2021-2022 Academic Year

News and Highlights in February 2022

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Malin Pinsky, RCI affiliate                         Image courtesy of WPCOM/Heb

The Department of Defense has announced awards of $28.7 Million in grants to 17 university-based teams through the Fiscal Year 2021 Minerva Research Initiative to support research in social and behavioral science. Among the recipients was a $1.3 Million award to researchers at Rutgers University, Princeton University, and Arizona State University for “Climate Change and Great Power Competition”. The research seeks to  “understand how climate change is impacting strategic natural resources around the world and national security. The research will examine whether countries are likely to see coincident increases, decreases, or extreme events across fisheries, agricultural trade, shipping, and other sectors, then link this to competition and trade among great power countries,” writes Malin Pinsky, Rutgers University’s lead researcher on the project. Pinsky is an Associate Professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Natural Resources at Rutgers, as well as being a Rutgers Climate Institute Affiliate.  Read more about the study here.

Bingru Huang, Distinguished Professor and RCI affiliate

SEBS/NJAES News reports that Distinguished Professor and RCI affiliate Bingru Huang is leading a collaborative $4 Million USDA-NIFA funded Turfgrass Management Project. She is the principal investigator of the project, “Mobile Remote Sensing and Artificial Intelligence-Guided Precision Management Program for Turfgrass Water Conservation.” Researchers from Rutgers University, University of Georgia, and UC Riverside, as well as Siemens Corporate Technology, are working on the project. The project focuses on aiding turfgrass stakeholders through developing efficient and water-saving irrigation practices. “Turfgrass irrigation management is challenging due to the complexity of management and culture systems, which consist of multiple grass species used for different purposes across a range of climatic conditions that require distinct management practices and resource inputs,” said Huang. “In addition, there are large spatial and temporal variability in soil and microclimatic conditions in a given turfgrass system. Site-specific PIM is an effective approach to reducing water use by improving irrigation efficiency. Developing site-specific PIM programs for turfgrasses that optimize water use is critically important for an economical, environmentally sustainable and socially beneficial turfgrass industry,” she said. Research began in Fall 2021.

Robert Kopp, professor at Rutgers University and RCI affiliate

CNN reports that a new report provides a worrying forecast of sea level rise, projecting as much rise in the next 30 years as the past 100. This will cause increased frequency of high-tide flooding, extreme storm surges, and will inundate vulnerable coastal infrastructure with salt water. Looking into the future, the amount of sea level rise is highly dependent on how much the world does to limit carbon emissions. Robert Kopp, the co-author of the report, a professor at Rutgers University, and RCI affiliate, says sea level rise is becoming "increasingly sensitive to the amount of warming". If the temperature is held to 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels, then the sea level will only rise by 2 feet. If temperatures rise, that forecast increases to 7 feet. There is much uncertainty from the lack of understanding about how much the largest ice sheets will melt. There is also supposed to be more sunny day flooding, or tidal flooding. "We already are seeing once-rare tidal flooding events becoming increasingly frequent," Kopp said. "So today along the Jersey Shore, flooding events that used to happen in the 1950s every year or two are now happening for several days a year on average." The amount of sunny-day flooding has already doubled or tripled in the last 30 years, but it could double or triple once more. 

Daniel Van Abs, professor at Rutgers University and RCI affiliate

NJ Spotlight News recently hosted a roundtable on NJ’s storm flooding and the challenges of stormwater management in the state’s communities. As part of the discussion, the experts answered questions submitted by the audience. Daniel Van Abs, a professor at Rutgers University and an RCI affiliate, answered a few. The first was “What New Jersey municipalities have successfully created stormwater municipal authorities? How long have they operated and are fees adequate to address the “itsy-bitsy creek?” He replied, “At this time, several municipalities are exploring the concept of fee-based stormwater utilities, but none have adopted an implementing ordinance. This process often takes more than a year from start to finish. Western Kentucky University publishes an annual report about stormwater utilities elsewhere in the country.” The second question was “In a time of increased flooding risk due to the climate crisis, do private companies have a responsibility to the state to reduce impervious surface and/or prevent impervious surface from being built, i.e., by building/developing less land and/or not selling property to developers who will reduce pervious surface? Or is this yet one more thing that must be legislated at the local level via ordinance?” Van Abs replied, “Land developers will respond to market forces and government regulations. Municipalities can use zoning codes, and site plan and subdivision ordinances, to control lot coverage by buildings and total impervious cover. Reducing impervious cover can be required for some types of redevelopment projects in the same manner, but more common are requirements to improve stormwater control, such as controlling the first inch or 1.5 inches of runoff from a developed or redeveloped site. Municipalities must take care to avoid conflicts with the Residential Site Improvement Standards, which establish statewide maximum requirements for residential subdivisions.” The third question was, “Is there something the state can do to make stormwater utilities easier to create, or perhaps share case studies from successful models?” Van Abs replied, “New Jersey Future has created a website, the New Jersey Stormwater Utility Resource Center, with good information about the utility planning process. It has a lot of good information. One critical point is that the creation of a fee-based stormwater utility is most successful when community agreement has been reached that a significant stormwater problem exists, that the solution and cost is known, and that a fee-based utility is the most equitable and cost-effective method to fund the local share.” The fourth question was “Which areas in NJ are most vulnerable to flooding?” Van Abs replied. “There are different types of flooding. The NJ Flood Mapper tool from Rutgers provides a lot of useful information on potential flood areas from coastal and riverine flooding. However, street flooding can be caused by inadequate or poorly maintained stormwater or combined sewer infrastructure that backs up into streets, basements, etc. The municipal public works and engineering offices are likely the best source of information. Municipal Environmental Resource Inventories or Water Stories (part of the Sustainable Jersey certification program) can also be useful.”

Rutgers Climate Institute is a featured partner organization for Windows of Understanding, a public art project rooted in social justice, open to the public through Feb. 28th, 2022. Now entering its fifth year, over 20 organizations, including Rutgers Climate Institute are paired with an artist facilitator to create an original work of art that addresses various issues, including Climate Change. The works will be on display at venues throughout New Brunswick, Highland Park, Metuchen, and South Plainfield NJ from January 17- February 28, 2022. The RCI partnered Window can be see at the Rite Aid "Windows on 4th Gallery" at 332 Raritan Avenue, Highland Park, NJ.

Rutgers Climate Institute is partnered with the artist ROBYN TRIMBOLI-RUSSO. Here is Robyn's statement about her artwork:
Planting A Seed
Through RCI's programs of public outreach and education, individuals are empowered to make a difference in the fight against climate change. My art is inspired by a particular community outreach program I learned about while attending Rutgers Climate Bridge Conference. Children were engaged in planting a community garden in an abandoned lot in Newark. Even the smallest act of planting a garden can not only reduce carbon in the atmosphere, but more importantly, it can educate and enlighten our youth in these underserved communities, which are often hit the hardest by the effects of global warming. The image of youth in my art represents hope for the future, the seeds and plants serve as a metaphor for education, change and growth.

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                                                                        Artist Robyn Trimboli-Russo with "Planting A Seed"

Learn more about Windows of Understanding here.
Flyer here.

Robin Leichenko, RCI Co-director

RCI Co-director Leichenko receives 2022 AAG Research Excellence Award

Congratulations to RCI Co-director Robin Leichenko recipient of the 2022 Research Excellence Award from the Human Dimensions of Global Change Specialty Group at the American Association of Geographers. The Research Excellence Award recognizes a scholar for research contributions that advance fundamental understanding to the human dimensions of global change. Leichenko is a Professor in the Rutgers Department of Geography. Her research intersects the fields of economic geography and human dimensions of global environmental change. She is the author of the Climate and Society: Transforming the Future (with Karen O’Brien, Polity Press, 2019) and Environmental Change and Globalization: Double Exposures (with Karen O’Brien, Oxford University Press, 2009) which won the 2009 Meridian Book Award for Outstanding Scholarly Work in Geography from the American Association of Geographers. In addition to her teaching and research, Leichenko serves as a Co-chair for the fourth New York City Panel on Climate Change assessment and is a member of the Community Advisory Group to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Stephanie Murphy, director of the Rutgers Soil Testing Lab and RCI affiliate

According to SEBS/NJAES News, the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station has launched a soil health initiative as part of Vision 2025. The initiative includes the hosting of soil health symposia, to assemble faculty and staff with interests in soil-related problems. The Rutgers NJAES P.E. Marucci Center will conduct detailed mapping and soil instrumentation that will allow preparation of a land use plan and evaluation of relationships between soil conditions and plant health among blueberry and cranberry production systems. In conjunction, research will also be done on adapting a grassy weed to help as a cover crop for blueberries and to enhance soil. Long-term observatories will also be developed to allow documentation and aid research of climate-induced effects on soil properties. Stephanie Murphy, director of the Rutgers Soil Testing Lab and RCI affiliate, has been chosen to lead the development of the Soil Health Initiative because of her expertise in soil science. She is coordinating a March 15, 2022 Soil Health Symposium among Rutgers faculty.

Pamela McElwee, RCI affiliate and professor of Human Ecology

Pamela McElwee, professor of Human Ecology at Rutgers SEBS and RCI affiliate, was named a co-chair by the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, according to SEBS/NJAE News. She is leading the IPBES assessment of interlinkages among biodiversity, water, food, and health. McElwee and her co-chairs spoke about the significance of the assessments, saying that “Since the publication of the IPBES Global Assessment, in 2019, Governments and other decision-makers have increasingly realized the importance of addressing the loss of biodiversity and the degradation of nature’s contributions to people holistically and with great urgency. The Nexus Assessment will help inform consideration of synergies and trade-offs in terms of social, economic and environmental impacts”. McElwee’s research focuses on how communities and households are impacted by and adapting to environmental change, and how policies and governance can help or hinder sustainability efforts.

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Rachael Shwom, RCI affiliate and professor of Human Ecology

Rachael Shwom has published new research concerning whether carbon labels can be an effective measure to change consumer and corporate behavior as the growing threat of climate progresses, according to SEBS/NJAE News. Shwom, who is a professor of Human Ecology at Rutgers University and an RCI Affiliate, and her co-authors titled their research “Revisiting the promise of carbon labelling.” Carbon labels communicate the product’s carbon emissions from its creation to its end, enabling a comparison to other products or to display the quantity of carbon used. Carbon labelling is an option possible without government intervention. “One point that became increasingly clear, as my earlier research on energy efficient appliance labeling found, is that voluntary labeling can advance businesses’ internal infrastructure for managing the targeted labeling criteria since the actions needed to create a carbon label requires producers to track energy inputs and greenhouse gas emissions,” said Shwom. “Voluntary labeling can also precede regulatory advances like border allowances and carbon taxes since the data generated can provide the basis for regulatory action and can prime supply and demand for low carbon goods in the marketplace that makes these regulations more feasible,” she added. This study focused on producer reactions to carbon labelling, while most previous studies on the topic focused on consumers.

Joseph Brodie, director of Atmospheric Research at the Rutgers Center for Ocean Observing Leadership and RCI affiliate

Joseph Brodie, director of Atmospheric Research at the Rutgers Center for Ocean Observing Leadership and RCI affiliate, is the co-principal investigator of a $450,000 grant from the NSF awarded to Rutgers and Wayne State University. Brodie aims to optimize wind generation and lower maintenance costs in wind farms.