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Researchers

Researchers

Maggie Halfman

Asking questions and looking at how activities and environments are interconnected allows for us to seek answers even though we may be exposed to vastly more attention to naysayers, professional controversialists and table thumpers in talk shows and social gatherings. If you haven’t read the National Geographic article “Why Do Many Reasonable People Doubt Science?” by Joel Achenbach, I highly recommend that you read it before you do anything else, seriously. It provides a great explanation as to why the debate about climate change has so many deniers when it comes to evaluating the science or dismissing it outright.

I personally love peer discussions about science, intuition, and cultural practices that are based on science and intuition and limiting or expanding our options whenever we consider our thoughts on a certain aspect of life. What makes something a tradition for someone and for another a practice to be avoided? hmmm… I love considering what makes someone act or adopt a certain way of thinking and how it correlates with our choices and practices in various aspects of our lives. Some people may be averse to something another group thinks or implements, because they identify strongly with a deeply held belief and may automatically assume that someone who adopts another line of thinking has questionable principles, values or motivations.

For instance, many deniers believe that the only reason climate change scientists and their supporters support their claims, promote the science, and continue to advocate a certain position and solutions is to use the threat of global warming to attack the free market and industrial society generally. Therefore, they would rather hold onto that suspicion rather than open up to the answers that are found by people that they are already opposed to. Subsequently, they become anti-science based on that premise alone and that “those” people do not share their same values.

In many cases, however, they will listen to someone they trust and shares their values, on the topic, and have a more open mind to it, while casually laughing at an anonymous group of kayakers who tried to stop a ship for one reason or another that they saw in the news. (Maybe those kayakers have families, values and principles too, for those considering multifaceted individuals in those waters.)

And, reading this blog is not likely to change their mind, I’m afraid, although it isn’t a tool for such persuasion by the purpose of its origin. However, challenging the notion that those of us who trust the science and the findings aren’t flippantly against the free market and industrial society is fun to debunk. What many of us see as improving on the industries that we’ve inherited, others see as flat-out opposition. That’s not the case, when the effort has often been to refine policies and practices toward more sustainable practices as people become more informed. (I just told someone on a camping trip that no one is asking for a ban of yo-yos and frisbees, of course, even if they might ask questions about what they’re made of, naturally. Didn’t we all read “How Things are Made” as kids? Isn’t the point of learning from the past improving on the past?)

Albeit fantastical for some to believe, the answer to questions that might improve society has sadly sometimes been to inform the public less or to immediately assume the worst. And so the pendulum continues to swing, and we continue to support science and inquiry and those seeking answers.

Here’s a researcher seeking answers that I loved reading about and thought deserved mention in this WCCBH project. Maggie Halfman, a fourth-year marine science student, is on her way to Antarctica. In the fall, she is going to the Palmer Station, which is one of three United States research stations on the continent located on the Western Antarctic Peninsula. She will conduct an independent research project and also assist Jay Lunden, a biological oceanographer interested in the impacts of global ocean change in various marine systems, from the intertidal, the deep ocean, and the Antarctic. They will be exploring the impact that warming ocean temperatures have on the development of cold-water coral larvae.

In June 2013, NASA conducted a scientific study of the rates of basal melt of Antarctic ice shelves and found that basal melt accounted for 55 percent of all Antarctic ice shelf mass loss from 2003 to 2008. This amount proved much higher than previously thought.

Since Antarctica holds about 60 percent of the planet’s fresh water in its massive ice sheet, Halfman finds it important to understand how the oceans are changing to determine how we can and should act in order to minimize disturbances. What disturbances? She suggests natural disasters, ecosystem degradation and the economy. Independently, she’ll be studying and collecting data over the past five years to determine how temperatures vary in the area where scientists have observed the greatest rate of basal melting.

Her important work will contribute to the work being done to assess how the ice sheets will respond to a warming ocean and contribute to sea level rise. FYI: A large majority of the world’s most important economic regions are relatively close to coastlines. (Oh, and also those pesky beach clean-uppers.)

Lunden and Halfman will also collect larval samples of one of the largest species of solitary coral in the world from the ocean floor by using remotely operated underwater vehicles. Their studies will hopefully bring more understanding about the implications climate change will have on coral organisms and marine ecosystems. The future health of coral reefs and many marine organisms depends on our ability to monitor and reduce our carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to climate change.

Lunden has found that through his research it is possible that certain marine organisms possess inherent resilience to these ocean changing phenomena. Rhian Waller, professor of marine science at Darling Marine Center in Michigan will lead the expedition and is interested in learning what is going to happen to these organisms given that the ocean is warming and that the oceans are starting to acidify. All three of them hope that the research answers the question: if a base organism — the coral — dies, what’s going to happen to the rest of the ecosystem?

In a paper published on August 3, 2015 in Nature Climate Change journal, “Long-term response of oceans to CO2 removal from the atmosphere,” researchers at Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research determined that the acidification of oceans could take centuries to reverse despite hopes that extracting excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere could spare us the impacts of climate change. Their results suggest that a return to pre-industrial conditions through extraction wouldn’t occur until 2700 and that would be with aggressive almost unfeasible rates of extraction. They recommend instead an aggressive effort to reduce emissions now, rather than aggressive programs in 50 years’ time to remove it. One of the co-authors of the paper is the senior scientific advisor to Pope Francis for his highly praised recent climate encyclical. He (Schellnhuber) assesses that we will not be able to preserve ocean life as we know it unless we do not implement emissions reductions measures in line with the 2 degrees Celsius target in time.

Sources: Fond du Lac Reporter, University of Maine, Bangor Daily News, National Geographic, Maine Environmental News, The Free Press, jaylunden.weebly.com, NASA Global Climate Change Vital Signs of the Planet, Teach Ocean Science, The Sydney Morning Herald

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