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Richard Lindzen

Richard S. Lindzen
Born (1940-02-08) 8 February 1940
Webster, Massachusetts
Residence United States
Nationality American
Fields Atmospheric physics
Institutions Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Alma mater Harvard University
Thesis Radiative and photochemical processes in strato- and mesospheric dynamics (1965)
Doctoral advisor Richard M. Goody
Notable students Siu-shung Hong, John Boyd, Edwin K. Schneider, Jeffrey M. Forbes, Ka-Kit Tung, Daniel Kirk-Davidoff, Christopher Snyder, Gerard Roe
Known for Dynamic Meteorology, Atmospheric tides, Ozone photochemistry, quasi-biennial oscillation, Iris hypothesis
Notable awards NCAR Outstanding Publication Award (1967), AMS Meisinger Award (1968), AGU Macelwane Award (1969), Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship (1970), AMS Charney Award (1985), Member of the NAS
Spouse Nadine Lindzen
Children Two sons[1]

Richard Siegmund Lindzen (born February 8, 1940) is an American atmospheric physicist known for his work in the dynamics of the middle atmosphere, atmospheric tides, and ozone photochemistry. He has published more than 200 scientific papers and books. From 1983[1] until his retirement in 2013, he was Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.[2] He was a lead author of Chapter 7, "Physical Climate Processes and Feedbacks," of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Third Assessment Report on climate change. He has criticized the scientific consensus about climate change[3] and what he has called "climate alarmism."[4]


  • Early life and education 1
  • Career 2
  • Early work (1964–1972) 3
    • Ozone photochemistry 3.1
    • Atmospheric tides 3.2
    • Quasi-biennial oscillation 3.3
    • Superrotation of Venus 3.4
  • Middle period (1972–1990) 4
  • Recent work (1990–present) 5
    • Climate sensitivity 5.1
    • NAS panel 5.2
    • IPCC activities 5.3
    • Kyoto Accord 5.4
    • Cato Institute 5.5
  • Views on climate change 6
    • Third-party characterizations of Lindzen 6.1
  • Awards and honors 7
  • Personal life 8
  • See also 9
  • Selected publications 10
  • Notes 11
  • References 12
  • Bibliography 13
  • External links 14

Early life and education

Lindzen was born on February 8, 1940 in Webster, Massachusetts.[1] His father, a shoemaker, had fled Hitler's Germany with his mother. He moved to the Bronx soon after his birth and grew up in a Jewish household in a predominantly Catholic neighborhood there.[3] Lindzen attended the Bronx High School of Science (winning Regents' and National Merit Scholarships), Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute,and Harvard University.[5] From Harvard, he received an A.B. in physics in 1960, followed by an S.M. in applied mathematics in 1961 and a Ph.D. in applied mathematics in 1964. His doctoral thesis, Radiative and photochemical processes in strato- and mesospheric dynamics,[6] concerned the interactions of ozone photochemistry, radiative transfer, and dynamics in the middle atmosphere.


Lindzen has published papers on Hadley circulation, monsoon meteorology, planetary atmospheres, hydrodynamic instability, mid-latitude weather, global heat transport, the water cycle, ice ages and seasonal atmospheric effects. His main contribution to the academic literature on anthropogenic climate change is his proposal of the iris hypothesis in 2001, with co-authors Ming-Dah Chou and Arthur Y. Hou.[7][8] He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the Science, Health, and Economic Advisory Council at the Annapolis Center for Science-Based Public Policy. Educated at Harvard University (Ph.D., '64, S.M., '61, A.B., '60), he moved to MIT in 1983, prior to which he held positions at the University of Washington (1964–65), Institute for Theoretical Meteorology, University of Oslo (1965–67), National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) (1966–67), University of Chicago (1968–72) and Harvard University (1972–83). He also briefly held a position of Visiting Lecturer at UCLA in 1967.[9] As of January 2010, his publications list included 230 papers and articles published between 1965 and 2008, with five in process for 2009. He is the author of a standard textbook on atmospheric dynamics, and co-authored the monograph Atmospheric Tides with Sydney Chapman.[10]

He was Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Meteorology at MIT from 1983,[1] until his retirement which was reported in the Spring 2013 newsletter of MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences (EAPS).[2] On 27 December 2013 the Cato Institute announced that he is a Distinguished Senior Fellow in their Center for the Study of Science.[11]

Early work (1964–1972)

Lindzen's early work was concerned with ozone photochemistry, the aerodynamics of the middle atmosphere, the theory of atmospheric tides, and planetary waves. His work in these areas led him to a number of fundamental mathematical and scientific discoveries, including the discovery of negative equivalent depths in classical tidal theory, explanations for both the quasi-biennial oscillation of the Earth's stratosphere and the four-day period of the superrotation of the Venus atmosphere above the cloud top.

Ozone photochemistry

His Ph.D. thesis of 1964 concerned the interactions of ozone photochemistry, radiative transfer and the dynamics of the middle atmosphere. This formed the basis of his seminal Radiative and Photochemical Processes in Mesospheric Dynamics that was published in four parts in the Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences between 1965 and 1966.[12][13][14][15][16] The first of these, Part I: Models for Radiative and Photochemical Processes, was co-authored with his Harvard colleague and former Ph.D. thesis advisor, Richard M. Goody, who is well known for his 1964 textbook Atmospheric Radiation.[17] The Lindzen and Goody (1965) study has been widely cited as foundational in the exact modeling of middle atmosphere ozone photochemistry. This work was extended in 1973 to include the effects of nitrogen and hydrogen reactions with his former Ph.D. student, Donna Blake, in Effect of photochemical models on calculated equilibria and cooling rates in the stratosphere.[18]

Lindzen's work on ozone photochemistry has been important in studies that look at the effects that anthropogenic ozone depletion will have on climate.[19]

Atmospheric tides

Since the time of Laplace (1799),[20] scientists had been puzzled as to why pressure variations measured at the Earth's surface associated with the semi-diurnal solar tide dominate those of the diurnal tide in amplitude, when intuitively one would expect the diurnal (daily) passage of the sun to dominate. Lord Kelvin (1882) had proposed the so-called "resonance" theory, wherein the semi-diurnal tide would be "selected" over the diurnal oscillation if the atmosphere was somehow able to oscillate freely at a period of very close to 12 hours, in the same way that overtones are selected on a vibrating string. By the second half of the twentieth century, however, observations had failed to confirm this hypothesis, and an alternative hypothesis was proposed that something must instead suppress the diurnal tide. In 1961, Manfred Siebert suggested that absorption of solar insolation by tropospheric water vapour might account for the reduction of the diurnal tide.[21] However, he failed to include a role for stratospheric ozone. This was rectified in 1963 by the Australian physicist Stuart Thomas Butler and his student K.A. Small who showed that stratospheric ozone absorbs an even greater part of the solar insolation.[22]

Nevertheless, the predictions of classical tidal theory still did not agree with observations. It was Lindzen, in his 1966 paper, On the theory of the diurnal tide,[23] who showed that the solution set of Hough functions given by Bernard Haurwitz[24] to Laplace's tidal equation was incomplete: modes with negative equivalent depths had been omitted.[1] Lindzen went on to calculate the thermal response of the diurnal tide to ozone and water vapor absorption in detail and showed that when his theoretical developments were included, the surface pressure oscillation was predicted with approximately the magnitude and phase observed, as were most of the features of the diurnal wind oscillations in the mesosphere.[26] In 1967, along with his NCAR colleague, Douglas D. McKenzie, Lindzen extended the theory to include a term for Newtonian cooling due to emission of infrared radiation by carbon dioxide in the stratosphere along with ozone photochemical processes,[27] and then in 1968 he showed that the theory also predicted that the semi-diurnal oscillation would be insensitive to variations in the temperature profile, which is why it is observed so much more strongly and regularly at the surface.[28]

While holding the position of Research Scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, CO Lindzen was noticed and befriended by Professor Sydney Chapman, who had contributed to the theory of atmospheric tides in a number of papers from the 1920s through to the 1940s. This led to their joint publication in 1969 of a 186-page monograph (republished in 1970 as a book) Atmospheric Tides.[29][30]

Quasi-biennial oscillation

Although it wasn't realized at the time, the quasi-biennial oscillation (QBO) was observed during the 1883 eruption of Krakatoa, when the ash from the volcano was transported around the globe from east to west by stratospheric winds in about two weeks. These winds became known as the "Krakatoa easterlies". It was observed again in 1908, by the German meteorologist Arthur Berson, who saw that winds blow from the west at 15 km (9.32 mi) altitude in tropical Africa from his balloon experiments. These became known as the "Berson westerlies". However, it was not until the early 1960s that the ~ 26-month cycle of the QBO was first described, independently by Richard J. Reed in 1960 and Veryhard and Ebdon in 1961.

Lindzen recalls his discovery of the mechanism underlying the QBO in the semi-autobiographical review article, On the development of the theory of the QBO.[31] His interest in the phenomenon began in 1961 when his Ph.D. advisor, Richard M. Goody, speculated that the 26 month relaxation time for stratospheric ozone at 25 km (15.53 mi) in the tropics might somehow be related to the 26-month period of the QBO, and suggested investigation of this idea as a thesis topic. In fact, Lindzen's, Radiative and photochemical processes in mesospheric dynamics, Part II: Vertical propagation of long period disturbances at the equator, documented the failure of this attempt to explain the QBO.[32]

Lindzen's work on atmospheric tides led him to the study of planetary waves and the general circulation of atmospheres. By 1967, he had contributed a number of papers on the theory of waves in the middle atmosphere. In Planetary waves on beta planes, he developed a beta plane approximation for simplifying the equations of classical tidal theory, whilst at the same time developing planetary wave relations. He noticed from his equations that eastward-traveling waves (known as Rossby waves since their discovery in 1939 by Carl-Gustav Rossby) and westward-traveling waves (which Lindzen himself helped in establishing as "atmospheric Kelvin waves") with periods less than five days were "vertically trapped." At the same time, an important paper by Booker and Bretherton appeared, which Lindzen read with great interest. Booker and Bretherton showed that vertically propagating gravity waves were completely absorbed at a critical level.[33]

In his 1968 paper with James R. Holton, A theory of the quasi-biennial oscillation,[34] Lindzen presented his theory of the QBO after testing it in a two-dimensional (2-D) numerical model that had been developed by Holton and John M. Wallace.[35] They showed that the QBO could be driven by vertically propagating gravity waves with phase speeds in both westward and eastward directions and that the oscillation arose through a mechanism involving a two-way feedback between the waves and the mean flow. It was a bold conjecture, given that there was very little observational evidence available to either confirm or confute the hypothesis. In particular, there was still no observational evidence of the westward-traveling "Kelvin" waves; Lindzen postulated their existence theoretically.[2]

In the years following the publication of Lindzen and Holton (1968), more observational evidence became available, and Lindzen's fundamental insight into the mechanism driving the QBO was confirmed. However, the theory of interaction via critical level absorption was found to be incomplete and was modified to include the importance of attenuation due to radiative cooling. The revised theory was published in the Holton and Lindzen (1972) paper, An updated theory for the quasibiennial cycle of the tropical stratosphere.[37]

Superrotation of Venus

Since the 1960s a puzzling phenomenon has been observed in the atmosphere of Venus whereat the atmosphere above the cloud base is seen to travel around the planet about 50 times faster than the rotation of the planet surface, or in only four to five Earth-days.[38] In 1974 a theory was proposed by Stephen B. Fels and Lindzen to explain this so-called "superrotation" which held that the rotation is driven by the thermal atmospheric tide.[39] An alternative theory was proposed by Peter J. Gierasch in the following year which held instead that the meridional (Hadley) circulation may transport the momentum by eddy-mixing.[40] The actual cause of this phenomenon continues to be debated in the literature, with GCM experiments suggesting that both the Fels/Lindzen and Gierasch mechanisms are involved.[41]

Middle period (1972–1990)

From 1972 to 1982 Lindzen was a professor of dynamic meteorology at Harvard University. From February to June 1975 he was a visiting professor of dynamic meteorology at MIT, and during part of 1979 Lindzen was a visiting professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, before switching affiliations to MIT as the Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Meteorology in 1983.

During this time, Lindzen published some research on gravity waves,[42] as well as Hadley circulations.[43] He is named as one of 16 Scientific Members of the team authoring the National Academy of Sciences 1975 publication Understanding Climate Change: A Program for Action.[44]

Recent work (1990–present)

Climate sensitivity

Lindzen hypothesized that the Earth may act like an infrared iris. A sea surface temperature increase in the tropics would result in reduced cirrus clouds and thus more infrared radiation leakage from Earth's atmosphere.[8] This hypothesis suggests a negative feedback which would counter the effects of CO2 warming by lowering the climate sensitivity. Satellite data from CERES has led researchers investigating Lindzen's theory to conclude that the Iris effect would instead warm the atmosphere.[45][46] Lindzen disputed this, claiming that the negative feedback from high-level clouds was still larger than the weak positive feedback estimated by Lin et al.[47]

Lindzen has expressed his concern over the validity of computer models used to predict future climate change. Lindzen said that predicted warming may be overestimated because of inadequate handling of the climate system's water vapor feedback. The feedback due to water vapor is a major factor in determining how much warming would be expected to occur with increased atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide. Lindzen said that the water vapor feedback could act to nullify future warming.[3] This claim was criticised by Gavin Schmidt.[48]

Contrary to the IPCC's assessment, Lindzen said that climate models are inadequate. Despite accepted errors in their models, e.g., treatment of clouds, modelers still thought their climate predictions were valid.[49] Lindzen has stated that due to the non-linear effects of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, CO2 levels are now around 30% higher than pre-industrial levels but temperatures have responded by about 75% 0.6 °C (1.08 °F) of the expected value for a doubling of CO2. The IPCC (2007) estimates that the expected rise in temperature due to a doubling of CO2 to be about 3 °C (5.4 °F), ± 1.5°. Lindzen has given estimates of the Earth's climate sensitivity to be 0.5 °C based on ERBE data.[50] These estimates were criticized by Kevin E. Trenberth and others,[51] and Lindzen accepted that his paper included "some stupid mistakes". When interviewed, he said "It was just embarrassing", and added that "The technical details of satellite measurements are really sort of grotesque." Lindzen and Choi revised their paper and submitted it to PNAS.[52] The four reviewers of the paper, two of whom had been selected by Lindzen, strongly criticized the paper and PNAS rejected it for publication.[53] Lindzen and Choi then succeeded in getting a little known Korean journal to publish it as a 2011 paper.[52][54] Andrew Dessler published a paper which found errors in Lindzen and Choi 2011, and concluded that the observations it had presented "are not in fundamental disagreement with mainstream climate models, nor do they provide evidence that clouds are causing climate change. Suggestions that significant revisions to mainstream climate science are required are therefore not supported."[55]

NAS panel

In 2001, Lindzen served on an 11-member panel organized by the National Academy of Sciences.[56] The panel's report, entitled Climate Change Science: An Analysis of Some Key Questions,[57] has been widely cited. Lindzen subsequently publicly criticized the report summary for not referring to the statement in the full report that twenty years of temperature measurements was "too short a period for estimating long term trends".[58]

IPCC activities

Lindzen worked on Chapter 7 of 2001 IPCC Working Group 1, which considers the physical processes that are active in real world climate. He had previously been a contributor to Chapter 4 of the 1995 "IPCC Second Assessment". He described the full 2001 IPCC report as "an admirable description of research activities in climate science"[59] although he criticized the Summary for Policymakers. Lindzen stated in May 2001 that it did not truly summarize the IPCC report[60] but had been amended to state more definite conclusions.[61] He also emphasized the fact that the summary had not been written by scientists alone. The NAS panel on which Lindzen served says that the summary was the result of dialogue between scientists and policymakers.[3]

Kyoto Accord

Of the Kyoto Accord, he has said that it is widely agreed that the Kyoto Protocol, by itself, will do "almost nothing" to stabilize atmospheric CO2 levels. He was vocal in advocating to the Bush Administration not to ratify the Kyoto Protocol as he believed it would increase the cost of electricity for no gain and put signatory states at a competitive disadvantage.[63]

Cato Institute

In an announcement on 27 December 2013, the Cato Institute said that at Cato, Lindzen's focus would be on "the interaction between science and policymakers" and that he would study "whether the move from largely private funding to public support has introduced biases into science and the public policies informed by science."[11]

Views on climate change

He has criticized the scientific consensus on global climate change, pointing out that scientists are just as liable to err when the science appears to point in just one direction. He drew an analogy in 1996 between the consensus in the early and mid-twentieth century on eugenics and the current consensus about global warming.[64] In a 2007 interview on The Larry King Show, Lindzen said:[65]

We're talking of a few tenths of a degree change in temperature. None of it in the last eight years, by the way. And if we had warming, it should be accomplished by less storminess. But because the temperature itself is so unspectacular, we have developed all sorts of fear of prospect scenarios – of flooding, of plague, of increased storminess when the physics says we should see less. I think it's mainly just like little kids locking themselves in dark closets to see how much they can scare each other and themselves.

In a 2009 editorial in the Wall Street Journal, Lindzen said that the earth was just emerging from the "Little Ice Age" in the 19th century and says that it is "not surprising" to see warming after that. He goes on to state that the IPCC claims were[66]

Based on the weak argument that the current models used by the IPCC couldn't reproduce the warming from about 1978 to 1998 without some forcing, and that the only forcing that they could think of was man. Even this argument assumes that these models adequately deal with natural internal variability—that is, such naturally occurring cycles as El Niño, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation, etc. Yet articles from major modeling centers acknowledged that the failure of these models to anticipate the absence of warming for the past dozen years was due to the failure of these models to account for this natural internal variability. Thus even the basis for the weak IPCC argument for anthropogenic climate change was shown to be false.

According to an April 30, 2012 New York Times article,[67] "Dr. Lindzen accepts the elementary tenets of climate science. He agrees that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, calling people who dispute that point "nutty." He agrees that the level of it is rising because of human activity and that this should warm the climate." He also believes that decreasing tropical cirrus clouds in a warmer world will allow more longwave radiation to escape the atmosphere, counteracting the warming.[67] Lindzen first published this "iris" theory in 2001,[8] and offered more support in a 2009 paper.[50]

Third-party characterizations of Lindzen

The April 30, 2012 New York Times article included the comments of several other experts. Christopher S. Bretherton, an atmospheric researcher at the University of Washington, said Lindzen is "feeding upon an audience that wants to hear a certain message, and wants to hear it put forth by people with enough scientific reputation that it can be sustained for a while, even if it’s wrong science. I don't think it's intellectually honest at all." Kerry A. Emanuel, another M.I.T. scientist, said of Lindzen's views "Even if there were no political implications, it just seems deeply unprofessional and irresponsible to look at this and say, 'We're sure it’s not a problem.' It's a special kind of risk, because it's a risk to the collective civilization."[67]

A 1996 New York Times article included the comments of several other experts. Jerry Mahlman, director of the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, did not accept Lindzen's assessment of the science, and said that Lindzen had "sacrificed his luminosity by taking a stand that most of us feel is scientifically unsound." Mahlman did, however, admit that Lindzen was a "formidable opponent". William Gray of Colorado State University basically agreed with Lindzen, describing him as "courageous". He said, "A lot of my older colleagues are very skeptical on the global warming thing". He added that whilst he regarded some of Lindzen's views as flawed, he said that, "across the board he's generally very good". John Wallace of the University of Washington agreed with Lindzen that progress in climate change science had been exaggerated, but said there are "relatively few scientists who are as skeptical of the whole thing as Dick [Lindzen] is".[3]

The November 10, 2004 online version of Reason magazine reported that Lindzen is "willing to take bets that global average temperatures in 20 years will in fact be lower than they are now".[68] However, on June 8, 2005 they reported that Lindzen insisted that he had been misquoted, after James Annan contacted Lindzen to make the bet but claimed that "Lindzen would take only 50 to 1 odds".[69]

Lindzen has been called a contrarian, in relation to climate change and other issues.[70][71][72] Lindzen's graduate students describe him as "fiercely intelligent, with a deep contrarian streak."[73]

Awards and honors

Lindzen is a recipient of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), and the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters, and was named Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences, the American Geophysical Union, and the American Meteorological Society. He is a corresponding member of the NAS Committee on Human Rights, and a member of the United States National Research Council Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate. He was a consultant to the Global Modeling and Simulation Group at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, and a Distinguished Visiting Scientist at California Institute of Technology's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Lindzen is an ISI highly cited researcher,[74] and his biography has been included in American Men and Women of Science.[75]

Personal life

Richard Lindzen and his wife, Nadine, have two sons. Lindzen's interests include amateur radio (call letters: WO1I), photography, and oriental rugs.[76] He was born in Webster, Massachusetts but his family moved to the Bronx shortly after he was born.[77]

See also

Selected publications


  • "What Catastrophe? MIT’s Richard Lindzen, the unalarmed climate scientist", The Weekly Standard, Jan. 13, 2014


Peer-reviewed papers


  1. ^ It should be noted that S. Kato had independently made the same discovery at about the same time in the Soviet Union.[25]
  2. ^ Actually, the evidence was coming in at the time, see However, Lindzen says in his 1987 recollections that he did not see this study until after the Lindzen & Holton 1968 paper was already submitted.[36]
  3. ^ The NAS panel said on the matter that "The committee finds that the full IPCC Working Group I (WGI) report is an admirable summary of research activities in climate science, and the full report is adequately summarized in the Technical Summary. The full WGI report and its Technical Summary are not specifically directed at policy. The Summary for Policymakers reflects less emphasis on communicating the basis for uncertainty and a stronger emphasis on areas of major concern associated with human-induced climate change. This change in emphasis appears to be the result of a summary process in which scientists work with policy makers on the document. Written responses from U.S. coordinating and lead scientific authors to the committee indicate, however, that (a) no changes were made without the consent of the convening lead authors (this group represents a fraction of the lead and contributing authors) and (b) most changes that did occur lacked significant impact".[62]


  1. ^ a b c d
  2. ^ a b
  3. ^ a b c d
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^ a b c Lindzen, Chou & Hou 2001.
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^ a b
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^ See for instance the widely cited study The Lindzen and Blake formalism is used in the parameterization of radiative-photochemical damping (see Appendix A).
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^
  27. ^
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^ 200 pp.
  31. ^ Lindzen 1987, pp. 329–37.
  32. ^ Lindzen 1987, p. 329.
  33. ^
  34. ^
  35. ^
  36. ^ Lindzen 1987, p. 330.
  37. ^
  38. ^
  39. ^
  40. ^
  41. ^
  42. ^
  43. ^
  44. ^ Understanding Climate Change, National Academy of Sciences 1975, full text and pdf scan available at the Internet Archive
  45. ^
  46. ^
  47. ^
  48. ^
  49. ^
  50. ^ a b
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  52. ^ a b
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  55. ^
  56. ^
  57. ^
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  59. ^
  60. ^
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  62. ^
  63. ^
  64. ^ , 267 pp.
  65. ^
  66. ^
  67. ^ a b c
  68. ^
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  70. ^
  71. ^
  72. ^
  73. ^
  74. ^ .
  75. ^ .
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  77. ^


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