2021-2022 Academic Year

News and Highlights in July 2022

David Robinson, NJ State Climatologist and RCI affiliate

NJ101.5 interviews David Robinson, NJ State Climatologist and RCI Affiliate, about the hot weather and the lack of rain. “If you go to the far south of the state, they’ve been struggling to get out of deficits for the last two to three months. Meanwhile, if you take the northern half of the state it’s really been low in the precipitation department,” he said. In Central and North NJ, rainfall totals have been as low as 25% of the norm. Robinson is asked whether there is reason to be worried, replying “There’s a lot of indicators we have to keep an eye on, they’re not going in the right direction right now," Robinson said. He stressed we have not crossed over into any drought stage yet but “we’re going to have to watch it because we’re at a particularly vulnerable part of the year with the heat and any absence of precipitation things can dry out as we’ve seen very quickly.” He advises residents to not be excessive with water.

Rachael Shwom, RCI affiliate and associate professor in the Department of Human Ecology

Today’s Dietitian interviews experts in food science about carbon footprint labels, which indicate the amount of carbon dioxide emitted in the creation and use of a product. They allow companies and consumers to reduce emissions. However, calculating a carbon footprint can be quite complex. “If you just want to take an average of the carbon intensity of a given food—like beef on average creates 27 kg of carbon dioxide equivalents—that’s one thing you can do,” says Rachael Shwom, PhD, an associate professor in the department of human ecology at Rutgers University in New Jersey and an RCI Affiliate. But different farmers require different energy inputs to get water to their fields, use fertilizers of differing energy intensity, and need different levels of energy to transport their products. To get accuracy, “you have to be very specific, because where things are grown matters, and how they’re grown and transported matters,” Shwom says. Schwom maintains that despite the difficulties, getting companies to add the labels is worth it. A useful analogy is what happened when manufacturers were required to display the trans fat content of their products. Many manufacturers thought, “‘Oh, ok, now we have a product that’s high in trans fats, and this is not anything we really want to publish on the label,’” Shwom says. “And, therefore, due to anticipating reputational risk, they just changed the product.” Food companies Panera Bread and Just Salad have begun incorporating these labels into their products. It has helped point customers to lower carbon options.

Daphne Munroe
Daphne Munroe

An important East Coast shellfish industry is projected to lose revenue as offshore wind develops along the Mid-Atlantic Coast, according to SEBS/NJAES News. Two Rutgers studies, which appear in ICES Journal of Marine Science, examined how offshore wind planned for the eastern US could disrupt fishing of the Atlantic surf clam. Revenues decline by up to 15% overall, and up to 25% in NJ. “Understanding the impacts of fishery exclusion and fishing effort displacement from development of offshore wind energy is critical to the sustainability of the Atlantic surf clam fishing industry,” said co-author Daphne Munroe, an associate professor in the Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences at the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences and an RCI affiliate. “Tools that can predict and manage these complex and interconnected challenges are essential for developing and evaluating strategies that allow for multiple users of the offshore environment.” Munroe’s team also created the Spatially-Explicit Fishery Economics Simulator (SEFES), a model to simulate stock dynamics. “SEFES is basically a virtual world that allows us to simulate the dynamics of the fishery – from how captains navigate their boats to how weather impacts the catch,” Munroe said. “But the model also has a layer of biology, which accounts for the clam populations and how they change over time and in space.” For instance, climate change is already pushing clam distribution northward; SEFES can account for this shift. To fine tune SEFES, Munroe and colleagues worked closely with the industry, including fishermen who provided valuable feedback. “We showed them how the model was working, and they told us if our assessments were right or wrong.” Input from fisheries managers and data from landings were also used to ensure the model was working well. 1.7 million acres of ocean have been leased for offshore renewable energy, causing fishermen to go to less optimal locations.