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50 years ago

Climate snapshots

Oceanographer reviews studies and discussions about global warming from a half century ago

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Icelander Ingvar Emilsson was the head of the University of São Paulo (USP) Oceanographic Institute in 1957 when he was interviewed by a reporter from the Diário da Noite newspaper regarding a piece of news on climate changes. At the age of 30, as a physical oceanographer researcher, he talked about the conclusions of an article by Hungarian physicist Joseph Kaplan, published in the United States, that foresaw the melting of  polar icecaps and the rising of  sea levels as a consequence of  the warming of the atmosphere caused by human activities.

This year, Pesquisa FAPESP found professor Emilsson coordinating the Oceanographic Platforms that run the research vessels of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (Unam – Universidad Nacional Autonoma de México). In response to questions e-mailed to him, the professor sent the text on the right – a snapshot of how people thought about climate issues 50 years ago.

Ingvar Emilsson is now 80. He came from a fishing village in eastern Iceland. He studied mathematics and physical geography and got his doctorate in physical oceanography at the universities of Oslo and Bergen, in Norway. At the time, he took part in marine research missions in the Arctic region. In 1953 he was invited to work for the USP Oceanographic Institute, where he was in charge of establishing the Physical Oceanography Section. In 1960, when the head of the institute, Wladimir Besnard, died, he was appointed to this position. About his time in Brazil, Emilsson said: “It’s a place where  my family and I spent some of the best years of our lives.”

In 1964 he started working for Unesco, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, as a physical oceanography expert, within the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). In 1969, he was put in charge of ocean education sciences at Unesco’s headquarters in Paris. In 1970 Unesco sent him to Mexico, where he was responsible for managing several technical service programs in the field of marine sciences.
Upon turning 60 in 1986 he left Unesco, but continued to work for the Unam Ocean Sciences and Limnology Institute, doing research and teaching post-graduate students. Since 1994, he has been working on the coordination of the Oceanographic Platforms that run the university’s research vessels, one in the Pacific and the other in the Gulf of Mexico.