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A part of history

Andrei Kirilenko began his academic career in mathematics in Russia. About 20 years and one class from a very influential mentor later, Kirilenko discussed his role in the most in-depth global warming report to date.

Andrei Kirilenko began his academic career in mathematics in Russia. About 20 years and one class from a very influential mentor later, Kirilenko discussed his role in the most in-depth global warming report to date.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the first installment of its new report Friday, about six years after its previous report was released. The groundbreaking document says that global warming is "very likely" caused by man, a minor syntax change that reflects the strongest expression of certainty to date.

The report is a review of about 20,000 scientific papers, said Kirilenko, an associate professor in the Earth System Science and Policy department at UND. He has used math-modeling techniques to study global warming ever since he took a math class at Moscow State University.

"My professor, he saw the light and went to the environmental studies to make a difference," he said, "and I followed him."

Kirilenko spent the past few years writing a section of the new report that focuses on "land-use" change, such as agriculture or city expansion, which is a leading cause of global warming. Other sections of the report focus on the history of climate change and what needs to be changed if the warming is to be stopped.

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"All of these sections are interconnected . . . the goal is that these scenarios will never be realized," Kirilenko said. "My section, it just didn't exist in the other reports, but scientists have found out about how important land-use change is."

The report provides grim statistics that predict a sea level rise of up to 2 feet by the end of the century. Such an increase would wipe many islands and coastal towns off the map and would alter weather patterns.

Kirilenko wrote a chapter on commercial forestry's environmental impact in the report. He became involved with the project after being approached by scientists several years ago before he came to UND.

He said the full report, which won't be released until later this year, is a major upgrade to its 2001 predecessor.

"The language in this report is much more affirmative and scientifically sound than in the past," he said. "Scientists were able to refine their projections and increase the probabilities."

A chart predicting global surface warming, for example, reduced its range dramatically. Kirilenko said this refinement of the predictions makes the report more accurate and more credible.

"And in some instances, the language is more on caution's side. They clarified some parts to avoid controversy," he said.

The report minimized prior claims that Greenland was disintegrating due to climate change, Kirilenko said, because scientific findings proving this "just aren't there yet."

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Still hopeful

The report, in many ways, provides a gloomy outlook for the world's future. Kirilenko, however, said it should not be viewed in this way.

"It's not meant to be prescriptive," he said when asked about what recommendations scientists are making to policymakers. "This report tries hard to be nonpolitical. It's only intended to be a review of the available scientific literature to let people know what we've found."

Kirilenko, like many of the authors involved in the three-year project, also maintains his optimism that mankind will recognize the environmental errors of its ways before it's too late.

"Over the years, I've noticed that people are starting to notice the problem. Twenty years ago, most people would have laughed at us if we talked about global warming," he said. "I see the signs of public pressure building up."

If the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change creates a fifth assessment report in the future, Kirilenko said he'd like to be involved with its production.

"I'm proud to be involved with this. It was very interesting work, but it was also very challenging," he said.

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