2021-2022 Academic Year

News and Highlights in August 2022

Alan Robock, RCI Affiliate

Distinguished Professor Alan Robock received the 2022 Future of Life Award from the Future of Life Institute on August 6 “for reducing the risk of nuclear war by developing and popularizing the science of nuclear winter.” He shares the award with fellow nuclear winter pioneers John Birks, Paul Crutzen, Jeannie Peterson, Carl Sagan, Georgiy Stenchikov, Brian Toon, and Richard Turco. Each awardee received a plaque and a $50,000 prize. The Future of Life Institute is a nonprofit seeking to reduce extreme, large-scale risks from transformative technologies.  It also aims for the future development and use of these technologies to be beneficial to all life. Read the full story here.

Coverage in the Washington Post, the Hill, HealthDay, the LA Times, Bloomberg, USA Today, and Science.org, reports on Rutgers-led work finding that five billion people would die in a modern nuclear war between the US and Russia. The recent war in Ukraine has put the world in one of the most dangerous periods in history because of an increased risk for nuclear war. Over the past decade, Alan Robock, an RCI Affiliate and distinguished professor at Rutgers, has assembled a team of scientists to develop a climate model to simulate global cooling. In a nuclear war, millions of tons of soot would be released into the atmosphere, resulting in less sunlight, temperature, and precipitation. Food sources would fall sharply. In a war between the US and Russia, calories grown would drop by 90%. The conclusion of the new research was clear: that nuclear war would “obliterate global food systems,” co-author Alan Robock said in a statement. “If nuclear weapons exist, they can be used, and the world has
come close to nuclear war several times,” Robock said. “Banning nuclear weapons is the only long-term solution.” He pointed to the U.N. Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which has been ratified by 66 nations but none of the nine nuclear states. “Our work makes clear that it is time for those nine states to listen to science and the rest of the world and sign this treaty,” he said. Listen to Robock’s interview by the NPR podcast The Takeaway.

Malin Pinsky, RCI affiliate

Phys.org reports on research done by Rutgers researchers Malin Pinsky, an RCI affiliate, and Lisa McManus. The research decided that introducing coral resistant to warmer temperatures will do little to prevent a decline in coral population from climate change. Introducing a super coral would reduce an area’s genetic diversity and make it harder for all corals to adapt. Scientists have been advocating less for restoration of coral reefs and more for policies to combat climate change itself. "Coral restoration can be an important tool for conserving coral reefs, but restoration is expensive and hard. We can't use restoration to replace the basics, like improving water quality, avoiding overfishing, and addressing climate change," said Malin Pinsky, an associate professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Natural Resources at Rutgers University–New Brunswick.

Steve Decker, RCI affiliate

In much of NJ the heat index climbed above 100 degrees in late July, according to NJ Spotlight News. New Jersey American Water, the state’s largest water company, is now asking households to restrict water usage. The state is now in abnormally dry conditions. “After a bit of a break early next week given the large-scale conditions across the country, drought conditions in the Central Plains are really allowing the heat to build out there,” said Rutgers University meteorologist and RCI affiliate Steve Decker. “That’s what we’re getting right now when the winds come from the west and southwest that blow that hot air from the central U.S. right towards us. So with the drought conditions continuing across the central U.S., certainly the conditions are there for continued bursts of heat to make their way east.”

Dina Fonseca, RCI affiliate

Rutgers scientists are investigating the tick population in New Jersey to combat Lyme disease, reports Patch.com. Rutgers is launching a new program that allows residents to submit tick specimens to help Rutgers track the tick population. Dina Fonseca, the director of the Center for
Vector Biology and an RCI affiliate, wants pictures of ticks to see where people are encountering ticks in their day-to-day lives. The program could help the researchers understand the frequency of Lyme disease better. The team will test it for pathogens.

Patricia Findley, RCI affiliate

The extreme heat in New Jersey could affect mental health, according to NJ Spotlight News. There is typically an increase in depression, schizophrenia, and other mental health disorders during the summer. Heat makes sleep more difficult which could contribute to mental health
issues. Dehydration in extreme heat also plays a role. “People don’t drink enough when it gets hot and then if you don’t drink enough, it affects how the medication is being taken into your body so that’s when it doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to,” Patricia Findley said. “Or, the longer they’re in the heat, sometimes cognitive problems come on and they don’t even realize how bad off they are until they’re already in trouble,” Findley, an RCI affiliate, said. Experts stress the importance of community in reducing severe outcomes. Checking on friends and family could save lives.