Past climates, Volcanoes and Earth analogues: Soviet Articulations of Climate Futures

Speaker: Jonathan Oldfield # University of Birmingham

21st Jan 2019

15:30 - 17:00

CMB Staff Room (6th Floor)

Discussions around Soviet climate futures typically dwell upon the consequences of large-scale transformation schemes put forward by Soviet engineers and scientists such as the damming of the Bering Strait or the reversal of river systems in Siberia. However, these activities were joined by ongoing scientific work directed towards comprehending the Earth’s climate system and the related issue of climatic change over the medium- to long-term. The resultant initiatives embraced both physical and statistical approaches to the climate question in addition to the development of relatively simple heat balance equations and more complex general circulation models. Soviet science was also strongly linked to the use of natural analogues (and particularly palaeo-analogues) with respect to the international debate around climate futures that emerged during the 1970s and 1980s, and this strand of Soviet climate research was prominent in the early work of the IPCC. While mindful of the broad range of climate science at work in the Soviet Union, this paper focuses primarily on the use of natural analogues for comprehending possible climate change and articulating climate futures. The paper is divided into three main sections. First, it reflects generally upon the ability of natural analogues to inform our understanding of contemporary physical systems and with particular reference to debates around future climate change. Second, it places the Soviet use of natural analogues within the context of the broader climate change debate at play within the Soviet Union from the 1960s through to the end of the 1980s. As noted above, this debate embraced a range of approaches and disciplinary areas. Third, it examines the use by Soviet science of natural analogues for understanding the Earth’s climate system via such phenomena as volcanic eruptions, large-scale historical natural disasters, Earth analogues and past climates. The paper concludes by suggesting that Soviet use of natural analogues was indicative of concerted scientific efforts to further understanding of the Earth’s climate system and its future state. Their use also encouraged an appreciation of the possibility of marked future changes in the Earth’s climate, whether natural or anthropogenic in origin, with potentially challenging consequences for humankind.