2008 Annual Lecture Series

Lecture Summaries
June 9-13, 2008

Monday, June 9, 3:30 p.m.
Realizing the Vision for Open Ocean Aquaculture
Richard Langan, Director, Atlantic Marine Aquaculture Center, University of New Hampshire

Summary

Richard Langan, director of the Atlantic Marine Aquaculture Center at the University of New Hampshire, explained the current status of offshore fish farming and the obstacles and opportunities that may be encountered as this sector grows, in his lecture on June 9, 2008, at the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography. This was the first in a series of five public lectures presented by the Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Reporting.

Langan’s experience with fisheries began in the 1980s when he was a commercial fisherman and realized that he was contributing to the depletion of fish in a non-sustainable way. As consumption of animal protein throughout the world has increased, especially in developing nations, Langan explained that there is an opportunity to turn to the ocean for food. As Jacques Cousteau famously said (and Langan argued), “we need to farm the sea as we farm the land.”

Seventy percent of the planet is ocean, yet only 1.8 percent of our food comes from the sea. Seafood is more efficient than land animal protein – while it takes eight kilograms of cattle feed to produce one kilogram of beef, only 1.1 kilogram of feed is needed to produce 1 kilogram of farmed salmon. Langan stated that 77 percent of our seafood is currently imported, which can contribute to environmental degradation. One option is to create more aquaculture opportunities in this country, and in other countries with greater policy control.

Langan outlined three forms of aquaculture: land-based aquaculture, which requires enormous energy to operate; coastal aquaculture, which is farmed in protected areas or with long lines, and which often conflicts with recreational areas and can create pollution, and open-ocean aquaculture. Benefits of open-ocean aquaculture include ample space for expansion, a capacity for many different species, distance from pollution sources, and a physically and chemically more stable environment.

At the forefront of open-ocean aquaculture is the Atlantic Marine Aquaculture Center. The center operates a 30-acre field site six miles offshore in the Gulf of Maine. This offshore aquaculture site works with four fully submerged cages and remote observation and control, including a video feed of cod, the target species. By tagging individual fish and creating models of their movements, the center can now better understand fish behavior, including when and what to feed them and their swimming patterns, further enabling scientists to choose cages whose shape and size work best. At different times, flounder, halibut, haddock, cod, steelhead trout, mussels and sea scallops are raised at the site, with simultaneous production now reaching up to five species.

More commercial fishermen are turning to open-ocean farming, which seems to be profitable. Commercial fish farms are starting up around the world and the U.S., including areas off New Hampshire, California, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

Can offshore aquaculture be environmentally sustainable? The press often reports the negative impacts of aquaculture, but, according to Langan, the environmental effects of land-based agriculture are often as detrimental, or more detrimental to the environment. Because open-ocean aquaculture is just beginning to develop, there are opportunities to develop best management practices which ensure that this seafood is produced in a sustainable way.

Management is the key to creating environmentally sustainable farming. Site selection, infrastructure and maintenance choices, husbandry practices, and strategies for corrective actions are all important in the creation of environmentally sustainable open-ocean aquaculture situation. In the future, Langan sees unmanned farms that are operated remotely from onshore as safe, economical, and environmentally sustainable. It is clear to him that investment in aquaculture is happening abroad, and it is his hope that there will be funding and popular support in this country in order for offshore aquaculture to move forward in a safe and sustainable way.

Bio

Richard Langan is the director of University of New Hampshire’s Atlantic Marine Aquaculture Center and the Center’s Open Ocean Aquaculture Project, which develops environmentally sound practices and advanced technology for raising native, coldwater finfish and shellfish in exposed oceanic environments. He is also Co-Director of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration-UNH Cooperative Institute for Coastal and Estuarine Environmental Technology (CICEET), which develops tools and technologies for managing coastal environments. Dr. Langan is a member of the graduate faculty in the Department of Zoology and has previously held the positions of Director and rsearch scientist at UNH’s Jackson Estuarine Laboratory. Alongside his administrative duties, he conducts research programs in molluscan shellfish aquaculture and restoration and in the development and assessment of marine water and habitat quality monitoring programs. Prior to his tenure at the university, he was a commercial fisherman and the owner and operator o seafood and shellfish aquaculture businesses. He received a Ph.D. at the University of New Hampshire.


 

Tuesday, June 10, 3:30 p.m.
Hurricane Intensity: Warming Up the Debate
Have Humans Affected the Atlantic Hurricane Climate?

Tom Knutson, Research Meteorologist, Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Summary

According to Tom Knutson, it is premature to conclude that humans have had a noticeable effect on Atlantic hurricane climate. This is the short answer to the big question raised in his lecture for Metcalf Institute at URI Graduate School of Oceanography.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL), with Knutson at the lead, has created a computer model to better understand the frequency and intensity of past Atlantic hurricanes and possible future trends.

Knutson began his talk with the evidence put forth by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that the earth is warming significantly due to human influence. Knutson first presented model simulations of global temperature changes due to solar and volcanic activity alone and then with the additional influence of greenhouse gases. The results clearly showed that the earth’s warming correlates with the warming simulated by models due to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions driven by human activities.

When sea surface temperatures are warmer, the most intense typhoons (or hurricanes) develop. If sea surface temperatures increase in the region where Atlantic hurricanes form and intensify, will hurricane intensity and frequency increase in the 21st Century, as the climate warms?

Knutson and his colleagues began looking at the Atlantic storm database to answer this question. They hypothesized that improvements in technology since 1965 may have led to an increase in storm recording – and by comparing modern-day storm tracks with historical ship tracks, they were able to estimate how many storms may have been missed before satellite technology. The long-term trends (since 1878) in the adjusted numbers of tropical storms and hurricanes in the Atlantic basin were “statistically no different from zero.”

The high-resolution regional model that the GFDL created for predicting storm frequency and intensity during hurricane season accounts for sea surface temperature and general atmospheric conditions. In looking at past years, the model captured both the increase in hurricane activity since the 1980s and the year-by-year fluctuations in number of hurricanes. The control model reproduces a close relationship between sea surface temperatures and hurricane frequency for 1980 through 2006. However, this statistical relationship does not hold for future human-caused warming in the model.

According to Knutson, the model suggests that there is a climate-dependent threshold temperature for hurricane formation, which means that as the global sea surface temperatures increase, the threshold temperature at which hurricanes typically form also increases.

The question of model dependence is a factor when predicting future hurricane frequency and intensity. Out of the fourteen global climate models that the GFDL team analyzed with their regional model, the average global model projection calls for a slight decrease in Atlantic major hurricane counts by the late 21st Century. This number varies by model; in fact, one global model’s projection implies a 70% increase in Atlantic major hurricane counts. This illustrates that further studies must narrow the uncertainty regarding details of future regional sea surface temperatures, wind shear, and other factors which may influence Atlantic hurricane activity.

Knutson noted that there is a significant computing expense for running these models. In fact, current limits on model resolution, due to limited computing resources, is one reason why the hurricanes simulated using even their high resolution regional model are generally weaker than observed and do not reach category 4 or 5 intensity. For these and other reasons, Knutson added, further studies are needed before we can confidently attribute past changes in hurricane activity to increased greenhouse gases or other human- caused factors.

At the end of the lecture, reflecting on Knutson’s final conclusion, Metcalf director Sunshine Menezes pointed out that “It is important to realize what we don’t know.” Information about Knutson’s studies are found on the web at: http://www.gfdl.noaa.gov/~tk.

Bio

Thomas Knutson has been a Research Meteorologist at the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL) in Princeton, New Jersey since 1990. GFDL, which is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is one of the world’s leading climate modeling centers. Mr. Knutson has authored several major studies in leading scientific journals on the potential impact of climate change on hurricanes. He now heads a project at GFDL aimed at simulating past and future Atlantic hurricane activity using regional high-resolution models. He currently serves as Co-Chair of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Expert Team on Climate Impacts on Tropical Cyclones, and was a key contributor to the December 2006 WMO “Statement on Tropical Cyclones and Climate Change.” He is a lead author on the U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) assessment report on “Weather and Climate Extremes in a Changing Climate,” a member of the American Meteorological Society’s (AMS) Climate Variability and Change Committee, and an Associate Editor of the Journal of Climate. He has been an invited speaker on hurricanes and climate change at science meetings and workshops, universities, and in the private sector. Mr. Knutson has over 35 peer-reviewed science publications.


 

Wednesday, June 11, 3:30 p.m.
U.S. Climate Policy and Politics Update:
Translating Climate Change Science into Policy Action

Vicki Arroyo, Director of Policy Analysis, Pew Center on Global Climate Change

Summary

 

Now that the basic science of climate change is widely accepted, Vicki Arroyo is optimistic that U.S. policy action will follow in the near future. Arroyo, director of policy analysis at the Pew Center on Global Change, gave a lecture at the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography on June 11, 2008, on how climate science informs national policy for the Metcalf Institute’s annual public lecture series.

Climate change has become a more pressing issue for many people in recent years. An ABC News/Stanford/Washington Post poll shows that in 1998 only 31 percent of the public saw climate change as very important, but by 2007 this number had risen to 52 percent. Looking at the history of regulating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, Arroyo noted that reduction of GHG emissions first approved in Federal legislation in the early 1990s in the form of voluntary measures. President Clinton supported the Kyoto Protocol, but offered no mandatory action. Under President Bush, Kyoto has been abandoned, there has been a call for more research on climate change, and there is voluntary reporting of emissions. GHG emissions have been steadily increasing during the intervening years.

Arroyo explained that the McCain-Lieberman cap-and-trade bill in 2003 was the beginning of an educational process for Congress, but the bill did not pass. In the wake of that federal failure to regulate GHG, some states have taken the lead in cap-and-trade initiatives, often seeking to be the leaders in producing alternative energy.

One of the many groups that have formed to address the issue of global warming is the United States Action Partnership (USAP). This partnership, of which the Pew Center is a member, is comprised of businesses and non-profit organizations that are encouraging the federal government to enact legislation for significant reduction in greenhouse gases.

One of USAP’s target goals is for a 60 to 80 percent reduction from 1990 GHG levels by 2050. According to Arroyo, there is a growing sense in industry that U.S. climate action is now inevitable and possibly desirable. Congress echoed this in 2007 with over 110 climate-related hearings, and 150 bills mentioning climate change.

The Lieberman-Warner cap-and-trade bill, which would have established a cap-and-trade system to reduce GHG emissions, is the latest bill to reach the floor of the Senate. Although a majority of Senators (48) voted to end debate on the bill, thereby allowing a yea/nay vote, the sponsors were not able to gather the 60 votes needed to invoke cloture. Arroyo still remained optimistic, stating that the good news is that the debate is even happening.

She went on to note that people are seeing more and more evidence of global warming on a global scale. She is hopeful that policy change will come with the change of administrations – both 2008 presidential candidates support cap-and-trade bills. According to Arroyo, “the cost of inaction will greatly exceed the cost of action.”

Bio
Vicki Arroyo is Director of Policy Analysis for the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, a position she has held since July 1998. Arroyo directs the Pew Center’s domestic program, including oversight of analysis, reports, and workshops focusing on domestic policy issues, economics, and science/environmental impacts. She has overseen the development of over 50 published reports, briefs and white papers, and was Managing Editor of the Pew Center’s book: Climate Change: Science, Strategies, and Solutions. Prior to joining the Pew Center, she practiced environmental law for four years in Washington, D.C. She has also served in two offices of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — overseeing development of air toxics standards in the Office of Air and Radiation from 1987-1988, and reviewing development of criteria air pollutant regulations in the Office of Research and Development from 1993-1994. In between her two stints at EPA, she served in Louisiana as Environmental Advisor to Governor Buddy Roemer and as Director of Policy Analysis for the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality. Arroyo holds a Masters of Public Administration from Harvard University, and a Juris Doctor degree, magna cum laude from Georgetown University Law Center, where she served as Editor-in-Chief of the Georgetown International Environmental Law Review. She serves on the Editorial Board of the Climate Policy Journal, on the Advisory Council to the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and on advisory committees to the National Academy of Sciences and the U.S. Climate Change Science Program. She has served as an adjunct faculty member at Catholic University and George Mason University teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in environmental policy, and at Tulane University Law School.


Thursday, June 12, 3:30 p.m.
Slow Fuse: Reporting the Global Freshwater Crisis
J. Carl Ganter, Journalist and Co-Founder, Circle of Blue

Summary

“Water is so cool. It is mesmerizing. It is magical.” Thus began J. Carl Ganter’s lecture on the global freshwater crisis. Ganter, a journalist and co-founder of Circle of Blue, spoke as part of the Metcalf Institute’s 2008 public lecture series at the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography.

Water is important to everything. Ganter labels water as an “axis issue,” one that intersects with many other issues, including climate, energy, health, conflict, and pollution.

At the same time, twenty percent of the global population is without access to a renewable water supply, and irrigation and urban water use are in excess of sustainable supplies. Over a billion people worldwide lack clean drinking water, and 2.6 billion people lack basic sanitation.

Lack of water often overlaps with many other issues. Ganter specifically cited gender inequality, which arises when water must be carried from distance sources. Often it is the girls and women in rural communities who must sacrifice their educations to carry the water if it is not readily available.

The challenges of freshwater access span the world, Ganter continued. In Asia, a billion people rely on water from the Tibetan Plateau, flowing downstream to China, Mongolia and India. Yet as the climate changes, more of this water is drying up. The Mongolian desert is expanding into China, directly impacting Mongolian and Chinese populations and indirectly impacting the American West, where the traveling dust from the desert will settle.

Ganter spent time in Tehuacan, Mexico, where he listened to community members tell their stories about water tables dropping, rainfall patterns changing, and sanitation problems intensifying. This population is buying drinking water for the first time ever. Many families have been torn apart as children become “eco-refugees,” coming to the United States for water.

Examining his own field, Ganter spoke about how water is covered in current news stories. Spain is in a drought, and drinking water is being imported by barge. Although the press is reporting the story, photographers have been discouraged from recording the water barges for fear of backlash from investors or decreased tourism.

Ganter explained that journalists face several challenges in reporting on the freshwater crisis. Many people lack a clear understanding of what is a sustainable level of water consumption. Journalists also compete with other information from the media for the news audience’s attention. Journalists need to figure out how to make the audience care about the freshwater story, Ganter argued.

Ganter was optimistic, however, and said we have the means to address our water problems. The solution involves telling the stories of people who are affected by lack of water and holding our leaders and ourselves responsible for developing solutions to the scarcity crisis.

Bio

J. Carl Ganter is a photojournalist, writer, broadcast reporter, and co-founder of Circle of Blue, a nonprofit journalism project covering the global freshwater crisis. His reporting has ranged from coverage of the AIDS crisis in Southeast Asia for Time magazine to the exoneration of a wrongfully convicted murderer in Illinois. He currently serves on the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars “Navigating Peace” water working group and is a member of the Clinton Global Initiative. He’s a visiting instructor at the University of North Carolina and the Poynter Institute. He has been a speaker at the Aspen Ideas Festival, World Economic Forum and the Aspen Environment Forum. He received his MSJ in investigative and magazine writing at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism after graduating with honors from Northwestern’s American Studies Program.


Friday, June 13, 11 a.m.
Slippery When Wet
Robert Bindschadler, Chief Scientist, Hydrospheric and Biospheric Sciences Laboratory, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Summary

Robert Bindschadler studies the dynamics of ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica. In recent years, he explained in his lecture for the 2008 Metcalf Institute public lecture series, scientists have become increasingly alarmed by the rate at which these ice sheets have been melting due to climate warming.

In his presentation, Slippery When Wet, on June 13, 2008, at the URI Graduate School of Oceanography, Bindschadler explained that tracking changes is important because ice sheet melt contributes significantly to sea level rise. At present, the rate of sea level rise has risen from two millimeters per year to over three millimeters per year. Even though exact estimates are uncertain, Bindschadler stated that there is little doubt that one meter of sea level rise will occur by the end of the century.

Regarding the exact response of ice sheets to climate change, scientists have been debating various outcomes. Bindschadler explained that warmer air temperatures would likely result in increased snowfall, which would quickly help to thicken the ice sheets. However, warmer air temperatures would also contribute to melting. Warmer ice tends to flow faster, which over time would result in ice breaking off in chucks and flowing away from the larger sections.

Models can help climate scientists to understand how climate shifts might contribute to the growth or shrinkage of the ice sheets. For example, decades ago Greenland’s ice sheet was in equilibrium, meaning that the accumulation of snow and ice equaled melting and ice flow. Although the center is currently thickening, climate models predict that climate change would only cause about a ten percent increase in thickening. At present, scientists have observed increased melting around the edges, and models estimate that this could increase by 50 percent due to climate change.

Climate models predict a potential 100 percent increase in the acceleration of the retreat and thinning of outlet glaciers. In fact, Bindschadler noted with concern, a 210 percent increase in melting of outlet glaciers in Greenland has already been observed.

As referenced in Bindschadler’s presentation title, water is one of the most important factors that influences ice sheet melting. For example, in the summertime, water from melting snow and ice funneled into rivers eventually makes its way underneath the ice. This causes basal lubrication, which helps the ice to flow faster and contributes to ice sheet shrinkage. In contrast to glaciers, which are relatively fast moving, the ice in between glaciers is slow moving and can be greatly accelerated by basal lubrication.

Ice sheet disintegration has been occurring recently at unprecedented rates. Bindschadler displayed alarming satellite images of the disintegration of Larsen B ice shelf in Antarctica, which disappeared in only six weeks. Events like these are preceded by very warm summers. Because there is such a large volume of water from increased melting, the water seeps into cracks on the ice shelf. Water, heavier than ice, acts like a powerful wedge and forces the cracks apart, thus breaking up the ice.

Glacier retreat is a problem that scientists have been studying. Bindschadler spoke about a glacier in Greenland that has been naturally retreating for over a century. However, the glacier has retreated the same distance in the past five years that used to take 50 to 60 years.

Bindschadler spoke of various hypotheses regarding other possible effects of climate change that could accelerate ice sheet melting. One links changes in weather with ocean circulation which would bring warmer water to the bottom of the ice sheet in Antarctica.

Although some consequences of climate change are uncertain, Bindschadler illuminated the certainty that impacts to the ice sheets are already underway and that we should brace for undoubted future sea level rise.

Bio

Robert Bindschadler is a Chief Scientist of NASA’s Hydrospheric and Biospheric Sciences Laboratory, a Senior Fellow of the Goddard Space Flight Center, a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union, and a past President of the International Glaciological Society. He maintains an active interest in the dynamics of glaciers and ice sheets, primarily on Earth, investigating how remote sensing can be used to improve our understanding of the role of ice in the Earth’s climate. As the leader of 15 Antarctic field expeditions, he has extensive first-hand knowledge of the hazards and challenges of working in the Antarctic environment. Because of his extensive work in Antarctica, he has both an Antarctic glacier and an ice stream in West Antarctica named after him. Other research has taken him to Greenland and various glaciers throughout the world. During his 27 years at Goddard, he has developed numerous unique applications of remote sensing data for glaciological research. He has testified before Congress and briefed the U.S. Vice President on the issue of ice-sheet stability and served on many scientific commissions and study groups as an expert in glaciology and remote sensing of ice. He has published over 140 scientific papers, numerous review articles, and has appeared on television, radio and is often quoted in print media commenting on glaciological impacts of the climate on the world’s ice sheets and glaciers. Bindschadler also co-authored the IPCC report, which was receivly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.