News / Highlights

News and Highlights in October 2021

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Dr. Judith Weis, Professor Emierita of Biological Sciences and Rutgers Climate Institute Affiliate

The tidal marshes of New Jersey have been struggling to survive with the state’s rapid sea level rise, and may disappear completely by next century, reports Rutgers News. “Faced with sea level rise, a marsh has two options -- it can either increase its elevation at a rate equal to that of sea level rise or it can migrate inland,” said lead author Judith Weis, a professor emerita of biological sciences at Rutgers-Newark and RCI affiliate. “Otherwise, it will be submerged and drown.” Tidal marshes are vital habitats for many organisms, absorb pollutants, and most importantly provide protection against storm surges and flooding. The study, led by Weis, reviewed the marshes of the Meadowlands, Raritan Bay, Barnegat Bay, and Delaware Bay. They found that the Meadowlands and Raritan Bay marshes have little evidence of losses, but that Barnegat Bay and Delaware Bay marshes have been forced inland, having lost a large amount of their previous area. Most marshes, overall, are not migrating fast enough to avoid loss. The team had four strategies to mitigate loss, including for municipalities to remove houses that prevent marshes from migrating inland, for marshland managers to remove less invasive reeds, to add new sediments to elevate marshes more quickly, and to produce ‘living shorelines’ such as oyster and mussel reefs to block waves.

Alan Robock
Professor and Rutgers Climate Institute Affiliate Alan Robock

SEBS/NJAE News reports on the findings on nuclear winter by researchers at Rutgers University and NCAR. Nuclear weapons would cause fires and smoke that could lead to global climate change, often called ‘nuclear winter’. For the first time, researchers used a modern climate model to simulate the effects on ozone chemistry and surface ultraviolet light caused by the absorption of sunlight by smoke. “Although we suspected that ozone would be destroyed after nuclear war and that would result in enhanced ultraviolet light at the Earth’s surface, if there was too much smoke, it would block out the ultraviolet light,” said one of the study’s authors Alan Robock, a Distinguished Professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences at Rutgers University- New Brunswick and RCI affiliate. “Now, for the first time, we have calculated how this would work and quantified how it would depend on the amount of smoke.” A global nuclear war could cause a 75% reduction in the ozone layer. “The bottom line is that nuclear war would be even worse than we thought, and must be avoided,” Robock said. “For the future, in other work, we have calculated how agriculture would change based on the changes of temperature, rain and sunlight, but have not yet included the effects of ultraviolet light. In addition, the ultraviolet light would damage animals, including us, increasing cancer and cataracts.”

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Professor and Rutgers Climate Institute Affiliate Mark Robson

Mark Robson, professor of plant biology at Rutgers-NB SEBS and RCI affiliate, has received the Daniel Gorenstein Memorial Award, according to SEBS/NJAE News. Robson studies the health effects of agricultural chemicals and food production practices in developing countries. Robson touches on his past experiences and gives thoughts on his career.

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New Jersey Climate Change Alliance Co-Facilitator and Rutgers Climate Institute Affiliate Jeanne Herb

The New Jersey Climate Change Alliance, which is facilitated by the Rutgers Climate Institute and Rutgers University’s Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, is announcing the “Sustainable Organic Material Management Plan”, according to SEBS/NJAE News. October 14, 2021 marks the beginning of the NJ Food Waste Recycling Law. The law requires large food waste generators to recycle their food waste provided it is affordable. The NJCCA Organic Worksgroup was created to outline a statewide plan to abide by the law. “Nationally, USEPA advises that municipal waste landfills are the third-largest source of human- related methane emissions in the United States, accounting for approximately 15.1 percent of these emissions in 2018,” said Jeanne Herb, alliance co-facilitator and executive director of Environmental Analysis and Communications Group at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University, as well as RCI affiliate. “Any measures we can enact to reduce the amount of wasted food and to maximize composting will contribute to GHG emission reductions.” Vaerie Montecalvo, CEO of Bayshore Recycling, summed up the Workgroup effort and future direction: “While we hope you find our work to be informative, it has clearly just begun! Framing a plan of action is a critical first step, but the rubber hits the road through action and implementation. It is now time to collectively roll up our sleeves and get to the real work of effecting positive change.” The group is confident that NJ can reduce its emissions if it works together to abide by the law and take further action.

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Rutgers Climate Institue Affiliate Dr. Shantenu Jha

HPC Wire reports research on developing the ExaWork project to enable exascale workflows. With the impending arrival of exascale supercomputing, researchers from Rutgers, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Argonne National Laboratory, the University of Chicago, and Brookhaven National Laboratory present ExaWorks, a project that can address many of the challenges in managing deeply heterogeneous exascale systems and software through a variety of workflow management tools. Among the researchers was Dr. Shantenu Jha, a Rutgers Climate Institute Affiliate.

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Rutgers Climate Institue Co-Director Dr. Robin Leichenko

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York announces the appointment of Dr. Robin Leichenko, co-director of the Rutgers Climate Institute, to the New York Fed’s Community Advisory Group. The Community Advisory Group’s primary goal is to provide the NY Fed with a deeper understanding of the economy’s impact on communities and individuals. Leichenko is also co-chair of the fourth NYC Panel on Climate Change and served as review editor for the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Leicenko earned her doctorate from Penn State University in geography.

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Associate Professor and Rutgers Climate Institute Affiliate Dr. Pamela McElwee

Billionaires have begun to take interest in aiding biodiversity conservation, writes Vox. Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, the Bloomberg Foundation, and the Walton Foundation have committed $5 Billion to fund the conservation of biodiversity. Bezos is proposing Indigenous-led initiatives, which he hopes to find more success than the failed top-down programs of the past. Many are skeptical of the plans by the rich to stop species from dying out. “But if losing nature was a problem of just money — or lack thereof — we probably wouldn’t be seeing such drastic declines of the world’s ecosystems today”, said Pamela McElwee, an associate professor at Rutgers and Rutgers Climate Institute Affiliate who was involved in a flagship 2019 biodiversity report, which raised the alarm about extinction threats. “If just throwing money at the problem solved the problem, we’d be farther along than where we are,” she said. Others express skepticism because the billionaires, who have benefited from the same system that has led to biodiversity loss, will never challenge the status quo strongly enough because it would threaten their own interests. “Can we use capitalism to save the world from capitalism?” McElwee asked skeptically. Climate experts believe that billionaires must create both conserved areas and challenge the systems that would prevent conservation from succeeding. “I would love to see a conservation organization have its mission be eliminating subsidies,” commented McElwee, referring to the large subsidies received by fossil fuel companies.

Subhasis Giri
Assistant Research Professor and Rutgers Climate Institute affiliate Dr. Subhasis Giri

According to SEBS/NJAE News, Rutgers Climate Institute affiliate Subhasis Giri, assistant research professor in the Rutgers Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Natural Resources, has received a $220,000 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The grant is to fund research and implementation on flood resiliency plans and eutrophication reduction in New Jersey. Eutrophication is a phenomenon where water becomes too nutrient dense from residential and agricultural runoff, destroying wildlife. New Jersey’s farmland and dense population has made this an issue in much of the Delaware Valley. Giri’s team will also implement green infrastructures to improve flood resiliency. Giri says “the end results of these on-the-ground green infrastructures implementation will enhance flooding resiliency in the communities in the Delaware River Basin as well as it will help to maintain a healthy ecosystem, which will be beneficial to fish, wildlife, and people.”

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Associate professor and Rutgers Climate Institute Affiliate Dr. Malin Pinsky

The SEBS newsroom reports that the National Science Foundations has awarded Rutgers University a $750,000 Convergence Accelerator grant for the project, “Regional climate change projections to enable equitable ocean planning for the blue economy.” The project’s goal is to make projections of climate impacts useful for the ocean economy in the Northeast US. Rutgers is collaborating with UConn, UMass, The Nature Conservancy, the Responsible Offshore Science Alliance, University of Wisconsin, and NOAA. Malin Pinsky, associate professor in the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Natural Resources and RCI affiliate, is leading the project with fellow Rutgers personnel and RCI affiliates, Kevin St. Martin, associate professor in the Department of Geography; Enrique Curchitser, professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences; Doug Zemeckis, marine extension agent in the Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Pinsky indicates, “there is a large outreach component to co-design useful information tools for businesses, communities, and government agencies, and to engage historically marginalized communities in ocean planning. We’re primarily addressing climate impacts to offshore wind energy, fisheries, and ocean conservation.” “The Convergence Accelerator’s innovation curriculum consists of human-centered design; user discovery; team science; early-stage prototyping; storytelling; and pitch preparation,” said Douglas Maughan, head of the NSF Convergence Accelerator program. “The curriculum is designed to provide our funded teams the tools to transform their pioneering ideas into a proof of concept, then prototype and finally a solution. Teams will also be required to develop partnerships to support solution sustainability and transition to practice.” The overarching goal is to create a smart and connected ecosystem for ocean innovation and sustainability.


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Associate professor and Rutgers Climate Institute Affiliate Dr. Jie Gong

Since Tropical Storm Ida hit New Jersey, a team of Rutgers engineers, researchers, and students have been assessing flood damage and gathering data in order to improve flood prediction models, reports Rutgers Today. The storm brought record rainfall, causing flash flooding that impacted homes, businesses, and most visibly roadways, such as Route 18, which runs along the Raritan River. Researchers from Rutgers and Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation (CAIT) have been gathering informative data to guide New Jersey in the future. “We have been sweeping through many severely impacted areas to gather post-event data,” says Jie Gong, a Rutgers associate professor and Rutgers Climate Institute affiliate. “Last week, we covered tornado damage in South Jersey, and now we are currently studying flooding in Manville, among other towns that were impacted. Much of this work will help us to quantify the extent of flooding and improve flood prediction models that can be used to inform policy and improve safety for at-risk communities going forward.” Gong’s team had previously mapped Union, Somerset, and Middlesex counties, providing valuable baseline data to which damage from Ida can be compared. “At our lab, we have unique visualization and analytics capabilities that when combined with the right storm data can allow us to create digital water-elevation models and flood prediction models for future storms,” Gong says. “This type of applied information is important because it can help decision makers in New Jersey to better understand what regions may be at risk, to make more informed asset management decisions when it comes to rebuilding damaged roads and infrastructure, and to better prepare for the impacts of climate change in the region.” Gong says that the more data planners have, the better New Jersey can combat the effects of climate change.