James E. Hansen (1941- ) is an American physicist known for his research in the field of climatology and his testimony on climate change to congressional committees in the 1980s that helped raise broad awareness of the climate change issue. Hansen heads the NASA Institute for Space Studies in New York City, which is a division of Goddard Space Flight Center's (Greenbelt, MD), Earth Sciences Directorate. He is currently an adjunct professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University, and also serves as Al Gore's science advisor.
Hansen was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1996 and he received the Heinz Environment Award for his research on global warming in 2001. He was listed as one of Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People in the Time 100 (2006) list and, in 2007, he was awarded the Dan David Prize. On April 5, 2008, Hansen received the PNC Bank Common Wealth Award of Distinguished Service for his outstanding achievements in science.
Hansen was trained in physics and astronomy in the space science program of Dr. James Van Allen at the University of Iowa. His early research on the properties of clouds of Venus led to their identification as sulfuric acid. Since the late 1970s, he has worked on studies and computer simulations of the Earth's climate, for the purpose of understanding the human impact on global climate
In 1981 Hansen and a team of scientists at Goddard stated that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would lead to global warming sooner than previously predicted. While other climatologists had already predicted that a trend would be apparent by 2020, Hansen predicted that the change was already occurring and that there would be record high temperatures as early as 1990. He also predicted that it would be difficult to convince politicians and the public to react.
In 2003 Hansen argued that human-caused forces on the climate are now greater than natural ones, and that this, over a long time period, can cause large climate changes. He further states that a lower limit on “dangerous anthropogenic interference” is set by the stability of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. His view on actions to mitigate climate change is that "halting global warming requires urgent, unprecedented international cooperation, but the needed actions are feasible and have additional benefits for human health, agriculture and the environment."
Hansen has been a critic of both the Clinton and current Bush Administration's stances on climate change. In 2005 and 2006, Hansen claimed in interviews with the Washington Post and the New York Times that NASA administrators have tried to influence his public statements about the causes of climate change. Hansen claims that NASA public relations staff were ordered to review his public statements and interviews after a December 2005 lecture at the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, claims which were denied by NASA administrator Michael Griffin.
Hansen has also appeared on 60 Minutes stating that the White House edited climate-related press releases reported by federal agencies to make global warming seem less threatening. He claimed that he was unable to speak "freely", without the backlash of other government officials. "In my more than three decades in the government I've never witnessed such restrictions on the ability of scientists to communicate with the public.” Spokespersons for the federal agencies involved denied that Hansen was pressured to alter his public remarks on climate change.
- NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies
- James E. Hansen Timeline at the Cooperative Research History Commons
- NASA GISS Biography
- James E. Hansen Homepage
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