography of the Earth’s crust and upper mantle. The paper, now a citation classic, won its PhD student lead author a Student Author Award. Since then, the model has been used as a reference by Earth scientists all around the world. This is significant because what happens at depth in the Earth affects topography on the Earth’s surface, which modulates our climate.
  • Using the Earth’s gravity field, measured from satellites, to monitor water and ice in the Earth system. DIAS has been contributing to the research on this topic.
  • Exploring the deep: DIAS has developed key seismology and exploratory infrastructure for Ireland – on land and in the sea. The Irish National Seismic Network gives DIAS the capacity to monitor, detect and locate earthquakes and other seismic events anywhere in Ireland. In 2018, DIAS became the centre of marine seismology infrastructure and research, pioneering the deployment of a broadband ocean-bottom network across a vast area in the North Atlantic, including the development of a permanent ocean-bottom station offshore Ireland. 

“From deploying seismometers on the ocean floor to gaining new insights into how volcanoes work, our researchers have been at the forefront of studying the Earth for 80 years now,” Professor Bean said. “We are delighted to join scientific colleagues and grassroots activists around the world today to mark 50 years of Earth Day.”

Further information about DIAS and its work on Earth Systems is available at www.dias.ie

WCP Staff

WCP Staff Writer

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