2021-2022 Academic Year

News and Highlights in May 2022

William Hallman, professor and chair of the Department of Human Ecology

RCI Affiliate William Hallman, professor and chair of the Department of Human Ecology, was appointed co-chair of the Climate Communications Initiative (CCI) of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. CCI coordinates efforts across the National Academies to facilitate rapid and effective communication of evidence-based insights to the public and critical decision makers.

Malin Pinsky, associate professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Natural Resources

If greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase, about one third of marine mammals will go extinct within 300 years, cites the Washington Post. The ocean has been absorbing most of the excess heat created by humans. The study by Princeton University scientists Justine Penn and Curtis Deutsch emphasizes how much marine life could be saved. Swift action to curb fossil fuel use could reduce potential extinctions by 70 percent. “This is a landmark paper,” Malin Pinsky, a Rutgers University biologist and RCI Affiliate who did not contribute to the paper, said in an interview. “If we’re not careful, we’re headed for a future that I think to all of us right now would look quite hellish. ... It’s a very important wake-up call.” The study notes that most animals cannot lose more than 50 percent of their habitat before going extinct. Already climate change has eliminated some species, through heat waves and overall warming oceans. With each degree warmer, more and more species will die.

Xenia Morin, associate teaching professor and RCI affiliate

According to SEBS/NJAES News, Xenia Morin, associate teaching professor in the Department of Plant Biology and RCI affiliate, has been named 2022 Teacher of the Year by Rutgers Chapter of the Fraternity of Alpha Zeta. Morin embraces active learning strategies that engage students in her agriculture and food systems courses. “I truly love my role here at Rutgers. I strive to make a difference, however small, in the lives of each student I have had the privilege to meet. It is serving them well and watching them thrive that gives me joy,” said Morin, who was honored at SEBS Convocation. Alpha Zeta wrote, “We truly appreciate your dedication, enthusiasm, and passion in your classes and as a mentor; you serve as an inspiration for your students,” in naming Morin for this annual teaching honor and capturing the essence of her impact in the lives of her students. Morin also received the 2019 SEBS Teaching Excellence Award. She has also co-taught the course “Tropical Environments and Society,” which includes a study abroad trip to Costa Rica to perform field work. “The Costa Rica trip was originally scheduled for March 2020 so it was even more special this year. It was a dream to take students to Costa Rica to explore agriculture and the biodiversity of the rainforest. I am grateful to the fabulous students and to my SEBS faculty colleagues Lena Struwe, Chloe Hawkings, assistant professor and Undergraduate Program Director in the Department of Entomology and 2021 Teacher of the Year winner; and SAS faculty colleague Laura Schneider, for making this dream come true.” “There are so many great teachers here at Rutgers, I feel truly honored to be selected for the Barbara Munson Goff Teacher of the Year Award.”

The Office of Research at Rutgers University is pleased to announce the launch of a new Research Incubator in Climate and Health. The Research Incubator, open to faculty across all chancellor units at Rutgers, supports the development of new research projects that intersect with institutional strengths and funding sponsor priorities at the nexus of climate and health. It offers mechanisms to: build and seed collaborative research projects among interdisciplinary groups, support pilot projects for early-career faculty, provide enhanced support mechanisms for participants toward external funding submissions, and foster a growing community of scholars across Rutgers with research interests at the nexus of climate and health. An info session is scheduled for Friday, May 20, 2022 at 11:00 AM.

Malin Pinsky, associate professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Natural Resources

MorningAgClips reports that NOAA fisheries has launched the Distribution Mapping and Analysis Portal, working with Global Change Ecology and Evolution Lab at Rutgers University. It is a new tool designed to better track the location and movement of marine fish in US waters. The tool reveals the changing nature of marine species ranges. It will allows NOAA Fisheries to respond to climate-driven changes now and in the future. It will also improve collaboration among fishery management. Malin Pinsky, associate professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Natural Resources and an RCI Affiliate, played an integral role in developing the tool. “After running OceanAdapt as a prototype for the last eight years as it gained an international audience, it’s exciting to see NOAA acquire our tool for long-term stewardship. I think there’s no better recognition of OceanAdapt’s value and of the importance to fisheries and protected species management in North America,” said Pinsky. “One key lesson from OceanAdapt and the new NOAA portal is that the ocean and the species in it won’t be the same next decade. Beyond just understanding past changes, we now need to use next-generation climate science and data analytics to forecast those future conditions and help businesses and governments prepare,” he added. The portal hopes to foster a community of practice among scientists and provide a useful tool for education. It includes over 800 species of marine fish.

David Robinson, New Jersey's State Climatologist at Rutgers University and an RCI affiliate

Major storms have become more common in recent years, bringing waves of destruction, reports CBS New York. Extreme events have become more common, as indicated by weather records. "It's along the lines of when it rains, it pours," David Robinson, New Jersey's State Climatologist at Rutgers University and an RCI affiliate, told Quinn. "Excessive precipitation events have become more common over the last two decades or so. You can look back in the Northeast to Floyd in '99, Irene was a major event in 2011, and of course, Ida in September 1st of 2021." Many new storms have defied prediction. "The forecasting of those very isolated storms that stall and sit in one place is still a long way from coming to any kind of high precision," said Robinson. Robinson mentioned an extraordinary 2014 rain storm over Long Island that took everyone by surprise. "To know that that would have set up on that particular day and it would have set up over Islip is just beyond our means," he said. However, improvements in forecasting will give us more time to avoid harm.

According to NJ.com, in early April most of the state was facing “abnormally dry” conditions. Low rainfall over the previous months had caused moderate drought. However, a rainy April and May have returned most of the state to normal conditions. But New Jersey must still be ready for drought conditions given the heavy water usage in the summer months. David Robinson, NJ State Climatologist and RCI Affiliate, said he is glad that New Jersey groundwater levels are close to normal. “This will provide a ‘cushion’ of sorts come the warm seasons when plants use water, humans irrigate fields and lawns, fill pools, etc., and when evaporation rates increase,” he said. “Such a situation doesn’t mean we can’t rather rapidly descend into abnormally dry conditions or worse should warm season rains fail, especially accompanied by above-average temperatures,” Robinson added. “We should never treat water as a fully renewable resource and always make efforts to conserve.”

James Shope, climatologist and RCI affiliate

Heavier rain, increased heat, and rising seas will all be symptoms of global warming in New Jersey, says WHYY.org. Adaptation for these climate impacts will fall to local governments. A new report from NJ Climate Change Resource Center at Rutgers is giving decision-makers tools to help plan for increased flooding, heat-related illnesses, and death. “One of the big takeaways is we are already seeing the effects of climate change here in New Jersey, and we have a better idea of what climate change in the future will look like,” said James Shope, an applied climatologist with the center and a research associate in the Department of Environmental Sciences at Rutgers, and an RCI affiliate. Shope says the goal of the report released this week, “State of the Climate: New Jersey 2021,” is to compile the most recent climate science in a readable format for local policymakers. He says the center plans to update it every year. “Adaptation measures have to be informed locally,” Shope said. “For a lot of people, this will be a first overview of ballpark conditions their community may be facing in the future.” The mid- Atlantic is warming faster than other parts of the United States, but the reason is unknown. “There’s a bunch of theories related to waters off the mid-Atlantic being warmer but no one is quite certain as to why. It’s an active area of research,” Shope said. Average sea level rise could increase by one to two feet by 2050, but the ocean has already risen 18 inches in Atlantic City since the early 1900s. Average rainfall is expected to increase between 5 and 8% by 2100. This could cause more flooding in a state not well prepared for it. “So Ida produced a huge amount of rainfall in a short amount of time,” he said. “It’s debatable how much of Ida is related to climate change, but it does provide insight into what it could look like for us in the future when there’s a lot of future rainfall. It underscores how New Jersey is vulnerable to flooding.” It is important for planners to use updated flood maps to prevent their communities from being damaged. “Our flood maps and a lot of our rainfall information is based on historical data,” Shope said. “And that’s fine if the climate is not changing.”


Malin Pinsky, associate professor and RCI affiliate

Warming of the oceans may reduce the number of productive fish species, SEBS/NJAES News reports. Fisheries will shift as the climate warms, but the fish will not be abundant. “What that suggests from a fisheries perspective is that while the species we fish today will be there tomorrow, they will not be there in the same abundance. In such a context, overfishing becomes easier because the population growth rates are low,” said study coauthor Malin Pinsky, an associate professor in Rutgers’ Department of Ecology, Evolution and Natural Resources and an RCI Affiliate. “Warming coupled with food-web dynamics will be like putting marine biodiversity in a blender.” Warming is causing species to shift northwards, but they often do not have enough food. The lack of food is going to hurt species’ ability to adapt to warmer temperatures. “These dynamics will not only be in one place but globally,” Pinsky said. “That does not bode well for marine life, and this is not an effect that has been widely recognized.”