Conference looks at Sandy’s aftermath
Rutgers faculty discussed how climate change is expected to affect how society lives in a series of presentations yesterday at the Cook Campus center.
The Rutgers Climate Institute sponsored the series, titled “Bridging the Climate Divide: Informing The Response to Hurricane Sandy and the Implications for Future Vulnerability,” said Marjorie Kaplan, associate director of the institute.
The presentation featured talks on the connection of climate change to events like Hurricane Sandy.
Norbert Psuty, a professor in the Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences, said rising sea levels would make communities in the Barnegat Bay area — already more open to flooding than any other region in the state — experience much more frequent flooding.
Malin Pinsky, assistant professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Natural Resources, said many marine species along the Northeast coastline have migrated north over the past few decades because of the region’s rapid climate change.
“In the Northeast, temperatures have doubled [in their rate of increase] over the global rate over the past 40 years,” he said.
Pinsky said migration could make marine species vulnerable to new predators, and make it more difficult for them to find suitable habitats.
Tania Lopez-Marrero, assistant professor in the Department of Latino and Hispanic Caribbean studies, said the Caribbean region is vulnerable to climate change because of the economic dependence of the region on economic activities such as tourism and the small amount of land available for residents.
“There are limits to where people can settle,” Marrero said.
Marrero said her primary area of research is local communities’ adaption to the effects of climate change, as well as how to effectively inform the population about the future of the Caribbean.
“We also need to think beyond the technical information that is available,” she said.
After Marrero’s talk, Oscar Schofield, a professor at the Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences, said predictions of hurricanes’ paths have vastly improved.
“They’re [now] usually not off by more than a few kilometers,” Schofield said. “Fifty years ago, that would have been an unmitigated miracle.”
Although scientists now have improved hurricane tracking, prediction models of a hurricane’s future intensity are not as reliable.
“There has been no improvement over the past 20 years,” he said.
Schofield said improving the accuracy of predicting a hurricane’s intensity was important for protecting coastal residents.
Fred Roberts, director of the Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence, said climate change is connected to Homeland Security because potential future conflicts over resources such as land and clean water may occur.
Climate change could lead to epidemics of tropical diseases, such as malaria, on U.S. soil, said Roberts, a professor in the Department of Mathematics.
“We’ve seen the rising number of cases of dengue in the Southwest area of the United States,” Roberts said.
Roberts said he assists government agencies, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, with gathering and analyzing data so they can decide how to best allocate resources.
“They’re looking at data to figure out where to best invest their resources,” Roberts said. “Mathematics professors may have something to contribute.”
Anthony Broccoli, the co-director of the Rutgers Climate Institute, said using mathematical models to predict future events based on current data is an imperfect, yet necessary process for climate change.
“How many people know exactly how much interest they’re going to earn on their 401K from now until the day they retire?” said Broccoli, a professor in the Department of Environmental Science. “There’s a lot of practical decision making that has to be made based on imperfect evidence.”
Broccoli said most Americans are ready to address climate change. Those who believe climate change is not happening compose a vocal, but small minority.
“It’s not 50 percent, it’s more like 15 percent,” he said. “That’s a lot of people who are still open to persuasion. I think it’s a more worthwhile strategy to try to persuade them than to persuade those who do not want to be persuaded.”
Thomas Segear, a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences senior, said he wanted to learn about the panel’s research into the concerns of coastal communities, such as beach replenishment and dune restoration.
He was glad panel members responded to an audience member’s challenge on why climate scientists do not become activists as well as scientists.
“They did bring up the point that being an advocate sometimes [discredits] them as being scientists,” Seagar said.