Knowin’ in the wind

December 3, 2006

Next time you’re driving through the Mercer County stretch of Route 1, be prepared to sit up at attention and snap off a salute as you pass through the vicinity of the Princeton Forrestal campus. That’s because you’re near a crucial outpost in the ongoing battle to defend reason against the Republican war on science.

The Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (profiled today in the Star-Ledger), by its mere existence, is a thorn in the side of the Bush administration, and not simply because the chief executive would have a hard time saying its name without pausing at least once.

It’s the place where two scientists blew the whistle on the Bushies and their suppression of evidence on global climate change. It’s the place that developed a hurricane model that forecast the arrival of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, three days ahead of time. And it’s the place that will provide the data at the core of the next major United Nations report on global warming:

The researchers here have worked on experiments in global warming since 1967. For years, they waited for the rest of the world to catch on. Then the polar ice caps started melting and, suddenly, the state of the world’s winds, waves and weather was big news.

Now the Plainsboro lab, which operates under the umbrella of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is in the forefront of the debate over global warming — its scientists at odds with an administration that embraces quite a different opinion about climate change.

Tom Knutson, a soft-spoken researcher and world-famous hurricane modeler, says he has not had any problems since he complained publicly about not being allowed to be interviewed on television about possible connections between intensifying hurricanes and global warming.

“I spoke up when I needed to speak up, and that was it,” said Knutson, 46.

Keith Dixon, a research meteorologist at the lab, said that he, like others, has experienced some “frustrating hurdles” with NOAA officials on press releases publicizing work on global warming over the years.

“That in itself is reason for some concern, regardless of the underlying reason or reasons it occurs,” he said. To maneuver around the hurdles, Dixon and other scientists have posted summaries of their research directly on their Web site.

You can swoon all you like over a money-burning football program; for my money, these guys are the unsung gladiators and role models of New Jersey.

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