2021-2022 Academic Year

News and Highlights in January 2022

Mark Miller   Mark Miller Graph
Mark Miller, RCI affiliate

SEBS/NJAES News reports on RCI affiliate Mark Miller’s research on marine cloud systems to understand their role in a warming climate. Marine climates reflect sunlight that would heat the ocean. Marine cloud cover is complete in the Northern latitudes in the high latitudes and partial in the tropics, with a transition zone in the mid-latitudes. Predicting where this transition will occur is an ongoing challenge. Often, clouds will group together, causing quick thunderstorms. Mark Miller, professor in Rutgers Department of Environmental Sciences, has been researching the topic. “Until recently there was insufficient data to characterize these cloud clusters and numerical simulations were not detailed enough to reproduce them,” said Miller. However, a new observation site has provided many new data points. “Three years ago, Melissa Kazemirad, a doctoral student in my research group, and I used Cheyenne, a supercomputer operated by the National Center for Atmospheric Research, to produce the first successful simulations that resemble these mini thunderstorm clusters,” Miller explained. “We are using these tools to help understand how these clusters form and how to accurately represent them in numerical weather and climate forecast models.” Models of climate change often find different results, much of which can be explained by differences in how they model marine cloud systems. “These model cloud representations suffer from our incomplete understanding of the transition from solid overcast in the northern latitudes to broken clouds in the tropics,” said Miller. “To improve these representations, we must better understand the clusters of mini thunderstorms that occur in the mid-latitude cloud transition regions, which is the goal of our study.” Miller is also the PI of the study, “Mesoscale Organization in Cumulus-Coupled Marine Stratocumulus”.

Windows of Understanding is a public art project that pairs a non-profit organization with an artist facilitator to produce an original work on climate change, economic justice, public health, and from protest to policy. The goal is to transform our “main street” spaces into literal windows of understanding; spaces in which the community can learn about the positive strides being made by local organizations around a wide array of social justice issues that don’t make daily headlines. An example work is below.

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Dr. Ying Fan Reinfelder, RCI affiliate

Ying Fan Reinfelder has been elected as an American Association for the Advancement of Science Fellow. Dr. Ying Fan Reinfelder is a hydrologist with a research interest in the global water cycle and its role in the climate system through physical and biogeochemical pathways, particularly through water-plant relations.

Dr. Van Abs, RCI affiliate

SEBS/NJAE News interviews Daniel Van Abs as to why the Eastern United States should be concerned with the Western United States having enough water. As the Western US has grown in population, the water resources provided by the Colorado River have been taxed. This is viewed by many in the East as a problem that only affects those who live in those states. According to Van Abs, “We in the East need to recognize that Western cities have been concerned about their water future for years, and they have recognized that just building more supplies won’t solve the problem. They are getting more innovative about controlling urban water demands, managing different water supplies and balancing urban and non-urban needs”. Van Abs points to the irrigated foods in the West as why one in the East should care, noting “therein lies a major concern for the East, because a lot of that irrigation provides our food, especially fruits, nuts and vegetables — even spinach, from the desert! Our food system has become dependent on Western irrigation, not only in the deserts but in the High Plains region of the Midwest (which is another story for another time)”. As the West competes over precious water rights, the cities will purchase the water they need, decreasing the agricultural land in the West, threatening food supply in the East.

Alan Robock, Distinguished Professor at Rutgers University and RCI affiliate

The LA Times reports that New Zealand and Australia sent military surveillance to Tonga to assess the extent of the damages from a recent volcanic eruption. Communications with the island have been limited as the fiber-optic cable that spans the ocean and connects the remote island to the rest of the world has been severed. However, the eruption will have a negligible impact on the earth’s climate. Alan Robock, Distinguished Professor at Rutgers University and RCI affiliate, indicated that temperatures will drop an average of .02 degrees Fahrenheit globally. The US Geological Survey estimated the eruption caused a 5.8 magnitude earthquake, which created 2.7 foot tsunami waves on Tonga.

David Robinson, the state climatologist and an RCI affiliate

NorthJersey.com reports that NJ had one of its warmest years on record in 2021. The statewide annual temperature of 55.2 degrees is tied with 1998 for third-highest since the early 1900s. Seven of the ten warmest years have come since 2010. "It’s not as simple as one year being warmer than the last or that New Jersey hasn't experienced warm years in the past," said David Robinson, the state climatologist and an RCI affiliate. "It’s that we have overwhelming evidence that this heat trend has occurred in the last decade or two." Climate science is overwhelmingly clear that the cause of warming is the release of greenhouse gases through human activities. Another worrying aspect of the warming is the additional humidity and precipitation that the higher temperatures allow. This may have contributed to storms Henry and Ida, the latter of which killed 30 people in severe flooding caused by intense rain. The summer of 2021 continued a trend that saw consistently higher temperatures and not a "mega-heat wave," Robinson said. “The daily low temperatures at night and in early morning are warming at a faster rate than the high temperatures during the day, suggesting that humidity is acting as a thermal blanket. "We can’t get rid of the daytime heat," he added. Governor Murphy has emphasized a transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy, facilitating the development of the offshore wind industry, yet his administration is set to build a gas-fired power plant along the Passaic River in Newark.

William "Bill" Errickson, Agriculture and Natural Resources Agent for Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Monmouth County and an RCI affiliate

MorningAgClips reports that the NJ Landscape Contractors Association has awarded its 2021 “Education of the Year Award” to William “Bill” Errickson. Bill Errickson serves as the Agriculture and Natural Resources Agent for Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Monmouth County with a focus on nursery production, turfgrass, and agricultural innovation and is also an RCI affiliate. His work focuses on sustainable soil management and cultural practices in the green industry that can help growers become more resilient to the impacts of climate change. He shared the following upon receiving the award:

“NJLCA and NJNLA have both been instrumental in helping me to understand the current needs and future directions of the green industries. Through attending their workshops and events, I have been able to meet with and learn from local and regional nursery and landscape professionals who have graciously shared their knowledge and experience, while identifying areas of need that can be addressed by Rutgers University.

As a contributing author to the New Jersey Nursery and Landscape Contractor Magazine, and a co-organizer of the NJLCA Northeast Green Industry Showcase, the Central Jersey Turf and Ornamental Institute, and the Nursery/Ornamental sessions at State Agricultural Convention, I aspire to deliver up to date, science-based educational programming and resources that are timely and relevant to the green industries.

My long-term goals involve supporting the New Jersey nursery and landscape industries in their efforts to promote native plants and sustainable landscaping practices that reduce inputs while increasing the bottom line. These green industries have tremendous potential to not only improve the aesthetics of our landscapes, but also to restore and enhance the biodiversity and ecological functions of the entire state.”

Daniel Van Abs, Rutgers professor and RCI affiliate

The Gothamist reports that environmental activists have called on Governor Phil Murphy to delay plans for a new natural gas power plant in East Newark. The plant would be near a wastewater facility in an already polluted area of the city, leading activists to believe Murphy is reneging on his promise to protect Black and Brown communities from pollution. In 2020, Murphy signed a landmark bill allowing projects such as this one to be rejected if they affect communities already overburdened by pollution. Local advocacy groups are worried, too, that it would affect the local population in a dense, already polluted area with two nearby existing power plants. “Backup power is a big issue for water supply and wastewater utilities. They aren't allowed to be out of business at any time, and yet are entirely dependent on the electricity grid unless they have their own power sources,” said Daniel Van Abs, who teaches Practice for Water, Society & Environment at Rutgers University and is an RCI Affiliate. “As we saw with Sandy, the grid isn't reliable enough, and so alternative energy sources are required for emergency situations.” “There are costs to all these steps, but this is a regional facility that has its greatest impacts on a single neighborhood — the region owes that neighborhood for PVSC to be the best neighbor it can be, both now and evolving to better conditions in the future,” he wrote in an email. Spokesman Doug Scancarella of the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission, which is building the plant, has explained that PSVC is planning to switch to renewable energy when it becomes more feasible, but this has left environmentalists skeptical, believing that one cannot fight climate change if one is instrumental in propagating it.

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Melissa Aroncyzk, Associate Professor of Journalism and Media Studies at Rutgers University and RCI affiliate

Melissa Aroncyzk and Maria I. Espinoza have published a new book, A Strategic Nature: Public Relations and the Politics of American Environmentalism. Melissa Aroncyzk is an Associate Professor of Journalism and Media Studies in the School of Communication and Information at Rutgers University as well as a Rutgers Climate Institute Affiliate. According to Aroncyzk, “A Strategic Nature is about the complex relationship among information, publics and the natural environment in a modern democracy. From the early twentieth century, publicity experts and experts have shaped how we think about “the environment” and what it means to treat nature as a public problem. The book traces the simultaneous rise of environmental awareness and the PR industry, showing how each depended on the other for legitimacy.” She continues, “Beyond conventional treatments of PR as spin or manipulation, we examine PR as a social and political force that shapes both our understanding of the environmental crises we now face and our responses to them. Using interviews, archives and stacks of government, legal and company documents over decades of influence, we show how these political intermediaries have had a hand in shaping major democratic institutions, common practices of mediated debate, and even the way we collectively think about what “the public” is and what it ought to do.” A description can be found in the Oxford University Press and an op-ed can be found in The Washington Post.

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Stephanie Murphy, RCI affiliate                              Marjorie Kaplan, RCI Co-Director

NJ Spotlight News reports on rotational grazing at Duke Farms as one agricultural method to increase carbon sequestration among many discussed in the Rutgers study: Ecosystem Service Valuation Approaches and Carbon Mitigation Consideration for Garden State Agriculture. Duke farms uses rotational grazing, which means that the cattle are moved from pasture to pasture so none become too worn down, allowing for the proliferation of native grass that supports endangered bird species. This practice increases soil organic matter. “Soil organic matter is one of the most important soil quality factors. Generally, more soil organic matter in the soil makes for better conditions for plant growth and resilience of agricultural production. At the same time, that organic matter is a storage place for the carbon, and so the more carbon we can can get into the soil through photosynthesis, through the plants, and get it into the soil stored in the soil for the long term, that will help us to some extent to draw down the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere,” according to Stephanie Murphy, an RCI affiliate. Among many other practices, cover crops and no-till agriculture are practices that can also help to not only sequester carbon, but they can also provide for soil health, they can help reduce erosion, and reduce sediment making its way into streams, noted Marjorie Kaplan, RCI co-director and a lead author of the study.

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Alan Robock, Rutgers professor and RCI affiliate

Cyprus Mail interviewed Rutgers Professor and RCI affiliate Alan Robock about the phenomenon of ‘nuclear winter’. A byproduct of a nuclear war, the smoke from a thousand burning cities would block out the sun and leave the world freezing. The discovery of this phenomenon helped leaders avoid nuclear winter. Even a localized conflict could cause a nuclear war. Two countries with a tense relationship, Pakistan and India, have enough warheads to cause a nuclear winter should they come to blows. The average temperature would drop and global food production would decline, most severely in mid-latitude areas of the northern hemisphere. Temperatures in the United States may drop up to 10 degrees Celsius.

Hildegaard Link, assistant teaching professor and RCI affiliate

MorningAgClips reports that a Rutgers project team has been chosen to pilot a new ArcGIS Online image tool, the Software as a System tool, which improves the ability for Apple computers to utilize the powerful map-making software. This team includes Hildegaard Link, assistant teaching professor and RCI affiliate, as well as Susan Oldenburg. The tool will be tested in Link’s Appraising Sustainability class, which introduces students to GIS. The tool has a major innovation in allowing the manipulation of Raster data.

The Patrick J. McGovern Foundation has named 10 climate action organizations around the world to the 2022 Accelerator Grant Program, to advance their use of data and AI for climate action. The recipients will receive data support and tools for their data projects. AI and big data has brought agriculture and technology together, and the tools of data analysis must be used to combat climate change. One of the recipients was the Rutgers University - New Jersey Climate Change Resource Center and NJAES Office of Research Analytics work to help New Jersey adapt to climate change through research, the development of tools and technical guidance, and stakeholder engagement. This grant will support the further development of a climate hazard data visualization and mapping tool to determine the needs of populations most vulnerable to health inequities caused by climate change.

Jason Grabosky
Jason Grabosky, professor at the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences and RCI affiliate

Every Christmas season, millions of Christmas trees are cut down, used for decoration, and then finally discarded, writes LeafScore. A new company, Christmas on the Hill, allows consumers to rent Christmas trees, which are delivered to them and then picked up a few weeks later, where they are replanted. This avoids the unnecessary death of the tree. A different option that avoids the death of a Christmas tree are artificial trees, but they lack the charm of a real tree and are
made from non-biodegradable materials. Jason Grabosky, Ph.D., professor at the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences at Rutgers University and RCI affiliate, prefers real Christmas trees. “One of the first things people notice when they see a real tree is the smell,” he said. “Visually, it’s more aesthetically pleasing than an artificial tree. And in addition to having a lower carbon footprint, real trees can be recycled.” ‘The vast majority of municipalities pick up the trees, just like they do with the leaves in the fall, and turn the trees into wood chips or mulch,” Grabosky said. Municipalities provide recycling centers where one can dispose of the trees. Others can turn them into mulch for gardens.

David Robinson
David Robinson, climate scientist and RCI affiliate

The white Christmas used to be a more common occurrence in many parts of the United States, reports MSN. The average December temperature has risen from just under freezing in the 1980s to above 35 degrees Fahrenheit, a 3 degree difference in 30 years. In the 80s, 47% of the country had snow on the ground on Christmas day, but now that number is down to 38%. However, much of the US has seen chances of snow increase. A data set from Rutgers University’s global snow lab finds continental U.S. snow in the last week of December slightly increasing, not decreasing, said climate scientist and RCI affiliate David Robinson, whose data based on satellite imagery goes back to 1966. “There’s no trend. You just don’t see it,” Robinson said. Despite warming temperatures, snow can increase because warmer air can hold more precipitation, increasing snowfall in very cold areas.

MorningAgClips details that the Rutgers SEBS departments of Marine and Coastal Sciences and Plant Biology, along with Rutgers Center for Agricultural Food Ecosystems, are launching a “Science Storytelling as Community Engagement” initiative, with the intention of increasing dialogue between Rutgers scientists and the community. Oscar Schofield, chair of Marine and Coastal Sciences as well as an RCI affiliate, is leading the effort. “It is imperative for scientists to find innovative ways to engage the public in science learning. This is our fundamental responsibility as a land-grant institution,” said Schofield. A main component of the initiative is the film Fields of Devotion, which features Rutgers scientists and farmers who utilize their technologies. It spotlights the effects of climate change on farming and crop disease of basil, an essential crop for the small farmer.

Malin Pinsky
Malin Pinsky, RCI affiliate

MorningAgClips reports that Rutgers professors Max Haggblom, Lee Kerkhof, and Malin Pinsky, an RCI affiliate, are investigating a multinational project, “Dimensions US-China-South Africa: Establishing genetic, phylogenetic and functional mechanisms that shape the diversity of polar and alpine soil microbiomes. By studying polar and alpine soils, researchers are seeking to identify the mechanisms that lead to diverse soil microbial communities, hallmarks of stable and sustainable soils. High latitude and altitude soils are disproportionately affected by climate change. When these soils are heated, they will release much greenhouse gas. “Having a clear understanding of how soil ecosystems respond in these polar regions is critical for evaluating the controls of biogeochemical cycling and clarifying microbial feedbacks in a changing world,” said Hoggblom. The research will eventually make its way into the classroom, in the K-12, undergraduate, and graduate levels.