2021-2022 Academic Year

News and Highlights in November 2021

Bob Kopp 1
Bob Kopp, Rutgers University professor and RCI affiliate

On the night of September 1, Hurricane Ida struck New Jersey. The town of Millburn, NJ, near Newark, was gravely affected, says the Patch. Many people lost their homes and their belongings. However, the community has come together to help those affected and plan for the future. One community cannot stop climate change, but Bob Kopp, professor at Rutgers University and RCI affiliate has some recommendations on adaptation. "Another [solution] is trying to limit the damage that happens when things aren't flooded," Kopp said. "The most iconic example of that is elevating houses along the shore so that if the water comes in, the water goes underneath, and it doesn't really damage inhabited parts of the house." Kopp believes changes such as these are necessary, given that "it takes less than an extreme event to cause the same amount of rainfall or coastal high water, or heat," Kopp said. "What used to be a 1 percent chance of it [occurring] becomes increasingly common as the average state of the climate changes." As destructive storms like Ida become common, even states like NJ will have to adapt. In the meantime, Millburn has received FEMA money and is already thinking about how to combat the next storm.

Brooke Maslo
Dr. Brooke Maslo, Associate Extension Specialist at the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Natural Resources and affiliate of the Rutgers Climate Institute

Brooke Maslo, Associate Extension Specialist at Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Natural Resources, School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, Rutgers University–New Brunswick has won the The Presidential Fellowship for Teaching Excellence. Dr. Maslo is an affiliate of Rutgers Climate Institute.

Right: Dr. Anthony Broccoli, Co-Director of the Rutgers Climate Institute and faculty member in the Department of Environmental Sciences

The NJDEP has released two studies conducted by the NRCC, a NOAA partner, confirming increases in precipitation over the last 20 years, with further projections of increased precipitation intensity. The studies show precipitation is already 2.5 - 10 % higher, and that precipitation is likely to increase by over 20% by 2100 compared to the 1999 baseline. These two reports went through a peer review by the DEP Science Advisory Board’s standing committee for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences, led by Dr. Anthony Broccoli, Co-Director of the Rutgers Climate Institute and faculty member in the Department of Environmental Sciences. “One of the consequences of climate change is that we can no longer assume that what has happened in the past is a guide to the future,” Dr. Broccoli said. “These studies will provide better guidance for estimating and managing future risks to human life, property, and infrastructure.” The studies will provide a scientific basis for Governor Murphy’s new climate initiatives, NJPACT (Protecting Against Climate Change) and NJREAL (Resilient Environments and Landscapes). “The recent excessive rainfall totals and accompanying tragic flash flooding associated with Henri and Ida suggest that an update of the Atlas 14 report was prudent,” said State Climatologist and RCI affiliate Dr. David A. Robinson. “New Jersey must be better prepared to deal more frequently with such events now and in upcoming years.” Atlas 14 is a NOAA tool designed to aid engineering planning for floods. Engineers plan for events known as 2 year, 5 year, 10 year, 25 year, and 100 year storms. These indicate storms that have a 50% chance per year of happening, 20%, 10%, 4%, and 1% respectively. Previously, engineers were relying on outdated underestimates of precipitation in these storms and the new studies will supply more accurate precipitation estimates. These more accurate estimates will provide the information engineers need to avoid disastrous scenarios like Hurricane Ida.

Alan Robock 1
Alan Robock, Rutgers University Professor and Rutgers Climate Institute Affiliate

United Press International reports on new research conducted by Communications Earth & Environment. The research found that large volcanic eruptions in China blocked sunlight for a year or two, reducing warmth and rainfall, decreasing crop harvests. This in turn caused unrest and toppled dynasties. "We confirmed for the first time that collapses of dynasties in China over the last 2,000 years are more likely in the years after volcanic eruptions," co-author Alan Robock, professor at Rutgers University and RCI affiliate, said in a press release. "The impact of a cooled climate on crops can also make conflict more likely, further increasing the probability of collapse," said Robock. For the study, Robock and his team reconstructed 156 volcanic eruptions and examined historical documents from 68 Chinese dynasties. A lesson learned from the research is that preparations need to be made for future eruptions, especially in politically and economically vulnerable areas. Eruptions need not to cause unrest alone, as they can exacerbate existing tensions and push things over the edge.

As the impact of greenhouse gas emissions becomes more acute, many have asked whether we can modify levels of sunlight, New Europe indicates. This process can be referred to as geoengineering, a unique and atypical method of fighting climate change. The main technology within geoengineering is solar radiation management, where humankind artificially limits how much sunlight and heat are permitted in the atmosphere. One such example is spraying aerosols into the upper atmosphere to reflect sunlight. The technology has potential, but it has many detractors. Many say that it is unrealistic and there has not been enough research. Others indicate that the methods are too far-fetched, futuristic, or bizarre, and would face resistance from the public. However, Alan Robock, professor at Rutgers University and RCI affiliate, says that such extreme action could sway public opinion on climate change. “If you tell someone in the public, ‘Here’s the deal, we’re going to fly an airplane over your daughter’s school, we’re going to spray sulfuric acid in the atmosphere, and that’s going to solve the global warming problem,’ they might reply, ‘Really, you’re thinking about something that crazy? Well, maybe I should worry more about global warming than I did before.’ So, it might actually work in the opposite direction,” Robock said.

Weather Observation 11.22
Weather observation at Rutgers Garden in New Brunswick

Rutgers University has received an award from the National Weather Service for its 125 years of observation of weather, reports the Press of Atlantic City. The award was given for the impressive length of human commitment to recording the weather. Since January 1st, 1893, a Rutgers student or faculty member has woken up early to take records every single day at Rutgers Garden in New Brunswick. “This award is a testament to the efforts of countless students, staff and faculty over 125 years. Eight a.m. isn’t prime time for many college students, but our student observers are truly dedicated,” said Tony Broccoli, co-director of RCI and distinguished professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences at Rutgers, who operates the Cooperative Observer Program at the school. Other NJ residents have won the awards, including Wayne Roop, who has taken daily records at midnight every night since 1975.

oscar schofield
Oscar Schofield, chair of the Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences and RCI affiliate

Rutgers University has received NOAA funds to collect ocean and coastal data as part of a MARACOOS (Mid-Atlantic Regional Association Coastal Ocean Observing System) cooperative agreement, reports SEBS/NJAE News. Oscar Schofield, chair of the Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences and RCI affiliate, is working on a $1.5 million cooperative agreement to collect unique ocean and coastal data to transfer into information products that assist the Mid-Atlantic region. There are four venues for data collection. High frequency radar is used to measure speed of ocean surface currents. Underwater gliders are autonomous underwater vehicles that can be equipped with sensors to measure types of data such as temperature, salinity, sediment load, and even whale calls. Satellite data is necessary for providing a complete global and ocean atmospheric weather monitoring system. The fourth is ocean modelling, which incorporates this data to become more accurate.

David Robinson
NJ State Climatologist and RCI Affiliate David Robinson

The Nor’easter that occurred a few weeks ago brought the memory of another late October nor’easter to the forefront, writes WBGO News. That Nor’easter was Hurricane Sandy, which damaged New Jersey in October of 2012. However, this storm was not quite as powerful as Sandy or Hurricane Ida, says David Robinson, NJ State Climatologist and RCI Affiliate. “It’s not an Ida, but some areas of the state picked up a month’s worth of average rainfall in just 12 hours,” he said. “But with Ida we had areas that picked up twice the monthly rainfall total in six or seven hours.” Robinson offered a measured response when discussing the impact of climate change on the storm, replying that “this Nor’easter would occur without human influence, but like most of our weather events in this day and age it’s being amplified, enhanced, we’re getting a little bit more moisture out of it.” “I suppose you could say we’re very fortunate,” Robinson added, “that this Nor’easter developed of and by itself and did not combine its energy with a tropical system coming out of the south Atlantic.” Hurricane Sandy had become so powerful because it was the fusion of a Nor’easter and a tropical system, making it uniquely large, widespread, and long lasting.

For the second consecutive year, La Nina has developed, and it's poised to affect the upcoming winter, reports NJ.com. The phenomenon is triggered by cool temperatures in the Central Pacific. A strong La Nina can cause a strong hurricane season and that result has already been seen so far this year. However, its impact on the northeastern and Mid-Atlantic regions — including New Jersey — is not as consistent as it is in other regions of the country, according to several weather experts, including New Jersey State Climatologist and RCI affiliate David Robinson. “We are simply in a location where we are wedged between areas where signals are more consistent,” Robinson said prior to last year’s La Niña pattern. New Jersey’s precipitation is largely unaffected by the phenomenon. However, it usually results in less snow. The consensus is that the winter be slightly colder than last year.

Bob Kopp
RCI Affiliate Bob Kopp

Climate change has become an important issue in New Jersey’s gubernatorial election, reports NJSpotlightNews. The state is susceptible to sea level rise because of its important shore communities. Among the panelists discussing the issue in this year’s election are Bob Kopp, RCI affiliate.

Paul Falkowski
RCI Affiliate and Professor Paul Falkowski

Academics have begun looking for a different renewable replacement for oil, reports WENY News. They have focused on algae, which is appealing because it does not compete with food crops and it requires CO2 to photosynthesize, making it carbon neutral. However, one of the challenges has been the the high volume of water necessary to produce a gallon of oil. Professor Paul Falkowski, director of Rutgers Energy Institute and RCI affiliate, says the plight to replace fossil fuels is a battle of man versus nature. "When we take petroleum out of the ground, we are buying a resource that was created millions of years ago and we don't pay for it. We're using nature's inventory of carbon," Falkowski told CBSNews.com on a tour of Rutgers University's Institute of Marine and Coastal Science. Rutgers University is one of the largest algae research centers in the nation, and is working to genetically modify plant cells to make a more efficient way to derive oil from algae. "What I'm trying to do here is make algae make oil for us, 1 million times more efficiently -- to compete with the product that's in the ground," Falkowski said. The cost of algae oil is currently thrice the cost of petroleum. "Economics doesn't trump nature, nature trumps economics," Falkowski said. "We can't put carbon dioxide back into the ground faster than we can extract it. But we sure as hell can make fossil fuels go away. It's only a matter of will power, it's not a matter of know-how."

Cara Cuite
Veggie RX Co-Founder Extension Specialist and RCI Affiliate Dr. Cara Cuite

Despite growing knowledge of the benefits of eating vegetables, many Americans cannot purchase them because they live in food deserts, says GrowingProduce. Rutgers University researchers and Extension specialists launched Veggie RX, a program where patients can redeem vouchers for fruits and vegetables at the New Brunswick Community Farmers’ Market. Veggie Rx serves up more than nutritious food, says Program Co-Founder Extension Specialist and RCI affiliate Dr. Cara Cuite. “It’s also helping to foster a culture of health and connection within the city’s underserved communities,” she says. Making “the whole program more convenient — so that people can get a health consultation, voucher, and produce all in one outing,” as Cuite puts it, helps both patients and the farmers.

Daphne Munroe
RCI Affiliate and Marine and Coastal Sciences Professor Daphne Monroe

NPR reports on the growing conflict between offshore wind development and fisheries. Many of the proposed locations of the new wind farms will be in the nation’s most fertile fishing grounds, drawing opposition from fishermen. Fishermen believe it would be too dangerous to fish in the wind areas, reducing where they can catch fish. Clammers could lose up to %20 of their catch. “The concentration of fishing to certain parts of the ocean are probably going to mean that there will be a depletion of the stock. It'll probably mean that the fleet won't be able to operate the way they are now, but it certainly hasn't changed the planning and leasing strategy for where these wind farms are going to go,” says Daphne Munroe, professor of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers and an RCI affiliate. Proponents of the wind farms say that they would not interfere with fishing and that a greater threat to fishing is warmer oceans from climate change. The Biden administration is considering compensation to ensure less opposition.