Category: climate change

Shepherd named Captain Planet Protector


CapnPlanets.jpgThe award sounds funny, but the prestigious Captain Planet Foundation has honored Marshall Shepherd for his very serious efforts on educating the public about climate change: 

Marshall Shepherd is a Captain Planet Protector of the Earth, according to the Captain Planet Foundation, which recently added him to a list of outstanding real-life environmental superheroes.

Shepherd, the UGA Athletic Association Professor in the Social Sciences, will receive the award at the annual Captain Planet Foundation Benefit Gala Dec. 5 at the InterContinental Buckhead Atlanta hotel. Other 2014 honorees include renowned primatologist Jane Goodall and Carter and Olivia Ries of the non-profit "One More Generation." Larry King will be master of ceremonies.

The Atlanta-based Captain Planet Foundation was founded in 1991 by Ted Turner and is now chaired by his daughter Laura Turner Seydel. The foundation supports high-quality, hands-on environmental stewardship projects that have enabled more than 1.1 million youths around the world to make significant environmental improvements to their schools or communities.

Past recipients of the award include Erin Brockovich and former EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson.

"It is wonderful to be honored for something that I would do without fanfare at all," Shepherd said. "I am passionate about ensuring that the state of Georgia, our nation and the planet are in good shape for my two kids. It is truly humbling to be mentioned in the same breath with many of the previous honorees."

A very high distinction considering the former honorees, whose ranks have only become more impressive as Shepherd is added to the list. Great honor for important work by a superhero faculty member.

Climate Change Road Trip


Sapelo-Whitehouse-Boardwalk_0018_0.jpgSeeking to better understand the environmental dangers posed by global climate change, U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D - Rhode Island) is making a multi-state tour of the Southeast coast that included a visit to Sapelo Island and the UGA Marine Institute:

Whitehouse toured several sites along Sapelo Island's salt marshes and tidal creeks, learning about climate-related research projects being conducted on the Georgia coast. Organized by the UGA Marine Institute and Georgia Sea Grant, scientists shared efforts to study the impacts of rising seas, extreme heat, drought, intensified severe weather events and saltwater intrusion into freshwater marshes.

"Sapelo Island embodies the beauty of Georgia's ecology and the richness of its history," said Whitehouse, a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and chairman of the Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety. "It's fitting that research to help us understand the dangers of climate change and protect America's coastal communities is going on right here at UGA's Marine Institute on Sapelo Island. I'm grateful for the chance to learn about this important work."

The tour particularly focused on the dangers posed by rising sea levels and the increasing vulnerability of coastal communities to flooding and storm damage. Recent literature suggests that the South is prone to more weather and climate-related disasters by a ratio of almost four to one.

"Our coast is different than the Northeast in that we have more extensive salt marshes and more tidal freshwater habitat, but we don't have many big cities," said Merryl Alber, professor of marine sciences in UGA's Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and director of the Marine Institute. "All of our coastal communities have infrastructure in flood zones, but here in coastal Georgia, there are less people to foot the bill for adaptation."

More of this, please. There is a desperate need for national and statewide politicans to get more involved in the consequences of a 2° Celsius rise or higher in the global climate. Their interest sends signals, as does their disinterest. Our scientists and reseachers are doing the monitoring and other hard work necessary to be able to draw conclusions and make sensible policy recomendations and choices. Thanks to Senator Whitehouse, Dr. Alber and others who are doing what they can to highlight the dangers and propose solutions.

Ice sheet melt into the oceans: what to expect


meltwaterGreenland exteriorThe effects of climate change have been [mostly] slow moving and difficult to detect, up to now. But where glacial melt is occuring, the changes are rather dynamic - and that's only what can be observed above the water line. UGA researchers and other scientists are working together to understand the impact of melting glaciers on the world's oceans:

A new $1.49 million interdisciplinary science grant from NASA will support efforts by University of Georgia faculty in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences departments of geography and marine sciences to measure the effects of climate change on biological productivity in the ocean. The three-year research project on "From the Ice Sheet to the Sea: An Interdisciplinary Study of the Impact of Extreme Melt on Ocean Stratification and Productivity Near West Greenland" is a collaboration between UGA and scientists from the City College of New York, Rutgers University and Stanford University.

The study will examine the connection between Greenland ice sheet melt water and ocean productivity using remote sensing and modeling tools as well as data gathered on site. The work will examine the effect of melt on ocean circulation and mixing and investigate the role of ocean stratification and nutrients on ocean productivity.

The seriousness of this issue, notwithstanding reluctance from some quarters, is impossible to overstate. It would seem to be a major signal to all that NASA, the world's leading scientists and every other research organization across the globe speak without caveat about that seriousness. Perhaps further findings from research like this will produce the necessary political will to turn the tide, so to speak. As of now, the tide continues to be the force ahead of the change to come. Thanks to our faculty for working to understand it better.

Image: meltwater runoff from the ice sheet margin in Greenland during summer 2013, courtesy of Thomas Mote.

AAAS on Climate Change: What We know


photo-consensus-senseThe American Association for the Advancement of Science launched a big climate change initiative today, "What we Know":

At the heart of the initiative is the AAAS's "What We Know" report, an assessment of current climate science and impacts that emphasizes the need to understand and recognize possible high-risk scenarios.
"We're the largest general scientific society in the world, and therefore we believe we have an obligation to inform the public and policymakers about what science is showing about any issue in modern life, and climate is a particularly pressing one," said Dr. Alan Leshner, CEO of AAAS. "As the voice of the scientific community, we need to share what we know and bring policymakers to the table to discuss how to deal with the issue."

The Nobel laureate Mario Moilina, Diana Wall and James McCarthy, along with the 10 panelists spanning climate science specialties, will engage in the initiative in various ways, from speaking engagements to testimonial on a forthcoming interactive web site to knowledge sharing with other professionals. The initiative encourages Americans to think of climate change as a risk management issue; the panel aims to clarify and contextualize the science so the public and decision-makers can be more adequately informed about those risks and possible ways to manage them. 

Emphasis mine, as these 10 panelists of course include our own J. Marshall Shepherd. Good for the AAAS for not sitting on their hands any longer, but actually getting to work. It's a rare intervention by the group, but the stakes couldn't be higher and this debate demands a much higher profile.

Shepherd on PBS' Nova: Killer Typhoon


On November 8, 2013, Typhoon Haiyan slammed into the Philippines, whipping the low-lying and densely-populated islands with 200 mph winds and sending a two-story-high storm surge flooding into homes, schools, and hospitals. The PBS NOVA dcomentary Killer Typhoon featured perspectives from some of the world's leading climate scientists, including AMS president and UGA professor Marshall Shepherd. The program aired last night. The trailer:



As Shepherd's year AMS president comes to a close, his impact and experience is recounted in an AJC feature story today: 

Like most scientists, Shepherd believes the data overwhelmingly support global warming — which has now been rechristened as climate change. But in politics, 80 percent certainty is called a landslide. In science, it’s a call for more data.

So Shepherd, unlike the Obama administration, wasn’t quite ready to tie the hot topic of global warming to a rampaging polar vortex.

“I think it’s actually quite plausible, but from my lens, it’s a bit too early to completely anchor that as a conclusive reason,” Shepherd said in a White House-sponsored conversation of experts on the Internet.

Great work as a public scientist - working to inform citizens and decision-makers alike, not shying away from the controversies but finding new ways to help us understand what lies beyond them. Courage and confidence in your work, building influence, empowering others. Thank you, Dr. Shepherd.

Top science and space stories of 2013


AMS president and Georgia Athletic Association Professor of geography Marshall Shepherd is quoted in CNN's rundown of the top science stories of 2013. On climate change:

Scientists are also hoping to help our own species understand the perils associated with climate change. The phenomenon raises the likelihood of severe weather events and is predicted to damage agriculture, forestry, ecosystems and human health.

A key symbolic moment was when the average concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide hit 400 parts per million in Mauna Loa, Hawaii, in May. Such levels haven't been seen in about 3 million years, said J. Marshall Shepherd at the University of Georgia.

Happy New Year. Let's resolve to do our part as individuals to lower this crucial indicator - the atmospheric carbon inventory. You can do it - you only have to decide to. Thanks to Dr. Marshall for continuing to be an important voice on this issue.

Friday lectures: Geography, Cinema, Anthropology and Women's Studies



Friday Lectures Abound: Geography, Cinema, Anthropology and Women’s Studies

By Jessica Luton

Fall is in full swing here in Athens. And alongside the crisp cool air and colorful changing leaves all over campus is a busy schedule of lectures, from both UGA faculty and visiting scholars.  Here’s a look at what’s on today’s schedule for lectures.

Women’s Studies: Female Judges

First up, is the Women’s Studies Friday Speaker Series held each week in room 148 at the MLC from 12:20 to 1:10 p.m. We’ve written about this series before.

This week’s lecture, given by Susan Haire, an associate professor in the school of political science and international affairs, will address the need for more female judges on the Federal Appeals Court bench. 

Geography: Climate Connections and Marine Science

This afternoon, from 3:30 to 5 p.m., the Geography Departmental Colloquium is sure to be informative and inspiring as UGA department of marine sciences professor and researcher Patricia Yager discusses her research about climate change and the marine biosphere.  The lecture, entitled “Climate Connections to the Marine Biosphere—from the Amazon to Antarctica,” will be given in room 200C of the Geography and Geology building.  Below is the description:

The ocean has absorbed about one-third of the anthropogenic carbon produced, but scientists know this sink is climate sensitive. With high latitude changes in sea ice cover, and extreme hydrologic variability in the tropics, the carbon sink offered by marine ecosystems is likely to change, potentially feeding back to climate. Using observations from marine ecosystems in both the Amazon River plume and the Amundsen Sea polyna in Antarctica, this seminar will discuss what role the ocean plays in global climate, particularly when it comes to understanding how the ocean biosphere is helping to keep our planet cooler than it might otherwise be. The question is whether the ocean can continue to play this role under changing climate conditions.”

Ecology:  Enamel and Jomon Period Foragers

Over in Baldwin Hall at the same time, 3:30 to 5:00 p.m., the Anthropology Fall Speaker Series will feature a lecture by University of North Carolina, Wilmington, professor and researcher Dan Temple.  His lecture, in room 264, is entitled “Tracking Variation in Ecology and Life History Using Linear Enamel Hypoplasia and Incremental Microstructures of Enamel Among Late/Final Jomon Period Foragers.”  Temple’s lab website offers the following description of his work:

“We study systemic stress using enamel microstructures, appositional and longitudinal growth, ecogeographic and functional adaptation, and phenotypic evolution in postcranial morphology. Our approach is integrative, and our research questions address two of the larger questions in biological anthropology: 1. How does variation in ecology drive human life history? 2. What forces of evolution have operated to produce diversity in postcranial morphology?

We focus on Early to Late Holocene foragers from Jomon period Japan, Siberia, Florida, and Alaska.”

Cinema Roundtable: A Discussion of 1973

At 4 p.m. in room 150 of the MLC is “The Way We Were in 1973: From Mainstream Nostalgia to New Hollywood, Blaxploitation and Foreign Art Cinema.”  Here’s a recent blog post on the event.  And the description of today’s discussion provides some context about just why this particular year was chosen as a topic of discussion. 

“The Way We Were in 1973: From Mainstream Nostalgia to New Hollywood, Blaxploitation and Foreign Art Cinema." This fall’s Cinema Roundtable investigates 1973 in American cinema, expanding on the special “Now and Then: 1973″ exhibit at the Richard B. Russell Building Special Collections Libraries. This roundtable is moderated by Richard Neupert, film studies coordinator in the Department of Theatre and Film Studies, and features theatre and film studies faculty Freda Scott Giles (African American Studies), Christopher Sieving and Rielle Navitsky.

For politics and culture, 1973 included such milestones as Roe v. Wade, the return of POWs from the Vietnam War and President Richard Nixon proclaiming he was not a crook on national television.

In the world of cinema, things were just as tumultuous. Hollywood offered up movies set in the past, such as "The Way We Were" and "The Sting," while Scorsese’s "Mean Streets," "Malick’s Badlands" and Friedkin’s "The Exorcist" shook up the usual formulas. Within "Blaxploitation," women characters burst on the screen in Coffyand Cleopatra Jones, while Jimmy Cliff brought reggae into the mainstream with "The Harder They Come." But foreign cinema was also huge in art cinemas that year, with Brando shocking America in "Last Tango in Paris," though Truffaut’s "Day for Night" won the Academy Award, and Bruce Lee helped launch a martial arts craze.

Today is a great day to check out a free lecture and explore a topic of intrigue or one of sincere passion.  Don’t pass up the opportunity is see one of these great lectures this afternoon.  

Faculty in the Media




That's the NOVA special from Wednesday, October 9, on the Aftermath of Megastorms, featuring our own J. Marshall Shepherd among its panel of experts. President of the American Meteorological Society and director of the UGA atmospheric sciences program, Marshall is a regular source for the news media on everything from climate change to aging weather satellites.

Earlier in the same week, Marshall was on Atlanta's WSB discussing how critical weather information may be compromised during the government shutdown.

Shepherd was also quoted in an NPR story on the shutdown's lasting impac ton American science.

Associate professor of history Stephen Mihm continues his regular columns on with an assessment of Tea Party tactics.

The statue of Thomas Edward Watson, a controversial Georgia political figure from the past, is scheduled to be moved from the grounds of the state Capitol next month, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.  “If the statue is left to imply without qualification that Watson was a heroic or a wholly admirable figure, then it becomes both offensive and a distortion of history,” said UGA history professor James Cobb

Assistant professor in the department of genetics Melissa Davis is quoted in an Athens Banner Herald article on family history and genetics as indicators of women's chances to develop breast cancer.

Shepherd: shell game with climate science


As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Science rolls out its fifth assessment report this week, Athletic Association Professor and president of the American Meteorological Society J. Marshall Shepherd weighs in on the need for common sense on climate change:

For me, the hat with the ball from the IPCC report is that it continues to affirm that our planet is warming, and humans are a significant contributor to the warming.

Andrew Dessler, professor and author of "Introduction to Modern Climate Change," noted in a recent phone conversation the remarkable consistency in the main conclusions of every previous IPCC report. The analysis also provides measured thoughts on implications for the frequency and intensity of certain extreme weather events.

Extreme weather and climate directly affect many aspects of society, including public health, agriculture and national security. Navy Adm. Samuel Locklear, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, has noted that climate change is the biggest new threat to Pacific security.
Greenland adapts to climate change Greenland adapts to climate change

Recently, an elderly man from my church said, "Doc, what's going on? The weather is different." For a public increasingly inquisitive about what they see around them, it is important to be aware of the distracting hats whizzing around and to keep your eye on the hat with the ball.

Many recent discussions have focused on "uncertainty." Yes, topics of uncertainty exist in climate science as in any science, but this does not render the science unusable. Most readers would take an umbrella or expect rain if the weather forecast called for a 95% or greater chance of rain. How silly would it sound to say, "Don't bother getting an umbrella because there is 5% uncertainty in that forecast"?

Our thanks to Dr. Shepherd and others for their willingness to weigh in on this important issue - easily the most important issue of our day. UGA is committed to the work of its research scientists, whose work is critical to the mission of the university.

A note to media: reporters who wish to contact Shepherd or other UGA research scientists on the subject of the new IPCC report should contact the Franklin College communications office at or 706.542.3331.

Shepherd at TedX Atlanta


Geography professor and director of the UGA Atmospheric Sciences Program Marshall Shepherd is among the speakers in today's Tedx Atlanta Line up:

Even as we face seemingly insurmountable obstacles, humanity finds reasons to believe in a better world. On May 7th, from noon to six, TEDxAtlanta will celebrate a dozen ideas and innovations that provide reasons to be optimistic about the future. Together we'll explore big ideas surrounding the future of journalism, education, neuroscience, solar energy, disease control, climate change, water management, as well as creativity, collaboration, humility and the power of poetry. Join us, either in person or via Live Stream on May 7th from 12:20pm to 5:30pm — and add your "reasons to believe" to the conversation.

Kudos to Shepherd for being among this select group of speakers. His knowledge about climate and extreme weather is highly sought around the world, including leading-edge intellectual discussion forums that have grown out of the Ted Talks concept. Streaming should be enabled at the URL above.