Understanding and predicting global climate change is arguably the most complex scientific challenge ever faced by mankind. To address this issue, MIT's School of Science launched the Lorenz Center, a new climate think tank devoted to fundamental inquiry. The Center brings a new approach to climate science and is endorsed by all of MIT's climate scientists. This initiative is named after the late Edward N. Lorenz, the founder of modern chaos theory and an early contributor to theoretical climate science.
We've observed that many very talented science students are turned off by the existing state of climate science, which they perceive as intellectually uninteresting exercises in computer modeling. Through the Center's approach, we encourage scientists to take different tacks from the business-as-usual approach, and enable the best minds in climate science to develop creative approaches, unsaddled by the pressing practical demands of climate forecasting.
To better attract the best scientists to the field, we must break the intellectual and institutional culture that presently dominates climate science. The Center provides a small number of exceptional scientists (in physics, applied mathematics, chemistry, biology, and earth science) with the resources to follow innovative high-risk paths toward a fundamental understanding of the mechanisms that influence Earth's climate. Emphasis is on developing new theory, and equally important, reconciling it with observations.
The Center does so by targeting fundamental questions. Examples include:
- What causes the deep meridional overturning of the ocean?
- What accounts for the apparent long-term stability of biogeochemical cycles?
- Why do CO2 and temperature covary as they do in glacial cycles?
- Are two or more statistically stable climate states possible for the same climate forcing?
Located on the top floor of the MIT Green Building, the Center complements other climate-related organizations at MIT and offers fellowships, runs an annual public lecture series at the New England Aquarium, and hosts workshops that attract the attention and involvement of the international scientific community.
Private donations for this type of work are crucial because the Lorenz Center's emphasis on innovative, high-risk, fundamental research makes it difficult to procure conventional government funding.