This year’s Erice International Seminar was the 42nd. All recipients received an interesting book of memoirs of the seminars (edited W. Barletta and H. Wegener) from which I’ve scanned two interesting pictures (the pictures in the book were mostly recovered by Bill Barletta, an MIT physicist).
The first shows Paul Dirac on the right talking to Edward Teller on the left at the first Erice Seminar. A stylized logo of the Dirac equation adorns the front of the speaker’s platform. Every Erice conference attendee receives two articles by Antonino Zichichi, a very prominent physicist himself and the organizer of the seminars, explaining why he thinks that Dirac (ranked 8th all-time in a Physics Today poll) made more important contributions to modern physics than Einstein’s (ranked 1st). (The argument is that Dirac’s postulation of antimatter has been the ongoing project of modern physics, whereas Einstein’s discoveries, notwithstanding their fame, haven’t led to important new work – BTW I do not hold any view on this “issue”.)
The second picture below is from the Cold War period during Reagan’s administration while the Star Wars project was in full swing and animosity between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. had intensified. Notwithstanding this animosity and mutual suspicion, the most eminent nuclear scientists of the day met one another at the Erice Seminar. Here is Edward Teller, then Reagan’s science adviser, on the left, talking to Evgeny Velikhov, then chief science adviser in the U.S.S.R. It’s interesting that, at the height of the Reagan Cold War, Russian and American scientists could meet; in contrast, James Hansen and his disciples have a more jihadist approach, Hansen setting the example by refusing to appear on panels with John Christy despite the latter’s extensive publication record.
Erice is a very picturesque medieval town on a hill (about 1000 feet high) overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea. Original facades and structures have been mostly preserved. Streets are cobblestoned; lanes are narrow. Cars are left on the outskirts of the town and you walk everywhere. It’s supported by tourist trade and there are numerous excellent restaurants.
Days at the Erice seminar are about 16 hours long. A typical day for me was pretty much like this:
Get up at 8 or so, Italian breakfast at 8.30: coffee, good salami-and-cheese on a good panini; fresh local fruit grapes, pears, peaches. Breakfast was at the Eugene Wigner Bldg – buildings are named after famous physicists who were active at Erice seminars in the early going. This was a refitted medieval/16th century cloister. Breakfast was in a common area and there was always someone to talk to.
9:30 Morning sessions at the Paul Dirac lecture hall. This is a modern lecture hall in another refitted medieval/16th century building. Morning sessions go till 1.30 or 2. Sessions cover a wide variety of topics. The seminars originated in concerns over nuclear war, but have since diversified to cover a gamut of “planetary emergencies” – a phrase which covers a wide range of issues, ranging from energy supply, nuclear proliferation, cyber-security, vector-borne disease and, yes, climate, tied together by the general concept that there was a connection to human well-being. Above the lecture hall is a coffee break area with a spectacular view over the Tyrrhenian Sea. There would be one coffee break per session – again, always someone to talk to.
2 or so – Lunch. We could choose from a list of about 7 restaurants, who provided 3-course meals: a pasta course, a fish course and fruit. Beer/wine was comped. It took all my will power not to have wine or beer at lunch (both for weight and afternoon snoozing reasons) and for the most part, I resisted. I also resolved to eat only about 50% of the available portions – I’ve worked very hard to lose weight and I could see myself giving most of it back in a week. Again, I pretty much stuck to my resolution.
4 to 7/7.30 – Afternoon sessions were pretty much like morning sessions.
7.30 – Walk back to our room, shower and change for dinner. Meet up with my wife who’d been on spouse activities for the day. (Spouses are very well-treated and this is one of the strengths of the conference. My wife liked many of the other wives. They visited archaeological sites, the beach, shops etc. and were busy. ) Try to nap for 15 minutes.
8.30- 12.30 – Dinner. There was a 5 or 6-course banquets every night. Pre-dinner wine and hors-d’oeuvres. Then a pasta course, a fish course, a dessert course, a cheese course, plus good Italian bread – bread being a weakness of mine. Plentiful wine. Again, I stuck to 50% portions and still feared the scales when I got home. I also drank lots of water at dinner as sort of a wine extender, to avoid paying too severe a price. Tables were round tables seating 12 or so and the dinners offered a chance to socialize. As anywhere else, people tend to fall into seating patterns. This year, there were some climate people that I was anxious to talk to, so I didn’t mix quite as much as I did last year. Also, the wives had their own groupings, which didn’t necessarily have anything to do with their husbands’ patterns and this helps the mixing process. On most nights, there was after-dinner entertainment from Sicilian folk singing-dancing groups. My wife tried to get a picture of Richard Lindzen folk dancing – confident that Gavin Schmidt and realclimate would pay top dollar for this piece of papparazzi enterprise, but the picture didn’t turn out.
12.30- 2+ – the Marsala Room. I regret to say that we didn’t go to the Marsala room. I’ve closed down a few bars in my day and, in the next morning’s light, seldom reflected that this was a good decision.
There were about 10 presentations directly related to the sort of climate science issues covered here. There were many presentations on energy supply and such, which touched on science issues, but which stretch a bit outside the scope of issues covered here, though I find them interesting as a citizen and it’s stimulating to be exposed to issues that do not arise in more specialized forums.
In my preview of the Erice Seminar, I posted up the schedule of the Water Cycle session. Albert Arking hurt his back and was unable to attend. The presentations of Lindzen, Kininmonth, Paltridge and Choi (Lindzen’s post-doc) were all interesting – and I’ll discuss them separately.
Other climate science -related presentations which I’ll allude to only briefly right now were ):
– John Haynes of NASA outlined the various NASA satellites including a preview of satellites scheduled for launching in the next few years. His own interests were directed towards using satellites for public health information.
– Judith Pap of U of Maryland surveyed solar irradiance issues, reviewing the ACRIM/PMOD issues and the problems in establishing an irradiance time series, and previewing planned future solar irradiance satellites.
– Chris Essex of U of Western Ontario discussed fundamental conceptual problems with GCMs relying on parameterization as a sort of pseudo-physics (my label, but one that Essex would probably not disagree with.) Zichichi is very supportive of this line of argument. (As I’ve observed before, I don’t understand why AGW expositions don’t spend far more effort on the impact of doubled CO2 using non-GCM analyses at a level more advanced than grade school – analyses that would shed insight into processes as well as results.) Chris showed some very pretty ‘solargraphs’ that I’ll discuss some day.
– Kyle Swanson of Wisconsin discussed a multivariate method for extracting trend information related to principal components, but a little different. This is scheduled for publication and I’ll keep an eye on this.
– Mike MacCracken, a long-time IPCC participant, talked about greenhouse gas emission scenarios. I chatted with him about my ongoing frustration with the apparent lack of a systematic A-toB presentation of how doubled CO2 leads to 3 deg C; he sent me a recent paper outlining his attempt to provide such an exposition. I haven’t had a chance to review it yet, but will do so.
– Yuan Daoxian, in a session on China, made an interesting presentation on the uptake of atmospheric CO2 by karsts (a geological formation), suggesting that this sort of uptake may account for a portion of the ‘missing’ CO2 uptake. Herman Shugart of U of Virginia, in a different session, reviewed CO2 balances, emphasizing the significant size of the unaccounted-for CO2 sink and urging that this be pinned down; BTW his own analyses of forest CO2 uptake did not suggest that a forest in a “steady-state” mode was a CO2 sink.
I’ll report on many of these papers. Readers absorbed in climate issues need to realize that climate, while an important and topical issue, is only one of the issues covered at this seminar. In that respect, it’s a lot different than going to AGU or EGU, where you are overwhelmed with the sheer number of climate papers.
In addition, I certainly had a far more “quality” socialization than at AGU. Of names that readers know, I had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with Lindzen, Kininmonth and Paltridge, none of whom I’d ever had an opportunity to do more than shake hands with before, though I’ve corresponded with them from time to time and they’re all familiar with CA.
More to come on this.
As I mentioned before, we spent a couple of days in Siracusa on the east coast of Sicily before the conference and a few days in Florence after the conference. We got home yesterday. While I suspect that Toronto would not necessarily collapse as a city if it’s weather were more like Cleveland or Columbus, nonetheless I’m a Canadian and am happy to return to some cooler weather.