Category: climate change

Anthropocene lecture: repairing the world

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moral_imperative.jpgThe final event in this fall's very successful Anthropocene Lecture Series takes place tonight at 7 p.m in the Chapel. No scientific investigation can be complete without the inclusion of a moral perspective and tonight's lecture looks at the ways theology and science can work together:

The physical sciences tell us the what and the how regarding the condition of the earth, but the why question -- why should we engage in helping to repair our world -- is a matter seriously addressed by people of faith.  There are also many people of no faith equally concerned and willing simply because it is the right thing to do.  We trust science every day because it is based on facts and it improves the quality of our lives.  Good theology and good science make a powerful team in dealing with the condition of our home, the foremost issue of our future.

 Tonight's speaker is the Reverend Bill Coates, Jr., pastor at the First Baptist Church of Gainesville.

Congratulations and great job on the series to Dr. Mark Farmer, professor and chair of our biological sciences division in the Franklin College. Fantastic way to present these issues to our campus and community.

The 'Anthro' in Anthropcene

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housing.jpgWho is the 'Anthro' in Anthropocene? A very good question, and professor of philosophy and women's studies Chris J. Cuomo provides the answer Thursday at the Chapel in this week's installement of the Anthropocene Lecture Series:

The term “anthropocene” has gained enormous popularity among scientists who believe that we are currently in a global geological era that is distinguished by the extensive and lasting impacts that “human” activities (i.e. fossil fuel combustion, deforestation, pollution, etc.) are having on all of Earth’s vital systems. But should the practices, institutions and decisions that have led to the current global ecological crisis be identified as human activities? Or is it more appropriate to label these activities as Western, modern, or produced by particular value systems? Does the entire human species deserve the “blame” for the problems of current “man-made” global changes, or should scholars and scientists have more specific analyses of the historical causes of present geological trends?

Again, we are very lucky to have this series of engaged, informative public presentations by some of our best faculty members. The ethical and political dimensions of the systems that guide us are probably one of the few routes to informed solutions on public policy questions. But it takes time to learn, and great expertise to teach. You can increase your own level of understanding and build your informed opinion by attending this talk at 7 pm on Thursday. Very few things are so simple and straightforward.

Carbon Sequestration in Salt Marshes

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DeepakMishra-marshes.jpgThe importance of the world's rainforests, and to some extent the mangroves, as storage sinks for atmospheric are carbon well-known. But salt marshes, too, are extraordinarily efficient mechanism for photosynthesis and the production of biomass that work together to sequester carbon at a high rate. So disappearing wetlands along the coast present much more peril than loss against storm surge, which itself plays significant part in their role in an ecosystem.

Now, Deepak Mishra, associate professor in the department of geography, has developed tools and techniques to map carbon storage in coastal marshes using satellite data:

[Mishra] is principal investigator on the new prototype demonstration study that will use NASA's MODIS—Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer—Earth Observatory satellite to gather data to model the marshes.

"There is high demand to understand wetlands, and it's not just about land lost, land gained, marsh lost or restored-people want to know more about these marshes," Mishra said. "How they are performing in terms of their productivity, their resiliency, do they produce enough underground biomass to be stable? We hope to be able to answer these questions.

"The idea is to see what kind of carbon loss to the atmosphere is happening by means of satellite-derived proxies as we lose wetlands, not only in terms of area but also productivity."

Restoration projects along coastal areas are expensive, and their success is judged primarily by the amount of vegetation gained. This new modeling capability will allow for more complete assessments of the marshes' overall productivity: carbon capture, light-use efficiency for photosynthesis and biomass production. It also will differentiate which species of marsh grass provides better productivity.

"Right now, monitoring wetlands via satellite is problematic because of the way water and soil moisture interferes with the signal," Mishra said. "It can be difficult to effectively separate the water contribution from the vegetative contribution."

Data from the two monitoring stations along the Gulf Coast will be used to establish models for other areas around the U.S. as well. As Mishra explains, being able to quantify the carbon capture in these areas will become increasingly important as we begin to put a dollar value on carbon as a part of our ability to responsibly limit emissions - and more precisely, value the overall productivity of an ecosystem.

Shepherd: Lessons on climate from Ebola outbreak

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shepherd_crop.jpgAthletics Association Professor in the Social Sciences and nationally-recognized expert on climate Marshall Shepherd took to the pages of the Washingtom Post last week to point out connections between the latest Ebola outbreak and the challenges presented by climate change:

Anthropocene: Economics of the transition

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renewable_energy.jpgSomething that often goes missing in conversations on, much less debates about, what to do about climate change is optimism. If, for example, a discussion of the economics of the transition to an industrial model from the agricultural age had occured, there would have been great gnashing of teeth but a convincing case could have been made, though likely with some strict limitations toward eventual consequences, if these could have been imagined. The point is, the same dynamics are at play when trying to imagine the transition away from a dependence on fossil fuels; we're limited by how things work now - travel, food production, growth, defense - and that present bias makes any transition all the more unimaginable, optimism evaporates and we choose to do nothing as though it's an preferable option. The next Anthropocene Lecture takes on this very question:

The lives of six out of the seven billion people now living on Earth are dependent on a combination of technology and fossil fuels.  Green Revolution crops have greatly increased food production, but only when supplied with plentiful fossil fuel inputs.  Supporting an even larger world population without using fossil fuels will pose a major technological challenge.  Transitioning away from fossil fuels on a global scale is a huge challenge but deploying new technologies is our best hope.  This lecture assembles a variety of data to present a coherent, quantitative view of both the challenges and the opportunities.  It concludes by examining the current state of the art of using markets to drive the transition to carbon-free energy systems. 

These are the discussions we need to have, led by the folks who need to lead them. Come be a part of the discussion. Knowledge is power and the switch gets flipped at 7 pm Thursday Oct. 9 in the Chapel. Free and open to the public.

Urbanization and Climate Change: Anthropocene

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climate march.jpgComing on the heels of the People's Climate March yesterday in NYC, the next installment of the Anthropocene Lecture Series this week promises to be timely and informative:

The 21st century is the first urban century in the history of humankind.  Current projections suggest that 60-80% of the world population will live in urban settlements by the end of this century.  The urban environment alters climate, weather, and natural cycles (e.g.. water and biogeochemical).  Such interactions also influence human health, energy consumption, transportation, and planning.  Influential at various scales, urbanization is rapidly emerging as a critical area of interdisciplinary study.  The IPCC and U.S. National Climate Assessment included specific groups focused on urban interactions, processes, and feedbacks, related to climate change.  Recently, the National Academies published a report on the looming challenges of urbanization and meteorology. 
Karen Seto and Marshall Shepherd's recent paper in Current Opinions on Environmental Sustainability summarized the role of urbanization on climate and moved the discourse forward on challenges and opportunities at the intersection of the coupled-human natural system.  The objective of this lecture is to discuss the so-called "other," climate change related to human activity (urbanization).  To place urban effects on the climate system in proper context, a broader discussion on anthropogenic climate change will also be presented.

The lecture, featuring professor and atmospheric sciences expert Marshall Shepherd, will be a great opportunity to get the straight facts from one of the world's leading experts - as well as a great chance to hear Dr. Shepherd speak in person. UGA Chapel, 7 p.m.. Get there early.

Shepherd named Captain Planet Protector

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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

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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

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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

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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.