The “big issues” in climate change science have shifted over the past 4 to 6 years, with several difficult problems resolved while new research challenges rose to the fore. Scientists who are leading advisors on climate change to federal and international policymakers will examine the state-of-the-science in “Research Challenges in Climate Change: What’s New and Where are We Going?” on Feb. 14 at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Annual Meeting in Chicago.
“The session will be very forward looking. What we would like to do better to serve both science and the public in addressing climate change?” says co-organizer Jerry Melillo, distinguished scientist at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass., and chair of the federal advisory committee that prepared the Third U.S. National Climate Assessment (NCA) for release this spring.
The panel will offer a scientific reckoning of issues resolved and uncovered in preparing the NCA over the past four years, as well as the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released in late 2013. The NCA details climate change impacts in United States regions and sectors, while the IPCC’s assessment is global.
Read the entire MBL Press Release here.
Like all of us, scientists think in scenarios: If this happened, what then?
Results of their efforts to understand and anticipate global environmental changes through the process of scenario thinking and ecological forecasting are the topic of the annual National Science Foundation (NSF) Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) Mini-Symposium.
The forum will be held on Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, at NSF headquarters in Arlington, Va.
Presentations, including one by Ecosystems Center senior scientist Gaius Shaver who is the lead PI of the Arctic LTER, will address social and ecological change; ecosystem vulnerability, resilience and adaptability; and why long-term data are essential to understanding and predicting future responses to natural and human-caused environmental changes.
Results from scenario-thinking and simulations will be presented for ecosystems from forests to lakes to the open ocean.
Anne E. Giblin, a senior scientist at the MBL Ecosystems Center has been named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest general scientific society, and publisher of the journal, Science. Giblin was elected for distinguished contributions to the field of biogeochemistry, especially relating to nitrogen and sulfur cycling in sediments and soils from both freshwater and marine environments. Election as an AAAS Fellow is an honor bestowed upon AAAS members by their peers.
Full story on the MBL News Blog
The Ecosystems Center was recently awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) Field Station and Marine Laboratory renovation grant to improve our Marshview Field Station which is the field site of the Plum Island Estuary Long Term Ecological Research (PIE-LTER) project located on the Parker River in Newburyport, MA. The $344,000 grant led by senior scientist Anne Giblin will provide key infrastructure improvements to the field station that will increase its laboratory capacity and provide modern field lab facilities as well as make key improvements in the barn to accommodate the PIE-LTER internet server.
History of the Field Station
The MBL began research in the watersheds and estuaries around Plum Island Sound in 1992 and became an LTER site in 1998. From 1994-2003 the PIE-LTER operated solely out of a very small space in Rowley rented from the Essex County Greenbelt. This space consisted of a small house with 2 bedrooms and a small basement area that is mostly used for storage of equipment. The 2001 NSF-LTER review team felt these facilities were inadequate and strongly recommended that the PIE-LTER procure additional facilities to support the research program. In response, the Marshview Farm was acquired and established as the Marshview Field Station by the MBL in 2003. The 2007 review team felt that the “expansion of the originally constrained scientific and logistical facilities have been effectively addressed through the purchase of the Marshview Farm which will meet most of their future field support needs if further alterations and upgrading of both the house and the adjoining barn facilities can be accomplished.” We now have the funds necessary to make these key infrastructure improvements so that our facilities can accommodate our increasing research portfolio.
US Senator Elizabeth Warren visited the MBL on August 2 and toured the Ecosystems Center as part of her visit. Director Christopher Neill and Distinguished Scientist Jerry Melillo briefed her on the center's environmental and global change research.
Dr. Melillo discussed the comprehensive effort by the US Global Change Research Program’s National Climate Assessment team, which he chairs, to identify climate change impacts and adaptations in our region and across the nation.
Dr. Neill described the center's role in identifying the damaging consequences of nitrogen runoff to coastal waters, and how center scientists have moved beyond the science of identifying coastal nitrogen pollution toward rigorous evaluation of innovative, potential ways to prevent it. He also discussed the center’s partnership with the Buzzards Bay Coalition to monitor local water quality and the susceptibility of salt marshes to nitrogen pollution and their vital role as buffers against sea level rise and coastal storms.
Dr. Ivan Valiela of the MBL Ecosystems Center will receive the Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation’s Odum Lifetime Achievement Award. The award recognizes Dr. Valiela’s contributions to the understanding of coastal marine ecosystems, addressing critical management questions, serving the scientific community, and educating multiple generations of students.
This award is named for the three outstanding ecologists in the Odum family (Drs. Howard T., Eugene P. and William E. Odum, III), and it recognizes the lifetime achievements of a scientist whose sustained accomplishments have made critically important contributions to our understanding of estuaries and coastal ecosystems.
Dr. Valiela conducted groundbreaking saltmarsh studies in the Great Sippewissett Marsh and was the lead principal investigator for the Waquoit Bay Land Margin Ecosystem Research Project that assessed groundwater transport and nutrient loading to Waquoit Bay on Cape Cod. He was among the first to clearly demonstrate the coupling between watersheds and their receiving estuaries, and his 1992 paper on this topic in Estuaries remains the most highly cited paper ever published by the journal, with more than 440 citations. This work led to models of coastal nutrient loading that are widely used to assess the status of coastal ecosystems and to develop policies to reduce nutrient loading. This contribution is typical of Dr. Valiela’s scholarship. His work advanced basic scientific principles but typically has an applied angle that focuses on improving the quality of coastal environments.
“This award is richly deserved,” said Ecosystems Center Director Christopher Neill, “Ivan has been an extradordinarily influential coastal ecologist both with his science an in the students he he’s trained. I had the good fortune of attending Ivan’s Marine Ecology class at MBL in 1983. It was my introduction to Woods Hole and it made a career in research both exciting and possible.”
Locally, Dr. Valiela’s work provides much of the scientific basis for understanding Cape Cod’s nitrogen pollution problem, Dr. Neill said. “The models he developed also allow us to explore alternative futures and will help towns begin to solve this difficult problem.”
In collaboration with John Teal of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Dr. Valiela began a salt marsh fertilization experiment at Great Sippewissett marsh in 1971, an experiment that continues to this day. The scores of manuscripts that have resulted from the Sippewissett Marsh research have defined much of what we know about saltmarsh biogeochemistry and community ecology. Dr. Valiela also co-taught the summer Marine Ecology course with Dr. Teal at MBL from 1975 to 1983. The decades of research that he conducted in Waquoit Bay system have contributed to the understanding of the causes and consequences of coastal eutrophication. Dr. Valiela also elucidated the critical role of macroalgal blooms in coastal eutrophication and eelgrass decline He has also worked in tropical ecosystems, and was among the first to estimate the global destruction of mangrove forests.
Dr. Valiela continues to pursue research in both temperate and tropical habitats. In one current project, he leads a team of scientists working in Panama to evaluate how varying amounts of watershed deforestation affect coastal mangrove wetlands and nearshore coastal waters.
He has written over 300 papers, a number of which are seminal papers in the fields of coastal marine ecology and biogeochemistry. He has also authored three books, Marine Ecological Processes, a widely-used textbook, Doing Science, a book geared to young scientists, and Global Coastal Change, an overview of overfishing, eutrophication, introduced species, and sea level rise in coastal regions.
Dr. Valiela taught in the Boston University Marine Program at MBL from 1969 until 2008 when he joined the Ecosystems Center. He has advised 12 master’s and 43 doctoral students, many of whom have gone on to highly successful careers.
The Odum award will be presented at the meeting of the Coastal and Esutarine Research Federation’s meeting in San Diego, California in November.
Scientists at the Arctic Long-Term Ecological Research project, which is based at the Ecosystems Center, are studying the increase in wildfires on the Arctic tundra. A recent paper by Adrian Rocha, Ed Rastetter, Gus Shaver and others reports that recently the size and frequency of wildfires in Alaska’s arctic north has increased dramatically because of changes in climate and dryness of the tundra.
When a wildfire occurs, there are both positive and negative effects on future climates. One effect is that the soil gets darker, which leads to warming, more decomposition of organic carbon, and release of CO2; yet it also leads to growth of more plants that will take up CO2 and preserve the carbon in plant parts for many years.
Another effect is that the tundra is shaded by the increased leaves and plant litter, which leads to cooling, but a counteracting warming of the soil in winter caused by an increase in snow thickness trapped by more shrubs.
There is also an increase in the depth of thaw each summer that leads to increased erosion and breakdown of soil organic matter. Our current research in arctic Alaska investigates the balance of these and other processes that will change the effect of the tundra on the climate.
Rocha, AV; Loranty, MM; Higuera, PE; Mack, MC; Hu, FS: Jones, BM; Breen, AL; Rastetter, EB; Goetz, SJ; Shaver, GR. 2012. The footprint of Alaskan tundra fires during the past half-century: Implications for surface properties and radiative forcing. Environmental Research Letters. doi:10.1088/1748-9326/7/4/044039
Nathan Wilson, Associate Research Scientist, and the biodiversity informatics and web development team working on the Encyclopedia of Life have joined the Ecosystems Center.
EOL has been at MBL since 2007. MBL was one of the five founding institutions that launched this ambitious attempt to create a web page for every species of life on earth. The idea grew out of an idea put forward by Edward O. Wilson: "I wish we will work together to help create the key tools that we need to inspire preservation of Earth's biodiversity. And let us call it the 'Encyclopedia of Life.' " Other projects that Nathan Wilson's team works on include the Embryo Project Encyclopedia, the History of MBL (website coming soon!), and the Global Names project.
"The biodiversity informatics team has skills that range from data management to website development and interests across biodiversity science, citizen science and database architecture," said Ecosystems Director Chris Neill. "The core work of EOL at MBL will continue, and we see potential to develop ways to collaborate with them across modeling projects, LTER data management, water quality monitoring and in other areas."