February 06, 2009

Scientist Ronald Stouffer at Focus the Nation.

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By Sam Alcorn

LEWISBURG, Pa. – A renowned climate specialist capped Bucknell University’s day-long effort Thursday to raise environmental awareness by saying that ocean currents play a significant role in the planet’s changing climate.

Focus the Nation keynote speaker Ronald Stouffer said the ocean currents warmed by greenhouse gases could contribute to a melting of the planet’s ice.  Stouffer is a senior research meteorologist and leader of the Climate and Ecology Group of the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton, N.J., a federal research facility that is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. || Listen to an excerpt.

A one-meter rise in sea levels, Stouffer said, would be catastrophic for land at or just above sea level. Coastal barrier islands, including those in the United States, would be under water. Even New York City, he said, would not be unaffected by the sea-level rise.

“One meter would really cause problems,” he said. “A lot of the mega deltas in Asia are homes to tens of millions of people where you could imagine the catastrophe that would happen if that sea level were realized.”

Stouffer, who in 2007 shared a Nobel Prize with former Vice President Al Gore, said there is no doubt that the increase in greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, which include carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, is being caused by humans and that the Earth is warming.

“With any realistic future scenario, the warming of this century is going to be quite a bit larger than the warming of the past century,” said Stouffer, who bases his research on complicated climate modeling science. He said even if greenhouse gas concentrates were stabilized at today’s levels, ocean warming and sea level changes would continue for centuries.

Stouffer’s talk ended day-long activities on the Bucknell campus, which included interdisciplinary panel discussions on climate.

At a session on the future of sustainability, Diana DiStefano, an assistant professor of history and environmental studies, pondered Americans and their relationship with nature.

 “We fail to see ourselves as part of nature,” she said. “We should value it because nature is everywhere.”

She said, too, that better understanding that relationship was imperative to the planet’s long-term sustainability.

In introducing the Focus the Nation keynote speaker, Bucknell President Brian C. Mitchell noted that the University had signed the American College and University President's Climate Commitment and initiated a broad series of steps designed to reduce the University's carbon footprint.

“I am proud to say that Bucknell is making good on its pledge,” said Mitchell. || Listen to examples of projects underway at Bucknell.

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