The Dynamics of Climate Change with Aradhna Tripati

“The Dynamics of Climate Change”

The Global Change and Sustainability Center (GCSC) seminar series presents a lecture by Aradhna Tripati, Professor in the Atmospheric & Oceanic Sciences department and the Earth, Planetary, & Space Sciences department, as well as at the Institute of Geophysics & Planetary Physics and the Institute of Environment & Sustainability at UCLA.

By Nicholas Apodaca, graduate assistant, Sustainability Office

The scientific research that constructs our understanding of how the Earth’s climate changes can seem complex and arcane to the casual observer. Yet without this specialized knowledge, it would be hard to work towards a more sustainable future. Some scientists are working hard to bring opportunities and knowledge to a greater audience and diversify STEM and sustainability efforts.

On Tuesday, February 26, come to Professor Aradhna Tripati’s lecture “Frontiers in the study of past climate and environmental change: From new tracers to piloting a new inclusive science model”. Tripati will discuss her ongoing efforts to connect complex scientific research to education, outreach and sustainability as part of the Global Change and Sustainability Center’s (GCSC) Seminar Series from 4 – 5 PM in ASB 210.

Tripati has always had a passion for the sciences, studying geological science at California State University – Fullerton and completing her PhD in Earth Sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She currently holds joint appointments at UCLA in the Atmospheric & Oceanic Sciences department and the Earth, Planetary, & Space Sciences department, as well as at the Institute of Geophysics & Planetary Physics and the Institute of Environment & Sustainability. Tripati has received several honors for her research and outreach work, including a Presidential Early Career Award in Science and Engineering from President Obama in 2016.

At UCLA, the Tripati Lab studies the carbon cycle and historical climate dynamics. Much of Tripati’s research focuses on the study of clumped isotopes. These bundles of heavy isotopes are prevalent in calcium carbonate, methane, nitrous oxide, and other elemental compounds on Earth. As these isotopes have different weights, they tend to accumulate according to environmental conditions, allowing for comparative analysis of how and where they have been deposited.

For example, Oxygen has two prevalent isotopes: 16O, which is lighter, and 18O, which has two more neutrons and is heavier. The lighter 16O tends to accumulate in the atmosphere and settle in ice during periods of glaciation, whereas the heavier 18O settles on the seafloor in sediments and the bodies of sea creatures. When ice sheets melt, they deposit massive amounts of 16O in the ocean, which settles on top of 18O. Analyzing the concentration of various isotopes in the layers of seafloor sediments can give insight into how climate has changed throughout Earth’s history. Tripati’s research into these isotopes has relevance to a huge range of scientific fields, from organic chemistry to geology and climatology, and has led to cutting-edge developments in understanding climate dynamics and in modeling climatic changes.

Tripati has done extensive outreach and educational work as the founder and director of UCLA’s Center for Diverse Leadership in Science, which, as she has explained, makes “opportunities for underrepresented people to gain education and experience that empower them to become the leaders we need now and in the future, and address problems in their communities.”

A pressing concern for diversity in science and sustainability has long been a part of Tripati’s academic work. Despite the wide-reaching consequences of her work with isotopes, the underrepresentation of minority groups in both geoscience research and STEM fields in general risks making this research seem irrelevant to the general population. The vulnerable groups that are most at risk to be affected by climate change thus frequently lack access to the opportunities for research and education that could empower them to address environmental and technical challenges. Increasing diversity in STEM and sustainability through outreach and education is essential to the future of climate change research and building a progressive society.

Should this research intrigue you or if you are interested in diversity, education and outreach in science and sustainability, come by ASB 210 from 4 – 5 PM on Tuesday, February 26, for “Dynamics of Climate Change” with Professor Aradhna Tripati as part of the GCSC’s Seminar Series.

 

Searching for ‘Soul’-utions

“Imagining Sustainable Futures: Collaborative ‘Soul’-utions for Earthly Survival.”

The Global Change and Sustainability Center (GCSC) seminar series presents a lecture by Giovanna Di Chiro, Lang Professor for Issues of Social Change at Swarthmore College.

By Nicholas Apodaca, graduate assistant, Sustainability Office

When we talk about sustainability, we might assume that progressive science policy would naturally uplift and strengthen all communities. Yet in the scientific and political discourse around sustainable practices, many marginalized groups are ignored, despite often being the most vulnerable in our current climate crises. If we are going to fight climate change and build a sustainable world, we need to analyze the contemporary environmental discourse and seek social justice for those most affected.

Giovanna Di Chiro, the Lang Professor for Issues of Social Change at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, has dedicated her career to intersectional scholarship on environmental justice, sustainability and public policy. On February 12, as part of the Global Change and Sustainability Center’s Seminar Series, Professor Di Chiro will share her innovative work in her lecture, “Imagining Sustainable Futures: Collaborative ‘Soul’-utions for Earthly Survival.”

Di Chiro began her academic career in biology, then pivoted towards social issues and completed an interdisciplinary Ph.D.  in Environment, Health, and Development at the University of California Santa Cruz. Since then, she has worked in marine and tropical biology, but has always pursued innovative interdisciplinary methods of connecting social justice to science and policy.

Teaching plays an important role in Di Chiro’s work. Drawing on her own experiences as a graduate student, Di Chiro approaches the classroom as a space for cooperation and dialogue. She draws on the pedagogy of Paulo Freire, a radical Brazilian priest who saw the classroom as a space for cultivating intellectuals through critical exploration of inequality and justice. Di Chiro has brought her innovative teaching to universities from Australia to California to Massachusetts, guiding students in community-based learning methods that revolve around those impacted by environmental injustice and creating inclusive spaces for marginalized voices in the classroom.

Di Chiro’s research has often focused on the critical intersection of science policy and social justice. Her first book, Appropriating Technology: Vernacular Science and Social Power, was published in 2004 to critical acclaim. The book traced various case studies around the appropriation of technologies for social justice efforts by activists and marginalized communities.

Currently De Chiro is working on an exciting project titled Embodied Ecologies: Building a Different World on Earth, which draws on feminist theory and activism to explore the lack of inclusion of marginalized peoples and community advocacy in contemporary environmental science and policy discussions.

Outside the classroom, Di Chiro has a long-standing commitment to working with underprivileged communities. While teaching at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, she partnered with Nuestras Raíces, supporting the environmental justice organization’s mission through grant writing and developing local training programs around sustainable development, community agriculture and environmental health. Di Chiro was part of a community partnership that founded Energia, a community-based energy services corporation committed to the “triple bottom line:” employing low income community members, developing a management structure centered on a workers’ cooperative, and promoting energy conservation and general sustainability.

In Pennsylvania, Di Chiro has been working closely with community leaders in North Philadelphia to meet the sustainability needs of underserved and marginalized communities. This has led to the Serenity Soul-ar Collaborative, a unique partnership that pursues environmental justice for predominantly Black, low-income residents in the transition to sustainable green energy in the rapidly gentrifying North Philadelphia. By pushing for sustainable development that is locally-owned and tied to the strong cultural history of black communities in the area, the Serenity Soul-ar Collaborative intends to keep the “soul” in the transition to renewable energy sources.

In her lecture for the Global Change and Sustainability Center’s Seminar Series, “Imagining Sustainable Futures: Collaborative ‘Soul-tions for Earthly Survival,” Di Chiro will explore the challenges, successes, and lessons of her work in sustainability and social justice, and what it means for the future of our world. Come by ASB 210 on February 12 from 4 – 5 PM to learn more.

 

The Way We Learn: Lauren Barth-Cohen for the GCSC Seminar Series

We have all struggled with learning at some point in our education. Mathematics and the sciences can be especially daunting for many, while for others it just clicks. Yet it isn’t just about innate ability: the ways that we learn are essential to our educational success. As climate change bears down upon us, understanding this process can provide the key to preparing the leaders of tomorrow by making science and math education more comprehensible and engaging for students of all types.

Professor Lauren Barth-Cohen, Assistant Professor in Educational Psychology, and Adjunct Assistant Professor in Physics and Astronomy, will explore the cutting edge of science, mathematics and climate change education today, and where it can go from here, for her lecture, “Capturing Three-Dimensional Science Learning about Climate Change in Classrooms through Embodied Modeling,” for the Global Change and Sustainability Center‘s (GCSC) Seminar Series on Tuesday, January 15th.

Professor Barth-Cohen began her work in the sciences as a Physics major during her undergraduate education. While tutoring other students, Barth-Cohen explains, “I got interested in why some students had trouble understanding things that to me, as a physics major, seemed really straightforward and clear. I got curious why physics is hard for a lot of students.” This curiosity led her to graduate school at UC Berkeley, where she completed a Ph.D. in Science and Math Education focusing on student learning around complex systems in advanced physics.

From there, she took a post-doc position at the University of Maine where she began research funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) on how teachers learn, in an effort to help teachers find innovative ways to teach science and mathematics. After a stint at the University of Miami, Barth-Cohen took a position at the University of Utah where she works in both the College of Education and College of Science, offering a course on teaching science for undergraduate students, and a course exploring how people learn through various cognitive and sociocultural theories for graduate students.

In her seminar lecture, Barth-Cohen will talk about her ongoing research in many areas of science and math education and teacher learning. At the moment, Barth-Cohen is Principal Investigator (PI) on a current NSF grant with two faculty members from the College of Science. “What this grant is trying to do is bring together faculty who teach these different classes in Science and in Education and look at ways we can more explicitly connect our classes so there’s more coherence in terms of the classes, how they learn the content, and how they learn to teach the content. “

She will also discuss an innovative project she’s developing on students’ conceptual learning about cross-cutting concepts, the reasoning tools that scientists use to make sense of phenomena across topics. Currently she’s focused on the teaching of the physics of climate change through an embodied learning activity she calls “Energy Theater.”

As she describes it, Energy Theater is “halfway between improv theater and science class or, better yet, improv theater for science class, in which students act out a specific scientific scenario – in this case it’s the stasis of energy of the earth – and they act out this scenario in groups where they have to use their bodies to model the scenario.” Through this group process of interactive modelling, reflecting on the successes and failures of their model, and implementing improvements, the students learn about both the model and the concept. Barth-Cohen believes that this innovative approach to learning difficult subjects like the physics of climate change can make science education more accessible to all types of learners.

“There’s a fair bit of evidence that doing learning that is multimodal,” Barth-Cohen said, “that involves different ways of participating, and different means of engaging with the material, is beneficial for everyone.”

If you’re intrigued by this innovative work on how we learn and how we teach science, mathematics and climate change – or maybe just want to put on your own Energy Theater – come by ASB 210 on Tuesday, January 15th, for Professor Lauren Barth-Cohen’s GCSC Seminar Series lecture.

Longing for A New Direction

The universe is mysterious, beautiful, and unknown. The world around us and the space beyond is a cosmic soup of particles, atoms and energy, yet mixed together these things make up our bodies, our friends and family, the trees and water, the sky and the earth. While science seeks to unravel these mysteries of the universe in the lab, poetry seeks to do the same in our hearts and minds. Yet both ultimately pursue the same fundamental questions: Who are we? Why are we here? What do we do?

Kealoha, the internationally-known slam poet and poet laureate of Hawai’i has a unique understanding of the relationship between science and poetry and their potential to change our perception of the world. Trained as a nuclear engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), he left a lucrative career in corporate consulting to return to his native Hawai’i to find answers in poetry. He’ll share some of his unique insights on Tuesday, November 13 as part of the GCSC seminar series, and then again on Friday, November 16, with his highly acclaimed “The Story of Everything,” hosted by UtahPresents and supported by the Sustainability Office.

For his GCSC seminar, “So many different crossroads, but the paths look the same,” Kealoha will explore the threat posed by climate change by pulling questions from science and the arts. Similar themes will come up on Friday in “The Story of Everything,” an ambitious performance combining poetry, dance, music, art and science. Drawing on everything from the Big Bang Theory to Michael Jackson, Kealoha will show how interconnected our world really is.

These questions have always been a part of Kealoha’s life. Growing up, Kealoha kept his academic interest hidden and pursued arts and sports. But his incredible aptitude for science and mathematics -including a perfect SAT math score – led him to study Nuclear Engineering at MIT. During his education he worked as an intern at MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center as well as the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. Yet he realized quickly that nuclear energy was more plagued by political funding issues than any other obstacle and changed his course, working with the Institute for Defense Analysis (IDA) in Washington, D.C. where he published work on national security and climate change.

After graduating with honors and a minor in writing, he changed his direction yet again and began a career in management consulting in San Francisco. Yet the long hours and focus on building wealth left him feeling unfulfilled, and after a fortuitous encounter with slam poetry he immersed himself in writing. Back in his native Hawai’I, he dove into the local slam poetry scene, and went on to establish Youth Speaks Hawai’i, which holds poetry workshops for Hawaiian youth with internationally renowned poets. With poetry rooted in community and education, Kealoha regularly performs at schools and towns not just around Hawai’i but across the world.

With his scientific training and poetic genius, Kealoha may just provide the inspiration we need for rethinking how we live and who we are. Come to his GCSC seminar today, Tuesday, Nov. 13, in ASB 210 from 4 – 5 PM  and his performance of “The Story of Everything” in Kingsbury Hall on Friday Nov. 16 at 7:30 PM to get inspired.

 

Modeling Evapotranspiration and the Limits of Plant Life: Gaby Katul for the GCSC Seminar Series

By Nicholas Apodaca, Graduate Assistant

Plants play an essential role in the cycling of water and carbon dioxide through the soil and atmosphere. Across eons, they have evolved to optimize processes that maximize their resource uptake and energy usage. Determining the basic mechanisms of this process is complex, as plants are susceptible to subtle changes in their environment. However, in a time of increased threat from climate change—including dire consequences for plant life—understanding the fundamentals of plants’ processes has the potential to revolutionize how we study plants relationship with ecosystems, water, and carbon.

Gaby Katul, the Theodore S. Coile Professor of Hydrology and Micrometeorology at the Nicholas School of the Environment and the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering at Duke University, will explore plant hydrology in his upcoming GCSC Seminar Series lecture, “Evapotranspiration: From kinetic theory to the limits of plant life.”

In his research, Katul seeks a comprehensive model of how water moves through plants. This is not a simple task. Scientists have pieced together an understanding of the processes of drawing water from the soil and carbon from the atmosphere—processes that are bound up in complex and dynamic environmental, biological, and physical conditions. Katul hopes to identify what universal traits exist in the transpiration cycles of plants.

“Our thinking was to try and come up with the most general descriptions of these processes irrespective of the biomes,” Katul says. “The idea is to try to connect certain anatomical and physiological features of the plant to the environment. We want to study in the most generic way how environmental changes impact the responses of plants to drought, or elevated carbon dioxide, or elevated temperature.” Understanding the universal components of transpiration in plants can enable a radically holistic model for future research, regardless of biome, he says.

According to Katul, similar models are already used for understanding these processes in other fields. “For example, look at soil,” Katul explains. “There is sand, there is silt or clay, there are a billion combinations of them. But the objective is that if you know something about, say, the pore-size distribution, or the particle-size distribution, can you come up with general transport laws that describe water movement in porous media? We’re trying to do something similar for plants.”

Katul’s research is necessarily interdisciplinary. The physics of transpiration and carbon uptake are equally important factors. Katul has also drawn on economics, “particularly optimization principles where there are no conservation laws. The idea is to grab some techniques that have worked in different disciplines and try to bring them into this issue of plant-water relations.”

Ultimately, Katul thinks this work could lead to a universal model of plant response to environmental change that can inform future plant research. “We know a lot about water transport, carbon flow, energy flow in the plant. We also know that plants have evolved certain strategies, certain coordination among components to try to deal with certain bottlenecks that will pop up,” he says. “So, if we take this information and put it in a mathematical framework, can we interrogate this mathematical framework, and see what’s going to happen to these processes as climatic conditions evolve?”

A universal model will allow scientists to investigate the effects of changing climate on plants worldwide. By seeking a general model for optimization processes in plants, Katul envisions science where, as he puts it, “I am getting the answer right because I know the process that is being impacted by environmental change.”

To learn more, come to the lecture on Tuesday, Oct. 30 at 4 p.m. in Room 210 of the Aline Wilmot Skaggs Biology building.

The Intersection of Greenhouse Gases and Air Quality

By: Nicholas Apodaca, Graduate Assistant, Sustainability Office.

As Utah residents know well, air quality can have a serious effect on our daily lives. Wildfires, inversions, dust, and pollution colliding with the complex geography of the Salt Lake region all contribute to the thick haze that can settle over the valley. However, the exact conditions and effects of these issues are not yet completely understood.

John Lin, professor of atmospheric sciences here at the University of Utah, will shine some light on these regional air quality problems in his lecture on Tuesday, September 11 in 210 ASB as part of the Global Change & Sustainability Center’s annual seminar series. Lin will lay out some of the complex conditions that affect air quality, and show just how interconnected they are to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change across the West.

He’ll explain how air quality can be indicative of many diverse conditions converging.

Of major concern in Lin’s research on Salt Lake City is dust blown off the Great Salt Lake. As the climate warms and water levels lower more frequently, dust is increasingly exposed to the air and carried into the atmosphere. Salt Lake City’s proximity to the lake leaves it particularly susceptible to the ill effects. This lake dust also effects snow, as it settles on the snowpack and causes it to melt faster.

Wildfires also play a big part in introducing particles to the atmosphere. Smoke from across the West can move hundreds of miles in the atmosphere to Utah. As climate change makes fires more frequent and intense, the relationship between global processes and regional air quality becomes more evident.

This relationship is visible in our daily lives.

“When we drive, the stuff that comes out of our tailpipes includes greenhouse gases but also NOx [Nitrogen Oxide] and PM2.5 which cause air quality problems,.” Lin said.

Often the source of local pollution is the source of emissions that drive climate change. Each contributes to a feedback loop that exacerbates their combined effect.

Lin’s research at the U has begun to uncover and understand the sources of these problems. Through two research groups, LAIR and U-ATAQ, Lin has used extensive data from a complex network of air quality monitoring systems throughout the region. The TRAX Air Quality monitoring system installed four years ago has been a major player in this network. The system has allowed Lin and his colleagues to closely monitor the valley’s air in its most densely-populated areas. Working together with city government, this research is directly informing new air quality initiatives in Salt Lake City. Collaborative work with the University of Utah Medical School is also applying this data to public health research.

The possibilities emerging from an understanding of how air quality and climate change intersect may have positive consequences outside of Utah.

“There’s a fair bit of interest from cities around the West who want to reduce emissions,” said Lin. “The cities are at the forefront, and hopefully the scientists can help in some way. What we hope to do is use our research to help assess if, with new measures in place, the reduction in emissions are actually happening.”

Come to Lin’s seminar, ” “The greenhouse gas-air quality nexus: experiences from the Western U.S.” at 4 p.m. in 210 ASB on Tuesday, September 11 to learn more about this cutting-edge research of the intersection of air quality and climate change, and how it affects us here in Salt Lake City and the West.  

Antifreeze Adaptations

By Bianca Greeff, Graduate Assistant.

The Antarctic snailfish, Paraliparis devriesi, named after Professor Art DeVries from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, lives perhaps 700 m down and has insufficient antifreeze to cope with ice crystals. Courtesy of Peter Wilson.

Reaching temperatures as low as -89°C, Antarctica is the coldest, windiest and driest continent on the planet. The Southern Ocean that surrounds Antarctica doesn’t offer much relief for species. In the winter, the ocean surface freezes solid, doubling the continent’s size. In the summer, temperatures rise just above freezing and melt away some of the sea ice.

Despite water temperatures remaining around -1.5 to -2°C, the Southern Ocean is teeming with life.

Peter Wilson, visiting distinguished professor at the University of South Florida and associate dean at the University of Tasmania Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, will provide a general overview of the Southern Ocean and explain how species have adapted to survive in and around Antarctica at the GCSC Seminar Series on Tuesday, March 27, 4-5 p.m. in 210 ASB.

Over the course of millions of years, marine species have adapted to the harsh, cold water in the Southern Ocean.

“A fish from the coast of California would freeze solid like a popsicle if it was placed in the waters around Antarctica,” explained Wilson. “The fishes around Antarctica, and in the Arctic, have evolved to create these wonderfully interesting protein molecules that bind to the ice crystals and stop the crystals from growing.”

One of the species Wilson will discuss is the Antarctic toothfish (Dissostichus mawsoni). The Antarctic toothfish produces antifreeze glycoproteins that allow it to survive in the freezing waters of the Southern Ocean. The glycoprotein comes in a variety of size ranges, and can be found in all body water, not just in the blood. But Wilson suggests it isn’t the protein itself that is interesting. Rather it is the way the proteins bind with ice crystals.

Species with these antifreeze proteins can be classified as either freeze tolerant or freeze avoidant. Freeze tolerant species include those species who can handle a significant amount of freezing. Up to 81 percent of their body water can be frozen solid and these species will still survive, said Wilson.

Don Juan Pond is a small, hypersaline lake in the west end of Wright Valley. With a salinity of over 40%, Don Juan Pond is the saltiest of the Antarctic lakes and remains liquid even at temperatures as low as −50 °C. Courtesy of Peter Wilson.

Freeze avoidant species are the species who prevent the freezing of their bodily water all together. There are a few ways for species to be freeze avoidant. Some might avoid freezing by supercooling—chilling a liquid below freezing temperatures without the liquid becoming solid.

But it isn’t just Antarctic fish that have antifreeze capabilities, insects and mammals have also adapted to the cold temperatures under and on Antarctica. Some insects are able to avoid freezing completely by having gooey hemolymph (the insect equivalent to blood) that slows the formation of ice crystals. In his talk, Wilson will show how a number of species have adapted to the cold.

At the end of his talk, Wilson will indicate some of the ways humans are using this information about antifreeze proteins to transform our own lives. From producing smoother ice-cream to deicing airplanes, Antarctic species might hold the key for future innovation.

To hear more about Antarctic adaptations and Wilson’s journeys through the Pacific to Antarctica attend his GCSC lecture, “Antarctica—Fishes, Adaptations and Dealing with Ice” on Tuesday, March 27 at 4 p.m. in 210 ASB.

 

 

Cover Photo: Ross Island, with Mt Erebus in the background and McMurdo Station seen at front right.  The photograph was taken standing on about 6 feet of sea ice. Courtesy of Peter Wilson.

Using Time as Our Guide

By Bianca Greeff, Graduate Assistant.

Both urban and rural areas around the world rely heavily on groundwater to support agriculture, energy, residential, and industrial use. This demand for groundwater—from a global population of over seven and a half billion—combined with impacts of climate change places more stress on these systems. In order to sustainably manage these resources, we first need to quantify it.

Kip Solomon, department of Geology & Geophysics at the University of Utah, will show how understanding the age and recharge of aquifers can lead to more sustainable use at the GCSC Seminar Series on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 4-5 p.m. in 210 ASB.

“While we have a hint that we are overexploiting a number of these large regional systems,” said Solomon, “the amount of data we have to make these assessments is rather limited. Part of my pitch is that we need to make more measurements in these kinds of systems.”

Groundwater recharge is a hydrologic process where water moves from surface water to groundwater—like an aquifer—by draining through the soil. Recharge can be a slow process, especially when the body of water is deep underground. The longer it takes water to reach the aquifer, the lower the rate of recharge. This makes measuring the rate of recharge a challenging process. For Solomon, the most promising tool is dating the groundwater.

“By getting the mean age of water we can calculate the recharge,” explained Solomon. “By dating the groundwater and using the geologic information to determine the volume, we can infer the rates of replenishment to the aquifer.”

There are a few tools that can be used to date water—namely isotopes and trace atmospheric gasses. Elements can have several isotopes depending on what the element has come in contact with. In aquifers, isotopes are often generated in the subsurface. Their concentrations build up the longer the water is in contact with the subsurface rock. A higher concentration of an isotope, like Carbon-14, thus signifies older water.

For younger water, atmospheric gasses can be used to date it. Over the past few decades, gasses produced in the industrial processes—like sulfur hexafluoride—have been increasing. When exposed to the air, water absorbs concentrations of these gasses. The longer the water interacted with the gas, the greater the concentration will be. Once the water moves below the surface those concentrations of gas are essentially “locked in.” Measuring the traces of these gasses in groundwater can show how old that water might be.

Determining the recharge rate is important for both hydrologic understanding of subsurface bodies of water and for natural resource management. The recharge is a vital component of understanding the amount of water that can be extracted without overexploiting or compromising the integrity of the groundwater body.

“99 percent of unfrozen freshwater is in the ground,” explained Solomon. “As our world approaches eight billion, it is a growing question of whether or not these big regional aquifers can be sustainably exploited to support agriculture in arid and semi-arid regions.”

To learn more, attend Solomon’s lecture, “Can Groundwater Feed the World? It’s All About Time” on Tuesday, Jan. 23 at 4 p.m. in 210 ASB.

 

Cover photo via USGS public domain. 

Re-Imagining Relationships

Bianca Greeff, Graduate Assistant.

Climate change threatens everything about our social organization. But that shouldn’t immobilize us. Instead, Kari Norgaard, associate professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Oregon, encourages us to view climate change as an opportunity to re-envision our social, political, and economic systems.

Norgaard will show how climate change provides the opportunity to rethink our relationships to the human and other-than-human world at the GCSC Seminar Series on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 4-5 p.m. in 210 ASB.

In her seminar, Norgaard will discuss the phenomenon of socially organized denial. Norgaard suggests that it isn’t the lack of information that leads people to inaction, but rather the emotions that climate change invokes.

“Denial is a form of environmental privilege,” explained Norgaard. “People who have benefited more from the current system find it harder to grapple with the idea of very large system change and experience a lot of guilt, helplessness, fear of future and present.”

Norgaard suggests the normalization of climate change is an avoidance mechanism. While we can make daily changes in our lives to help reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, individuals alone will not be able to slow or stop climate change. There is also an urgent need to rethink many larger aspects of our current systems—like reducing our use of fossil fuels or changing cultural norms of over-consumption.

In her seminar, Norgaard will bridge her work on the social organization of climate denial with her recent work with the Karuk Tribe. The Karuk are an indigenous community in Northern California and are highly mobilized around climate change. The biggest problem they face is the increasing forest fires. Climate change has been producing warmer, dryer conditions in the region—the ideal environment for larger, hotter, and more destructive wildfires. Future mega-fires threaten local ecosystems and cultural practices.

The Karuk have used controlled burns to manage wildfire threats and cultivate traditional plants for generations, but their use of fire has continually been suppressed by management agencies. Recently, wildfire research has begun showing the importance of controlled burns for fire risk management and indigenous practices. Thus, creating an opportunity for cultural and ecological revitalization.

Re-introducing controlled burns is one example of how climate change has created a new possibility for cooperation across worldviews and communities. By incorporating elements of Norgaard’s subtitle—imagination, responsibility, and community—we can start a discourse that inspires action and moves our society to become a more socially and ecologically equitable place.

The “imagination” in Norgaard’s subtitle is defined by the idea of the sociological imagination, which generates awareness between the individual experience and society. It shows how the society we live in shapes what we understand, what we don’t understand, and influences what we think is possible. Norgaard sees that we all have a “responsibility” to be engaged in the world. Feeling overwhelmed, hopeless, or guilty doesn’t mean we should give up or disengage from climate change action. Despite these feelings, we still have a responsibility to act. Closely related is Norgaard’s third term, “community”. No one can tackle climate change on their own. Rather, we need one another. We need to know how to work together and understand each other to create a community of action.

To learn more about the opportunities to re-imagine our relationships to one another and the natural world, attend Norgaard’s seminar, “Climate Change as Strategic Opportunity: Imagination, Responsibility, and Community” on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 4-5 pm in 210 ASB.

 

Cover Photo: “Wildfire” by NPS via flickr. Public Domain Mark 1.0.

 

curating global ecology through big data

Bianca Greeff, Graduate Assistant.

Ecologists seek to answer the big questions about how the world is changing, and how species and ecosystems are responding to those changes. To answer these questions, a new network of analysis is needed. Community-curated data sources can provide new insight on how systems are have changed in the past and how they are changing now.

Jack Williams, professor of Geography at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, will show how two community curated data sources are bringing reliable, big data to bear on the challenges of a changing world at the GCSC Seminar Series on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 4-5 p.m. in 210 ASB.

Jack Williams, used with permission.

According to Williams, four V’s (volume, variety, velocity, and veracity) characterize ecological big data. Volume refers to the size of data, variety is the heterogeneity – diverse nature – of data types and measurements, velocity is the rate data needs to be generated or analyzed at, and veracity is the potential uncertainties.

Community-curated data sources have been developed to enable global-scale science. These data networks are also changing the way data is analyzed.

“The standard has been to run ecosystem models and analyze data somewhat independently of each other,” Williams said. “But now we have the opportunity to do more simulations where the data doesn’t constrain the simulations and improve the parameterization and forecast.”

Multiple groups have begun building databases that bring the data and paleoecological records from multiple networks to larger scales. These data sets can be applied to testing and improving the predictability of ecosystem models.

Williams will structure his talk around two different data networks—Neotoma and PalEON. Neotoma gathers large amounts of records from around the world and assembles it into one common resource that is publically available. PalEON is an example of one type of research that can be done with this kind of global platform for ecological and paleoecological research.

“Neotoma and PalEON are part of a broader set of efforts to gather many different kinds of ecological data into extended observational networks,” Williams explained. “We can now look at ecological dynamics at long timescales and at large spatial scales.”

Williams studies species’ responses to climate change. By using the last 2,000 years as a model, he can look at how species have migrated or changed in past climate. His work with PalEON is interested in using ecosystem models to forecast and predict species responses to climate change at decadal and centennial time scales.

“An interesting initial finding is that, as a result of climate change and human land use over the last century, the climatic niches of trees have changed,” explained Williams. “A lot of our predictive models use modern climates and modern tree species distribution as the basis of our predictions of forest responses to current and future climate change. Seeing how niches have changed suggests there is perhaps there is some disequilibrium with current climate change.”

To learn more about ecological big data, attend William’s seminar, “Achieving global ecology via dispersed community-curated data resources: Neotoma and PalEON” on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 4-5 pm in 210 ASB.

 

Cover Photo by geralt via pixabay. CC0.