The 2009 Clarke Memorial Lecture

"Climate change through the lens of the geological record: the example of sea level"

Professor Kurt Lambeck, AO FAA FRS
Distinguished Professor of Geophysics, Australian National University
President of the Australian Academy of Science

Friday 30 October 2009 at 5.30 pm
Eastern Avenue Auditorium, University of Sydney

The 2009 Clarke Memorial Lecture is presented in conjunction with The University of Sydney and The Geological Society of Australia

Climate change has been with the planet since the time of the formation of the oceans and atmosphere and is recorded, albeit imperfectly, in the geological record. One of these records is the change in sea level through time, a complex variable that contains implicit information not only on climate but also on the tectonic and geological evolution of the planet. He will address aspects of the underpinning science and what we can learn from it, focussing on the best-known part of the record, that for the last glacial cycle.

The modern instrumental record is much more precise and has higher resolution but will also contain in addition to the 'natural' variability any new signals that may result from human impact on climate. The challenge is to separate these 'natural' and 'anthropogenic' forcings if forecasts of future change are to be meaningful.

The problems encountered are similar to all other indicators of climate change – of separating natural and human forcing from instrumental and geological or historical records when the length of the latter are about the same as the time that human impacts may have been effective.

Professor Lambeck will use the sea level record as an illustration of many of the issues that need to be understood for a meaningful interpretation of the evidence. In so doing he will raise the role of the IPCC and where the IPCC findings are tracking in 2009; and how the public debate on climate change appears to be becoming increasingly confused while the underpinning science is becoming more robust.

The speaker's presentation can be found here: Kurt Lambeck's Clarke Lecture (2.9 MB PDF).

Professor Lambeck's research interests range through the disciplines of geophysics, geodesy and geology with a focus on the deformations of the Earth on intermediate and long time scales and on the interactions between surface processes and the solid earth.

Past research areas have included the determination of the Earth's gravity field from satellite tracking data, the tidal deformations and rotational motion of the Earth, the evolution of the Earth-Moon orbital system, and lithospheric and crustal deformation processes. His recent research work has focused on aspects of sea level change and the history of the Earth's ice sheets during past glacial cycles, including field and laboratory work and numerical modelling.


Professor Lambeck has been at the Australian National University since 1977, including ten years as Director of the Research School of Earth Sciences. Before that he was at the University of Paris and the French Space Agency (1970-1977), and at the Harvard-Smithsonian observatory (1967-1970). His doctorate is from Oxford (1967) and his first degree from the University of New South Wales (1963). He was elected to the Australian Academy of Science in 1984 and became its President in 2006.

He is a Fellow of the Royal Society (1994), and a foreign member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (1993), the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters (1994), Academia Europaea (1999), the Académie des Sciences, Institut de France (2005), and the US National Academy of Sciences (2009)

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