EGU General Assembly 2020
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Talking about the physics of climate change, what we know and what extra could we do?

John Bruun1,2,3 and Audrey Alejandro4
John Bruun and Audrey Alejandro
  • 1College of Engineering, Mathematics and Physical Sciences, University of Exeter, United Kingdom (
  • 2College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter, Penryn Campus, Penryn, UK
  • 3Physics Communicators Group, Institute of Physics (IOP), UK and Ireland
  • 4Department of Methodology, London School of Economics, UK (

Our world’s climate is changing at an alarming rate. We as physicists and STEM practitioners have a responsibility to act by providing solutions to better understand how our planet works (IOP 2019-23 strategy, 2019). This requires rethinking our modes of social interaction and raises two communication challenges, so far neglected by our scientific community. Firstly, as climate change is a global effect, physicists are faced with the imperative to learn from and engage with each other beyond siloed specialisations in order to produce a coherent and integrated understanding of the earth system. Whilst a lot is known about the climate system (future warming implications are well established), there are also significant gaps in our knowledge as to how the physics of the climate system works, and in how society interprets this knowledge (IPCC, 2019). Better understanding of chaotic and turbulent dynamic phenomena, such as wave-based eigenmode phenomena, can enhance our predictive capacity. The changes to our climate are causing impacts which alter societal resilience. There is recognition of the need to develop sophisticated and complementary approaches: “research is still often ‘siloed’ in physical modelling, ecosystem modelling, social sciences etc.”, “Researchers who can cross boundaries between these disciplines will help accelerate research in the areas” (IPCC, 2019; 6-62). Secondly, we as physicists need to ensure that the knowledge we produce helps the general audience understanding of what is at stake, and informs policy-makers in making appropriate decisions to create more resilience (ranging from local community planning to global level governance). This raises a challenge in regards to communication towards non-scientific audiences. We have access to a large knowledge base due to the sophistication of how we now collect, simulate and derive insight about our earth system. How we use this knowledge, and socially recognise the actors in the global community forms the way we as a physics community prioritise and influence decision choices. Unfortunately, the lack of focus on knowledge communication within the physics community hinders our capacity to fulfil these responsibilities. In this discussion, we introduce the idea of “discourse position” and show how a greater acknowledgement of the discursive dimensions of research can help physicists produce more innovative knowledge, broader engagement and therefore enhance the community understanding of the physics of the earth system. Indeed, scientific knowledge is produced through discourse. Therefore, a better understanding of the use of discourses and knowledge is part of how we identify and apprehend their effects, and a necessary step to produce discourses and knowledge that help us to create a world consistent with our values and objectives (Alejandro, 2019). We explain here some social science concepts about scientific communication and discourse positions, to help inform the direction of current and future climate physics research.

IPCC, (2019): Summary for Policymakers.

IOP Strategy (2019), Unlocking the Future, Strategy 2019 – 2023.

Audrey Alejandro (2019), Western dominance in International Relations? The Internationalisation of IR in Brazil and India, London and New York: Routledge.

How to cite: Bruun, J. and Alejandro, A.: Talking about the physics of climate change, what we know and what extra could we do?, EGU General Assembly 2020, Online, 4–8 May 2020, EGU2020-11815,, 2020

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Display material version 1 – uploaded on 30 Apr 2020
  • CC1: Comment on EGU2020-11815, Jen Roberts, 07 May 2020

    Hello John,

    Thanks for participating in the live session on Monday. It was great to see so much interest & discussion around your display. I wanted to follow up. The Reflexive Framework for Analytical Collectives that you present seems applicable across science and disciplines in fact.

    How might these challenges that you are tackling (around climate change) translate beyond physics? i.e. are any of these communication challenges unique to (climate) physics -  do you think?

    Looking forward to discussions on this -


    • AC1: Reply to CC1, John Bruun, 07 May 2020

      Hi Jen 

      Yes this is a general framework so in principle it is going to be applicable in any setting. We have mapped it into the climate physics setting as it helps us to articulate this from the point of view of where specfic knowledge about physical phenomena and inventions are discovered or created. 

      I very much look forward to develop this conversation more in the following few days and onward. I also had a physics mechanism talk on weds and now am getting used to this egu chat system so will also add conversation points to the other themes and participants in this session (tomorow). 

      I'm at

      best John