CC5.1. An Interview with Pieter Tans

This page features an interview with Pieter Tans, senior scientist at the Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL) of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Boulder, Colorado. Watch the Greeting from Pieter Tans and listen to any or all of the questions by clicking on the “Audio Players.” Then do one or more of the following:

  • Have a discussion with a group of classmates, 
    identifying the most important things you discovered in the interview.
  • Write an essay summarizing some essential points in the interview and 
    why you think they may be important from your own perspective.
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Greeting from Pieter Tans.

Tans currently serves as head of ESRL’s Carbon Cycle and Greenhouse Gases group, which comes up with the world’s most complete and extensive data on greenhouse gas concentrations. Although he originally studied theoretical solid state physics in the Netherlands, Pieter became intrigued by the question of climate change and its correlation to greenhouse gases. Realizing how important this question was, he decided to switch his career. Since then, he has devoted much of his life to studying the carbon cycle, climate change, and the human impact on environment. In 2010, Pieter was awarded the prestigious Roger Revelle Medal for his contributions in helping to create a global monitoring system and his unwavering dedication to science and the pursuit of knowledge. 

1. Are the procedures for air collection samples that John Chin used still accurate today?

2. What is the procedure that Boulder uses to collect air samples at Mauna Loa?

3. Some of the air samples taken at Mauna Loa are sent to Boulder, Colorado, the headquarters and main research laboratory. What kind of an analysis do the samples go through at the Boulder site?

4. Do the samples from other sites in Hawaii also go to Boulder for analysis?

5. The main system that monitors Carbon Dioxide at the Mauna Loa Observatory has changed through the years. Instead of heating the air sample that is taken, the system now uses infrared light. Can you explain this change and how it works?

6. Is Hilo the main site for data analysis of air samples?

7. How often does staff go up to the Mauna Loa Observatory?

8. What is the Scripps program?

9. There are other observatories around the world that operate under the Earth System Research Laboratory, such as Barrows, American Samoa, and South Pole. Can you give a quick description of these other observatories and explain their relationship with the Mauna Loa Observatory?

10. Who are the majority of visitors to Mauna Loa Observatory?

11. What goes on at these observatories? Do they work on the same projects as those at Mauna Loa Observatory?

12. What makes the Mauna Loa Observatory such a significant site among all the observatories?

13. Do you base your CO2 data on the air samples just from Mauna Loa or are there other sites around the world that are examined to create a cumulative average?

14. How does the CO2 data obtained from the Mauna Loa Observatory compare to the global average?

15. How does the data from the South Pole site compare to that of the Mauna Loa site?

16. What other projects do the staff at Boulder, Colorado work on?

17. What led you to the job that you have today? What influenced you to do research on green house gases and their environmental impacts?

18. How did you come to work at Boulder?

19. What do you feel is the most significant part of your job? Why is what you’re doing so important?

20. What do you think it will take to get people to take action in regards to greenhouse gases and global warming? Will it be difficult to mobilize people?

21. Given that much of the world is apathetic and how much the Earth is currently changing, do you feel that your job makes an important difference in bringing about more awareness to the effects of global warming?

22. Has your research made any political impacts?