Episode 9: Bette Otto-Bliesner

Credit: UCAR, used by permission.

Bette Otto-Bliesner from the National Center for Atmospheric Research has shaped the field of paleoclimate modeling for decades and I’d been keen to talk with her ever since I started the podcast.

My process for inviting people to be on the podcast isn’t totally random. Usually I find the person’s work to be particularly compelling,  we might be in the same location, or I’m trying to find a good balance of tropics.

In this case, over the past couple of years, I ran into Bette at a meeting in Belgium and began to realize that she’s a leading force in the paleoclimate community – both in terms of modeling and data-model comparisons. Bette is also heavily involved in the organizational/planning side of paleoclimate research, via entities like PAGES and PMIP. Who better for a overview on past progress and ongoing challenges.

Bette’s scope of work is huge. The Cretaceous, the Last Glacial Maximum, the Last Interglacial, the mid-Pliocene Warm Period, the African Humid Period … all that and mechanisms too! Bette and her collaborators have explored how changes in, for example, CO2, insolation, vegetation, and ocean circulation affected past climate.

We talked about basic processes and big questions. What does it mean to have sea level 10-50 m above present in the mid-Pliocene? What are models still missing in simulations of the African Humid Period? Will isotope-enabled GCMs finally provide a one-to-one comparison between data and models?

Talking with Bette was illuminating, not only because she knows about the nuts and bolts of climate modeling, but because she explains in clear terms how models have progressed over the past few decades, how models and data can constrain each other, and to what degree paleoclimate modeling can increase our confidence in simulations of future climate.

And Better was in the Dirty Dozen. Just not the one with Lee Marvin.

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