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Marine geology pioneer to deliver lecture

9 August 2004

Marine geology pioneer to deliver 2004 Antarctic lecture

Studying Antarctica is the key to understanding exactly why the earth is getting warmer, according to Professor Jim Kennett, who will present the 2004 ST Lee Lecture in Antarctic Studies at Victoria University on Thursday 12 August.

Professor Kennett, a graduate of Victoria University (BSc(Hons) 1962; PhD 1965), is a world leader in earth science systems and well-known for establishing the fields of marine geology and paleoceanography, the study of the oceans through time.

Now the Professor of Oceanography at the University of California at Santa Barbara, Professor Kennett is undertaking major research into Antarctica’s contribution to abrupt global warming events in the past and future. He has been brought to New Zealand by means of a generous endowment made by Dr Lee Seng Tee of Singapore to the Victoria University Foundation and is being hosted by Victoria’s Antarctic Research Centre (ARC).

ARC Director, Professor Peter Barrett, says Professor Kennett’s visit will enable Wellingtonians to gain an authoritative view on the science of global warming from a world expert with local origins.

"ARC is delighted to host Professor Kennett both as an alumnus and a scientist who is internationally renowned for his research on ocean history. Jim has, for many years, promoted the concept of Earth System Science and its application to studying climate change, a field that we too have been pursing in recent years.”

The Earth's climate has experienced a number of abrupt rises and falls in temperature during the past half million years. And, according to Professor Kennett, Antarctica has played a critical role in this climate behavior, both on long and relatively short-term time scales.

He believes the trigger for some of these events could be the warming of Antarctic waters, leading to the destabilisation of methane hydrate, a solid that is widespread in sediments beneath shallow sea floor around continental margins and forms naturally through methane rising from below.

This destabilisation would, in turn, release of massive volumes of methane - a highly potent greenhouse gas - into the atmosphere, resulting in extreme episodes of global warming that last hundreds to thousands of years. Professor Kennett says these abrupt warming events represent an “urgent challenge” to climate scientists. Such events could exaggerate the consequences of the continuing steady rise in atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations due to human activities and related global warming projections.

While he is in New Zealand, Professor Kennett will be meeting with the Ministry for Environment’s Climate Change Office and other Government officials to discuss his research. He will also be holding a lecture at the University of Canterbury on Monday 16 August, at 7.30pm.

Media are invited to attend the ST Lee Lecture in Antarctic Studies, by Professor Jim Kennett. Antarctica's Contribution to Past Abrupt Global Warming Events 5pm, Thursday 12 August, Lecture Theatre 1, Old Government Buildings, Victoria University, Pipitea Campus.

ENDS

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