Former NASA chief scientist: “We’re effectively taking a sledgehammer to the climate system”

“You really have to work to not believe it,” Dr. Waleed Abdalati says of anthropomorphic climate disruption (ACD, also known as climate change). He should know: More than 20 years ago, Abdalati began observing ACD firsthand in Greenland, as a scientist working on his doctoral thesis, for which he created an algorithm used to remotely detect changes in the spatial extent of the Greenland ice sheet experiencing melt each year.

Abdalati, previously NASA’s chief scientist,is now an associate professor of geography, director of the Earth Science and Observation Center, and a fellow of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado in Boulder. His research interests are in the use of satellite and airborne remote sensing techniques, integrated with in situ observations and modeling, to understand how and why the earth’s ice cover is changing.

In particular, his research focuses on the contributions of ice sheets and high-latitude glaciers to sea level rise, and their relationship to the changing climate. Toward that end, he has been heavily involved in the development of NASA’s Ice Cloud and land Elevation Satellite (ICESat) and its successor, ICESat-II, (the benchmark Earth Observing System mission for measuring ice sheet mass balance, cloud and aerosol heights, as well as land topography and vegetation characteristics) and has worked on cryospheric applications of various other satellites and aircraft instruments. Most of his research is supported by NASA, where he worked as a scientist for 12 years before joining the department of geography at the University of Colorado.

During his tenure at NASA, Abdalati was appointed to the post of chief scientist, where he advised Administrator Charles Bolden on NASA science programs and strategic planning. He also served NASA as head of cryospheric sciences at Goddard Space Flight Center between January 2004 and June 2008, was awarded the NASA Office of Earth Science Award three times, the NASA Exceptional Service Medal and the NASA Space Systems Award, among other recognitions.

Truthout interviewed Abdalati about what he saw while working on the Greenland ice sheet during the 1990s, his observations about the indisputable evidence of the reality of ACD, and the urgent need for an honest, society-wide conversation about the future that we are facing.

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On Sept 19, 2023 ahead of the Climate Ambition Summit in New York City, climate activists gathered for a rally and civil disobedience outside Bank of America Tower in Midtown Manhattan as part of the March to End Fossil Fuels wave of actions resulting in multiple arrests. Activists demand Bank of America to “Defund Climate Chaos and Defend Human Rights” Photo: Erik McGregor (CC BY-NC 2.0 Deed)

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Let’s Save Each Other

Illustration by Stephanie McMillan. Used with permission