Canopy FALL 2014
The Story of Carbon Connecting land and climate
Meet Philip Duffy Introducing the President-designate of Woods Hole Research Center
Also in this Issue Beyond Zero Deforestation
Conversation Between Scientists
How Dynamic are Tropical Forests? Forgotten Feedbacks
Restoring the Biosphere
Science for the Future of the Earth Where We Work
Scientists to Watch
Contents 1 2
From the Acting President Board of Directors 4
3 Staff / Board & Donor Spotlights 24 Happenings Research at WHRC: The Story of Carbon Connecting land and climate.
8 Meet Philip Duffy, President-Designate of WHRC Introducing the Presidentdesignate of WHRC.
12 Where We Work
A map of WHRC research.
Beyond Zero Deforestation
Ten up-and-coming WHRC scientists.
Creating a global model for sustainable agriculture.
Conversation Between Scientists
Drs. Scott Goetz and Susan Natali talk about arctic research.
How Dynamic are Tropical Forests? A new way to measure carbon.
front cover: President-Designate Dr. Philip B. Duffy, photo by Christy Lynch Designs. back cover: Dr. Paul Mann on a tributary of the Congo River, photo by Chris Linder.
Scientists to Watch
Better models that include the role of permafrost in the future climate system are needed in order for the global policy community to respond.
Restoring the Biosphere
Land makes up only one fifth of global carbon emissions but has the capacity to reduce emissions by half each year.
Science for the Future of the Earth
Science offers the discovery of things before they become disruptive and provides options for overcoming them.
Letter from the Acting President
Annual Magazine of the Woods Hole Research Center Canopy magazine is published by the Office of External Affairs of Woods Hole Research Center (WHRC) in Falmouth, Massachusetts. WHRC is an independent research institution where scientists investigate the causes and effects of climate change to identify opportunities for conservation, restoration and economic development around the globe. Acting President and Senior Scientist, Dr. Richard A. Houghton
Director of External Affairs, Eunice Youmans Graphic Designer, Julianne Waite Copy Editor, Allison White
Contributors Associate Scientist, Alessandro Baccini, Ph.D. Director of Annual Giving, Elizabeth Bagley, B.A. Development Associate, Paula Beckerle, B.A. Research Associate, Jesse Bishop, M.S. Senior Scientist, Michael T. Coe, Ph.D. Research Associate, Tina Cormier, M.S. Research Assistant, Mary Farina, M.A. Deputy Director and Senior Scientist, Scott Goetz, Ph.D Research Assistant, Kevin Guay, B.S. Senior Scientist, Robert Max Holmes, Ph.D. Research Associate, Patrick Jantz Postdoctoral Fellow, Min Lee, Ph.D. Research Associate, Paul Lefebvre, M.A. Assistant Scientist, Marcia Macedo, Ph.D. Chief Development Officer, Robert Mollenhauer, M.Ed. Assistant Scientist, Susan M. Natali, Ph.D. Postdoctoral Fellow, Prajjwal Panday, Ph.D. Postdoctoral Fellow, Johanne Pelletier, Ph.D. Postdoctoral Fellow, Brendan M. Rogers, Ph.D. Images Greg Johnson, Ph.D. Chris Linder Christy Lynch Design
Woods Hole Research Center 149 Woods Hole Road Falmouth, MA 02540 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: www.whrc.org
Newsletter Subscribe online at www.whrc.org
Copyright All material appearing in Canopy is copyrighted unless otherwise stated or it may rest with the provider of the supplied material. Canopy takes care to ensure information is correct at time of printing. The publisher accepts no responsibility or liability for the accuracy of any information contained herein.
First of all, I hope you’ll join me in welcoming our President-designate, Dr. Philip Duffy. This coming year, the Woods Hole Research Center will celebrate its 30th anniversary of making a difference in the world and Phil Duffy is the right person to lead this institution into the next 30 years.
WHRC is all about the Land-Climate Connection, and that connection is largely about carbon. Carbon is the thread that runs through all of the research at WHRC and the impacts that follow from our work. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the major heat-trapping gas under human control. CO2 drives climate change. CO2 is released to the atmosphere as a result of deforestation and cultivation. CO2 is removed from the atmosphere when forests grow. Thus, management of land and forests provides a key mechanism for managing the carbon cycle and, thereby, climate. Three major initiatives at WHRC define its core mission regarding the landclimate interaction: tropical forests (and their conversion to agricultural lands), arctic and boreal forests (and their association with permafrost), and measurement of the annual changes in the carbon stocks of land.
The three initiatives focus on carbon, but in different ways. For example, the emphasis on REDD (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) in the tropics is to reduce emissions of carbon. The emphasis on boreal and arctic systems is to keep the permafrost frozen so that the carbon stored there stays locked up and doesn’t get released to the atmosphere, as it would if the permafrost were to thaw. And the emphasis on the world’s carbon stocks is to determine how to enlarge them; that is, to use lands everywhere to remove carbon from the atmosphere. In the simplest terms, these three initiatives are reducing emissions of carbon from land, keeping carbon on land, and removing it from the atmosphere, respectively. Measuring changes in the amount of carbon stored in forests over the Earth provides information for scientists studying the global carbon cycle, for managers seeking to use land consistent with carbon management, and for decision makers who must adapt to climatic change through mitigation. Where is carbon being lost? Where is it accumulating? How fast? What are the potentials for loss and gain? Where are there degraded lands suitable for reforestation or restoration?
The Center is seeking answers to these questions and depends on individuals and foundations for support of these initiatives. The initiatives are based on long-term strengths at the Center and represent vital interests for sustaining life as we know it on Earth. Those who work at the Center, whether scientists or not, are here because the Center makes a positive difference through its research and through the outreach to policy makers. The work described in the following pages—through the eyes of different colleagues—represents the primary focus of WHRC. I hope you enjoy this issue of Canopy. Best wishes,
Richard Houghton Acting President
Board of Directors Chair Wilhelm Merck Managing Member Essex Timber Company Trustee and Treasurer Merck Family Fund
Vice Chair Thomas E. Lovejoy Senior Fellow United Nations Foundation Professor George Mason University Treasurer Joseph R. Robinson Managing Director MidMark Capital
Clerk R.J. Lyman President General Compression, Inc.
Stuart Goode Private Investor David Hawkins Director, Climate Center Natural Resources Defense Council Richard Houghton Acting President, Senior Scientist Woods Hole Research Center Lily Rice Hsia Consultant Mather & Hsia
Lawrence S. Huntington Chairman Emeritus Fiduciary Trust International Karen C. Lambert Environmentalist, Political Activist
Victoria Lowell Community Leader, Conservationist
Constance R. Roosevelt Conservationist
Tedd Saunders President Eco-Logical Solutions Chief Sustainability Officer The Saunders Hotel Group Honorary Directors Anita W. Brewer-SiljehĂ¸lm Neal A. Brown John Cantlon Joel Horn James MacNeill Mary Louise Montgomery Gilman Ordway Gordon Russell Ross Sandler Helen B. Spaulding J.G. Speth Robert G. Stanton M.S. Swaminathan Ola Ullsten
Members Founder John H. Adams Merloyd Ludington George M. Woodwell Founding Director Natural Resources Defense Council Publisher and Editor Merloyd Lawrence Books Stephen T. Curwood William Moomaw Host, Living On Earth Professor World Media Foundation International Environmental Policy The Fletcher School Iris Fanger Tufts University Dance and Theater Historian and Critic Jeremy Oppenheim Director Scott J. Goetz Sustainability and Deputy Director, Senior Scientist Resource Productivity Woods Hole Research Center McKinsey & Company Joshua R. Goldberg Amy Regan General Counsel and Vice President Managing Director Harbourton Foundation Financo, Inc. This list reflects Directors on the Board between July 1, 2014 and June 30, 2015. 2
Staff Acting President Richard Houghton, Ph.D. Deputy Director Scott J. Goetz, Ph.D.
Science Staff Alessandro Baccini, Ph.D. Jesse B. Bishop, M.S. I. Foster Brown, Ph.D. Ekaterina Bulygina, M.S. Glenn K. Bush, Ph.D. Oliver Cartus, Ph.D. Michael T. Coe, Ph.D. Tina A. Cormier, M.S. Mary Farina, M.A. Gregory J. Fiske, M.S. Kevin Guay, B.S. Robert Max Holmes, Ph.D. Holly Hughes, B.S. Patrick Jantz, Ph.D. Josef M. Kellndorfer, Ph.D. Melaine Kermarc, B.Sc. Wendy Kingerlee, B.S. Paul A. Lefebvre, M.A.
| Board Spotlight
Min Li, Ph.D. Marcia N. Macedo, Ph.D. Dana Mock, B.A. Zander Nassikas, B.A. Susan M. Natali, Ph.D. Neeti Neeti, Ph.D. Prajjwal Panday, Ph.D. Johanne Pelletier, Ph.D. Amanda E.W. Poston, B.A. Brendan M. Rogers, Ph.D. Kathleen Savage, M.Sc. John D. Schade, Ph.D. Seth Spawn, B.A. Thomas A. Stone, M.A. Wayne S. Walker, Ph.D. Administrative Staff Elizabeth H. Bagley, B.A. Tracy Barquinero, M.S. Paula C. Beckerle, B.A. Kelly Benway, B.B.A Florence Carlowicz, B.A. Shauna Conley, B.S. Annalisa Eisen Michael Ernst, M.F.A.
“…the care of the earth is our most ancient and most worthy and, after all, our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it, and to foster its renewal, is our only legitimate hope.” ― Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays
Stanley Hammond Duane H. Martin Joyce McAuliffe, B.S. Robert J. Mollenhauer, M.Ed. Lisa Strock O’Connell, B.S. Fred Palmer Camille M. Romano, M.S., C.P.A. Julianne Waite, B.A. Allison B. White Eunice Youmans, M.A.
| Donor Spotlight Research is my main love. I believe it is important to quantify and organize… to find new ways to do things. For me, studying and understanding saves anxiety. It is the key to alleviating fear. That is why I believe in the Woods Hole Research Center and why I support it. Ben Hammett Donor
I love this quote… it is so true. For 20 years I have proudly supported Woods Hole Research Center, because it is in the business of taking care of our planet. WHRC’s stellar science defines the causes and cures of climate change – the greatest challenge of our time. As the solutions emerge we need to listen, support and act to guarantee a thriving environment for future generations. Amy Regan Board Member
Board member Amy Regan at the finish line for the Triple Bypass Bicycle Ride in Colorado.
Photo courtesy of Bob Hammell. Canopy
land-climate nexus, for which the Woods Hole Research Center is known, is all about carbon. Carbon is the common denominator for nearly all of the research and education at WHRC, and most policies for dealing with climatic disruption focus on carbon. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is, by far, the most important driver of climate change. WHRC scientists seek to understand: How do practices of land management change terrestrial carbon stocks? What are the effects of these land management changes on the Earth’s climate? How does global warming, in turn, impact terrestrial carbon stocks? And how can we use land to slow or reverse climate change? WHRC scientists work all over the globe, combining field work and remote sensing technologies to identify the lands at greatest risk of losing carbon either from land management or climate change. WHRC scientists study the rate of permafrost thaw in the Arctic, deforestation in the great tropical forests of the Congo and the Amazon, agricultural expansion in the Brazilian Cerrado, Indonesia, and other countries. Our scientists work with the governments of Mexico, Columbia, Peru and Indonesia to quantify and monitor their carbon stocks. We identify the locations and the management options for removing carbon from the atmosphere. 4
Carbon is a remarkable element. All of the carbon now on Earth was present at the Earth’s formation, thus setting the stage for the emergence of LIFE. The evolution of life is literally based on carbon. Carbon is called the building block of life because chains of carbon atoms form the backbone of every molecule, cell, and tissue in every living thing on Earth.
That’s one reason carbon is important. A second reason derives from the first. Because the chemistry of life is largely carbon, it’s not surprising that the food we eat (carbohydrates, proteins, fat) for energy and growth is also largely carbon. Food webs, including ours as well as those of terrestrial and oceanic ecosystems, are assembled from carbon. Those food webs are a primary focus of ecological research, carried out by measuring the exchanges of carbon between the environment, living organisms, and dead organic matter (organic matter is living material or material derived from living processes). What we know about the functioning of ecosystems is determined by the flows of carbon (energy), as well as water and nutrients. But the primary source of energy is the sun. At the global scale, about 120 billion metric tons of carbon
Research at WHRC: The Story of are transformed annually from inorganic carbon dioxide to organic matter by terrestrial plants, through photosynthesis. A similar amount is transformed by the phytoplankton in the oceans. Photosynthesis uses the sunâ€™s energy to split water molecules, combining part of that molecule with carbon dioxide to make organic matter (e.g., sugar, cellulose, etc.). Green plants, therefore, whether on land or in the ocean, are the primary source of organic matter â€“ the primary source of food for the rest of the planetâ€™s inhabitants. The plants themselves consume about half of the organic matter they make, or 60 billion metric tons per year. The rest fuels herbivores and carnivores, as well as the microbes that decompose dead organic matter. These consumers and decomposers complete the loop, turning the remaining 60 billion metric tons of organic matter back into carbon dioxide in the process. The flip side of carbon is oxygen. In making organic matter, plants release oxygen. In consuming organic matter, animals and decomposers (and plants) consume oxygen. Remember, plants consume about half of what they produce. But despite the symmetry of carbon dioxide and oxygen in the processes of photosynthesis and respiration, the abundances of the gases in the atmosphere are lop-
sided. Oxygen comprises about 22% of the atmosphere; carbon dioxide, about 0.04%. Life and climate are much more sensitive to small shifts in carbon dioxide than they are to small shifts in oxygen.
A very small fraction (less than a tenth of a percent) of the organic matter produced by plants each year escapes consumption and decomposition and becomes buried sediments. Over very long time scales, this buried organic matter may become fossil organic matter, that is, coal, oil, and natural gas. These fossil forms of organic matter still contain the energy initially derived from sunlight, and that energy has been used by society for nearly 300 years to fuel more and more of the human enterprise. During the last century, we reduced our burning of wood and reduced our reliance on grass- and grain-fed animals for transportation. Instead, we switched to using the fossil deposits laid down over millions of years. The difference between the rate at which organic matter is converted to fossil fuels and the rate at which we are burning these fossil deposits makes all the difference in the world. We are releasing back to the atmosphere over a few centuries the carbon dioxide that took millions of years to bury in the first place. Although such burial is going Canopy
on today, it is at a rate a thousand times slower than we are releasing it. And the largest reservoir of carbon, the ocean, can’t keep up with the rate of release. That’s why the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is increasing, and why it will take thousands of years for the oceans and atmosphere to come to a new equilibrium, in which most of the released carbon will be in the ocean rather than the atmosphere. That’s the third reason why carbon is interesting: carbon in the atmosphere traps the sun’s heat and warms the Earth. Most of the heat trapping is from carbon dioxide, released to the atmosphere when fossil fuels are burned and when forests are cleared and the land cultivated. But carbon is also contained in methane – molecule for molecule 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide at trapping heat – and in other heat-trapping gases, as well. 6
Because most of the carbon is emitted as carbon dioxide, however, we can simplify the discussion by considering carbon in general, rather than the specific gases that contain it.
From the perspective of organic chemists, ecologists, and climate scientists, carbon is interesting for different reasons. Those interests coincide, however, when it comes to the global carbon budget, which refers to the alterations in the global carbon cycle attributable to human activity. The largest term in the global carbon budget is the amount of carbon released annually to the atmosphere from the combustion of fossil fuels. Carbon is also released as a result of deforestation and other forms of direct human management of land (for example, loss of carbon from soil as a result of cultivation). There are regions where carbon is accumulating in forests as a result of management, but the net effect of management, globally, is a release of carbon.
The sum of these emissions of carbon (fossil and land use) must equal the sum of the sinks (accumulations of carbon), because all of the carbon released to the atmosphere must accumulate somewhere, either in the atmosphere, the ocean, or land. Scientists can measure the annual increase of carbon in the atmosphere, and can infer the annual increase in the oceans with models. And because the global carbon budget must be balanced, we can also calculate the accumulation of carbon on land. It is calculated so as to make the budget balance, based on estimates for each of the other terms. The land sink is the only term for which there is no independent estimate. We have never measured a global terrestrial sink. We don’t know where it is or the mechanisms responsible for it, although the leading hypotheses explaining it are CO2 fertilization, nitrogen deposition, and changes in climate. It is important to note that this carbon sink on land does not include the sinks of carbon in forests that are regrowing as a result of management (e.g., logged forests, abandoned agricultural lands). These sinks are captured in the net emissions of the Land-Use term. More interesting than the Global Carbon Budget is what it says about the behavior of the global carbon cycle over time. And the simplest index of the global carbon cycle is the “airborne fraction,” which is simply an index of the fraction of emissions that remains in the atmosphere. If the atmosphere accumulated all of the carbon emitted from human activity, the airborne fraction would be 1. If the atmosphere accumulated none of the annual emissions (that is, if the land and oceans took up all of the emissions), the airborne fraction would be 0. Although the airborne fraction varies considerably from year to year and from decade to decade, it seems not to have trended either
upward or downward over the last 50 years. It has remained close to 0.5; half of the emissions have remained in the atmosphere. That observation is remarkable. It means that the uptake of carbon by land and ocean has increased in proportion to emissions. The land and oceans have been removing approximately half of the emissions, even though emissions have doubled over the last few decades.
The stability of the airborne fraction is remarkable because many of the responses we would expect from a warming world would tend to increase that fraction (reduce the uptake by land and ocean). Both the warming of the ocean and an increase in its acidity would be expected to reduce the ocean’s uptake of more carbon. Apparently those reductions have been offset by increased uptake through other processes. The same is true for land. A warmer land surface should thaw permafrost, exposing to decay rich organic matter that’s been frozen for centuries. If such emissions are increasing, they are being offset by increased sinks from other mechanisms... but we don’t know why. As mentioned above, the leading hypotheses explaining increased terrestrial uptake of
carbon are CO2 fertilization, nitrogen deposition, and changes in climate.
Keeping a watchful eye on the airborne fraction is critical. It will be the first indication that the carbon cycle is beginning to change … or not. Determining the mechanisms responsible is also critical. If we
knew those mechanisms, we could predict more confidently whether and how the fraction might change in response to climate change or other global change. A final point about land and carbon. Although the contribution of land management to global warming is only about 10% of the problem (10% of total carbon emissions), its contribution to the solution could be 50%. Stopping deforestation could reduce global emissions of carbon by 10%. But allowing the world’s
secondary forests to grow (without further harvests) and expanding new forests onto millions of acres that supported forests in the past but no longer do so could take about 4 billion metric tons of carbon out of the atmosphere each year. The annual uptake of carbon through these management practices would diminish after a few decades as the forests age, so the solution is not a permanent one. Nevertheless, such management, if timed strategically to coincide with reduced fossil fuel dependency, could keep carbon dioxide concentrations from increasing during those crucial decades of transition.
Needless to say, there are many reasons besides carbon management for restoring the biosphere to a healthy and productive state. Carbon is not the only thing that matters. But it has some compelling attributes that make it convenient, not the least of which is that it can be measured as well as managed… and tied quantitatively to climate. Carbon is the largest player in the land-climate story and this is the story of WHRC.
WHRC Land-Climate Mission • Document and monitor carbon sinks and stores on land • Identify strategies for preventing additional emissions • Identify and quantify restorative options in forests and soils to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere • Work with stakeholders to implement these climate-smart land management strategies. Haiku poems and artwork by Gregory C. Johnson, used with permission from ‘Climate Change Science 2013: Haiku’. For the complete set of haikus, please visit daily.sightline.org/ClimateHaiku. Canopy
Meet Philip Duffy You have an interesting background with experience in academia, the policy world and climate change communications. How will these experiences inform your work at WHRC?
Photo by Christy Lynch Designs.
October 7, the Board of the Woods Hole Research Center named Dr. Philip B. Duffy as the next president of WHRC. Dr. Duffy currently serves as the White House National Science and Technology Council’s Senior Advisor to the US Global Change Research Program. In this role he is involved in international climate negotiations, domestic climate policy and the coordination of domestic global change research. Prior to his work with the White House, Dr. Duffy was Chief Scientist for Climate Central, an organization dedicated to increasing public understanding and awareness of climate change. Dr. Duffy has held senior research positions with the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and visiting positions at the Carnegie Institution for Science and the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford University. He has a Ph.D. in Applied Physics from Stanford University. Soft-spoken, with an irreverent wit, Dr. Duffy radiates the kind of energy that compels one to lean in. Eunice Youmans sat down with him to discuss the future of WHRC. 8
What unites all of those experiences is the fact that they were all motivated by the desire to use my scientific knowledge and credibility to move society forward in addressing climate change. I hope that these varied experiences will allow me to help WHRC to continue to do great science and to be effective in communicating the results and importance of that science to policymakers and to the public. Based on your publications, it seems you have interests in climate change adaptation, extreme weather risk and climate modeling. How do your research interests dovetail with the current work of WHRC?
My overarching interest is in furthering science that has clear societal relevance, and that’s also the Center’s mission. More specifically, I want to use science to help address the grand societal challenge of climate change, and that’s what the Center is all about. So my interests match perfectly with the mission of WHRC. Are there particular projects that are closer to your heart?
The tropics and the Arctic are critical regions in the sense that how we manage them will have a strong influence on the trajectory of future climate. Good choices will act to limit climate change, and poor choices would make the problem much worse. I am particularly excited by the work that WHRC is doing in these regions.
You are a physicist. Does that give you a bit of a different perspective on climate change than that of an ecologist or a hydrologist?
Climate change is very multidisciplinary, so climate-change researchers have diverse academic backgrounds. An education in physics provides a strong set of quantitative tools that can be applied to problems in many areas. On the other hand, I have had to overcome never having any academic training whatsoever in climate, not even geophysical fluid dynamics! Also, my physics training was very oldfashioned in that it was very focused on, well, theoretical physics. There was essentially nothing on realworld applications. Nor were we taught how to solve equations using computers, which is what I ended up spending much of my life doing!
As you are well aware, communicating the science of climate change is challenging. We always struggle to communicate scientific facts without over qualifying to the point of unintelligibility. Based on your experience with Climate Central, how do you balance scientific veracity and clear communication for a general audience?
I believe that it should be possible to explain our work to pretty much anyone. If it’s not, then maybe we shouldn’t be doing it. The most important thing I want people to understand about what WHRC does is why it’s important. You spent three years as a science advisor in the White House. Prior to that, the great bulk of your experience had been in academia. Was there anything that really surprised you?
I had no idea what to expect! Who on the outside has any idea what
President-Designate of WHRC goes on inside the White House? In some ways it’s amazing and unique, and I have often asked myself how a public-school kid from Providence ended up there. I can also remember being at a goingaway party thinking, “Wow, this is just like any other office. A lame going-away party where no one knows what to say.”
and your role as the President of WHRC?
Research is a hobby for me now. I have two papers in the works, which I spend probably four hours on a month. But those four hours are relaxing. What do you see as the public role of the Woods Hole Research Center?
It is important for scientists involved “If humanity is to in climate change to speak publicly about meet the grand what we do. I notice challenge of that WHRC has had I like to involve all events concerning climate change, interested parties in issues of local and making decisions. organizations like regional significance, One of the good like ocean WHRC will play a things about working acidification. I hope with smart people is critical role, by solving we can continue to do that they often have that. That being said, key science problems good ideas; in many I feel pretty strongly cases, though, you that scientists and bringing those won’t hear them and scientific solutions into the unless you ask. organizations And people always need to be wary policy realm.” appreciate having of advocacy. The input into a decision, most valuable asset even if it does not turn out the way of both individual scientists they hope. That’s especially true and organizations like WHRC is of scientists, who by nature like to scientific credibility; that credibility figure things out for themselves, is compromised if we are seen as and balk at being told what to do. advocates. When I advise senior I also believe in being open with policymakers, I try very hard to folks about things that affect them, convey what science has to say with good and bad. In the long run, that as little “spin” as possible. In the builds trust. You have led small and large teams. How would you describe your management style?
You are first and foremost a scientist, and I imagine there are several research questions you would like to answer. How will you successfully combine your research projects
long run, that’s best for all parties. An advisor who has a reputation as a straight shooter is trusted and sought after.
You biked in the California Climate Ride. How many miles did you ride? Why did you do it?
Well, I love cycling; it used to be a big part of my life. I also care a lot about climate change, so when I was invited to do the Climate Ride, I did not hesitate to accept. I think we rode 300 or 400 miles; I don’t remember exactly. We had fantastic weather and the route through Northern California (where I have lived most of my life) was just beautiful. Unfortunately, our dog died while I was on the ride, and my poor wife had to handle that sad event by herself. What haven’t I asked that people should know about you?
I was introduced to climate science back in the 1980s by my mom, who was a researcher on paleoclimates (ice ages and so on) at Brown University. At first I was attracted by the interestingness of the science, but pretty quickly I realized that climate change is much more than interesting science. Now one of my kids is going into the field professionally as well, and I am enjoying being a mentor to her. So for me it’s much more than a job!
could be a magic year for Brazil. Although it is home to one of the world’s largest carbon storehouses, the Amazon rainforest, Brazil is also the world’s fifth largest emitter of greenhouse gases, much of it historically from deforestation. 2020 is the deadline Brazil has set for itself to reach a targeted 40% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and an 80% reduction in deforestation. 2020 is also the year when Brazil’s agricultural outputs are projected to increase by 40% or more. Brazil is poised to become a global model for sustainable agriculture – and the world is watching to see if it can pull off this massive increase in agricultural production, while preventing deforestation and the CO2 emissions that come with it.
Photo by Paulo Brando. 10
Brazil has come a long way since signing the Kyoto Protocol in 1998 and has become a leader in carbon management, mainly by controlling deforestation in the Amazon. In 2005 Brazilian President Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva made an international commitment to reduce deforestation in the Amazon by 80%, compared to the 1995-2005 average. He codified this commitment in 2008, when he signed the National Plan on Climate Change into law. Soon after, the government introduced its LowCarbon Agriculture program, which provides roughly $1.5 billion in annual subsidized loans aimed at increasing agricultural productivity, while reducing carbon emissions and supporting forest restoration.
Beyond Zero Deforestation:
Creating a Global Model for Sustainable Agriculture
Michael Coe and Marcia Macedo At the same time the nation set aside hundreds of millions of acres of Amazon forests as strict protected areas, where no deforestation could occur.
As it strengthened forest and agricultural governance, Brazil also improved enforcement of environmental laws. National and state programs began to take advantage of existing satellite technologies to monitor forests, enabling officials to “see” and rapidly respond to illegal deforestation. Private initiatives and publicprivate partnerships sprang up to support environmental compliance through international certification standards, commodity roundtables, and boycotts of products produced on newly-deforested land. These improvements in transparency and governance led to a rapid decline in illegal deforestation. Today, Brazil is widely touted as a conservation success story, having protected 80% of the original Amazon and reduced annual deforestation from more than 4.9 million acres in 1995-2005 to less than 1.6 million acres after 2008. This reduction prevented the release of 3.2 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. These impressive conservation achievements occurred as Brazil was becoming an agricultural powerhouse, the only tropical country to compete in the realm of global commodity markets. Beef exports increased more than fivefold from 2000-2010, and Brazil is now the world’s leading producer
of soybeans, sugar cane, coffee, and oranges. Over nearly a decade, Brazil has shown that forest conservation does not necessarily have to come at the expense of economic activity.
However, Brazil’s successes have not eliminated the environmental consequences of agriculture. Achieving ever-greater production without new deforestation has required large-scale intensification. Farmers are now planting two or three crops per year and grazing more heads of cattle per acre than ever before, attempting to squeeze more and more out of the same parcel of land. Doing so requires more fertilizer and pesticide inputs and building more infrastructure to store and transport goods, all of which can have unintended environmental consequences. WHRC scientists have found the perfect laboratory for studying these consequences – a working soybean farm embedded in the Amazon forest. The 200,000acre Fazenda Tanguro, one of Brazil’s largest soybean farms, has become a hub of scientific activity aimed at understanding the environmental costs of intensive agriculture. WHRC scientists study the interplay between agricultural expansion and intensification, and its consequences for climate, water and food security, and ecological function. Together with Brazilian colleagues, they have shown that deforestation warmed the land ○ surface by as much as 5 C, reduced the amount of water recycled to the
atmosphere by 25%, and increased the water exported to the oceans by 25%. If not aggressively addressed, these changes may affect regional climate and have severe impacts on fire frequency, crop productivity, and economic development. Using satellite observations and computer models, the WHRC science team has been able to scale up the field measurements made at Tanguro to all of Brazil. During their nearly ten years working in the region, they have documented the importance of good governance to the environment, but none of this research would really matter if not put to good use. To make this research relevant for Brazil and the globe, the team works closely with colleagues at several Brazilian institutions, including the Amazon Environmental Research Institute, Federal University of Minas Gerais, and the Land Alliance. These partnerships provide an outlet for communicating their scientific findings of human impacts to farmers, ranchers, and policymakers. Together this group has been able to influence public dialogues on the importance of conservation and federal policy. The world is watching while Brazil struggles to create viable policies, emphasizing ecologically and economically sustainable management of land, and to create a new development paradigm for the world to follow. And through sound science WHRC is there to help. Canopy
Where We Work Alaska, USA: Arctic vegetation and landscape effects on permafrost vulnerability; biomass mapping.
Europe: Mapping deforestation and forest degradation.
Healy, Alaska, USA: Climate impacts on carbon balance of subarctic tundra.
Alaska, USA, Canada & Russia: Collect and analyze a time-series of biogeochemical samples from Arctic rivers for assessing environmental change.
Florida, USA: Study of mangroves to predict impacts of climate change on coastal ecosystems. Mexico: Biomass mapping, land cover change, technical capacity building and training to monitor carbon stocks.
Mexico, Colombia, Peru: Mapping deforestation and forest degradation; REDD+ monitoring. Amazon River: Measure carbon fluxes.
Brazil, Bolivia and Peru: Building an early warning system for extreme events in the tri-national region.
Madre de Dios, Peru: Advise regional government on adaptations to climate change; work with university professors to build conservation capacity in Peru and Brazil.
San Martin and Ucayali, Peru: REDD+ monitoring; capacity building with indigenous leaders to address the impacts of climate change in Ucayali.
Amazon: Examine fire, land use and the savannization; examine the environmental impacts of soybean agriculture.
Planet-wide: Global map of aboveground biomass; global map of forest extent and change. REDD+ is the United Nations program for Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation. 12
Howland Forest, Maine & Harvard Forest, Massachusetts, USA: Study impacts of changing climate on carbon cycling in forest; measure greenhouse gases in soils. Appalachian Region: Assess ecosystems vulnerabilities to climate change for US Park Service.
Amazon River Floodplain: Measure impacts of flood and drought on ecosystems; analyze the impacts of land use change. Xingu River Basin: Biomass mapping.
Cerrado: Examine land use change to understand the impacts and opportunities for carbon storage.
Tanguro Ranch: Deforestation, temperature and solar reflection changes; fire and land use in the Amazon; agriculture, climate change and freshwater supply; agricultural intensification and nitrous oxide emissions.
Mato Grasso and Acre, Brazil: REDD+ monitoring; agriculture, climate change and freshwater supply in Mato Grasso.
Svalbard, Norway: Biomass mapping.
Russia: Arctic vegetation and landscape effects on permafrost vulnerability. Chersky, Siberia: Impacts of boreal forest fires on permafrost carbon loss; training next generation of arctic researchers.
Pan-Tropic: REDD+ Monitoring. India, USA, Africa, Colombia, Peru: Developing studies for the next USA/ India Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) mission. Eastern Central Africa: Carbon and deforestation maps.
Equateur Province, Democratic Republic of Congo: Work with local communities to improve land-use management and governance to limit deforestation. Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo: Evaluate land management strategies to identify best practices to reduce deforestation and degradation.
Woods Hole Research Center Canopy
Conversation Between Scientists
Drs. Scott Goetz and Susan Natali talk about arctic research Dr. Scott Goetz uses satellite imagery to study ecosystem responses to environmental change in the Arctic, particularly documenting vegetation changes (such as greening and browning of boreal and tundra ecosystems) due to warmer temperatures. Dr. Susan Natali designs field experiments and collects field data across the Arctic to understand the role of permafrost thaw in future climate trajectories. Where Dr. Goetz’s research shows that warming temperatures in the Arctic can lead to greater vegetation growth, Dr. Natali’s research finds that more carbon is emitted from soils than is taken up by vegetation due to warming temperatures. They sat down one Friday afternoon to discuss their research. Susan – What is driving the greening you see in the Arctic? Is it permafrost thaw, changes in soil moisture, temperature or nutrients, or is it something else?
Scott – I don’t think we know for sure. It seems that temperature is a big factor with a longer growing season leading to higher photosynthetic rates, but there may be a whole cycle of other processes related to nutrient cycling.
Susan – Our field studies are consistent with your results, but we have found that microbes also benefited from the longer growing season, and that microbes respired greater amounts of CO2 when warmed. We have also found that when we factor in winter microbial respiration, the carbon taken up by plants 14
during the growing season was offset by carbon respired annually, resulting in a system that is a net source of atmospheric carbon.
Scott – Right. That is the challenge with the satellite record in the Arctic. It is only light half of the year so we are missing a big piece of the picture. That is, the piece you capture with winter respiration measurements, and they change the whole story.
Susan – It would be great if we could link winter respiration numbers with some sort of measurement we could detect during the growing season. Maybe snow depth and snow cover or freeze and thaw cycles could be linked to growing season net primary production (NPP).
Scott – Length of snow-on season might be a good indicator of relative warmth. Then there is this whole hydrologic component that could be measured in terms of how wet different sites are. What do you think is driving winter respiration? Is it the insulating effect of snow?
Susan – Sure, it is temperature. So, yes, it is the insulating effects of snow combined with other factors such as how much carbon is in the soil, what the composition of the organic matter is in soil, and how much unfrozen water is available. We know these things affect winter respiration. That’s where we need to go, figure out what is driving winter respiration and scale it up.
Scott – The other challenge is that not all permafrost is the same. Nobody knows how fast permafrost will thaw across the Arctic, because permafrost is variable with some of it having very high, easily converted carbon and other with much less.
Susan – That’s right. One thing that has really surprised me is that even the starting point, the amount of carbon contained in permafrost, really varies across different models. How do we figure out where we will be in 2100 or 2300 when there is not a consensus on how much carbon is stored in permafrost now?
Scott – Ice content of permafrost is another big research question because that can determine how vulnerable permafrost is to thaw.
Susan – Can you detect ice in permafrost with remote sensing?
Photos by Paul Lefebvre.
Scott – We know that we could with electrical resistivity measurements from a helicopter or on the ground. You can put probes in the ground to detect ice content, but there is no way to do it over very large areas. We could work at your field sites and link what we know about ice wedges and content, permafrost composition and your respiration measurements. We could get at very large areas with radar, especially long wavelength P-band radar. Those are some direct ways. We could also use some more indirect ways, like looking through time using LIDAR to map surface topography. We could then come back to those same sites, maybe at the beginning of the thaw season and the peak of the thaw season, to measure how much the ground surface has subsided with thaw. We could infer something about ice content from those observations. We need to do a lot more of this.
Susan – What about the browning you have seen in the Arctic. Can it be linked to permafrost thaw and soil moisture? Is it precipitation or is it water availability as a result of permafrost thaw?
Scott – I don’t think anything related to browning is necessarily related to precipitation directly, but it is a drought effect. We are pretty sure it is related to the drying effects of air, that is, long hot and dry days with low humidity. These warmer growing seasons in consecutive years are leading to greater tree mortality rates. That’s the browning we are looking at now in the Boreal forests. In contrast, across the expanse of the tundra, we have seen ubiquitous greening everywhere we look.
Susan – Well, even within the Boreal system across the Arctic, there are big differences in vegetation types, with Larch forests in Siberia and Evergreen conifers in North America. Are there differences in the response of these Boreal forests to warming?
Scott – That’s right. There are some areas in Siberia showing a browning effect, but it is not nearly as evident as it is in North America. Your earlier question about the relationship between browning and permafrost thaw is a really good one. We don’t have a good handle on that because we don’t really know how variable permafrost is across these landscapes. We need better maps of extent and distribution of permafrost, especially throughout the areas where it is less continuous.
Susan – We have a lot more work to do! Scott – We sure do. Canopy
How Dynamic Are Tropical Forests? Alessandro Baccini and Richard A. Houghton
We know from the global carbon budget that carbon is accumulating on land despite the losses of carbon from deforestation and degradation, and in addition to the accumulations resulting from management. We don’t know where or why the additional carbon is being accumulated, but it is. One place to look for the accumulation is in forests, and forest inventories in mid-latitude countries suggest that indeed the carbon stocks of forests are growing, although not enough to balance the global carbon budget. In the tropics, where forest inventories are rare, it is not so clear that forests are taking up carbon, in part because deforestation affects so much of the tropics. But an on-going sampling of plots in South America and Africa suggest that unmanaged forests are taking up carbon.
The suggestion is controversial because one would not expect grown forests to continue to accumulate carbon. At some point they have to reach an equilibrium where the carbon accumulated in growth is balanced by the carbon lost as a result of mortality. Is the observed accumulation balanced by losses in forests not sampled? Or is there an accumulation of carbon driven by some change in the global environment, for example as a result of higher levels of CO2 in the atmosphere or changes in climate? We don’t know much about the dynamics of tropical forests. We don’t know how often tropical 16
forests are disturbed, for example by storms, fires, droughts, etc. Are most tropical forests growing? Or are the equal areas accumulating and losing carbon? In the absence of systematic forest inventories, there’s never been a way to measure the area of forests losing carbon (and how much) and
tropical America. These findings are consistent with the results obtained by comparing the loss of carbon from land-use change with the gains reported from the sampled plots. We are confident that the WHRC method measures the net change in aboveground carbon.
However, our measurements of carbon density are for areas 500 meters by 500 meters, and that area is large enough to include both forests that are gaining carbon and forests that are losing it. Thus, we don’t have a precise estimate of how much carbon is being lost (from disturbances and degradation, for example) and how much is being gained (as a result of forest growth). We have determined the net change but lack the gross rates Cartography by Greg Fiske. of carbon loss and gain.
the area of forests gaining carbon – until WHRC developed a satellitebased method for measuring the aboveground carbon density in forests and woodlands. We have now measured the aboveground carbon density for tropical forests at an annual interval between the years 2002 and 2012. We can now answer the questions: Are there visible changes in carbon density? How many forests are losing carbon; how many are gaining it; and do the two cancel each other out?
We found a mixed answer. Overall, the carbon lost during the decade was greater than the carbon gained. The greatest loss was in
The way to get at gross rates is to try the WHRC method at a higher spatial resolution than 500m x 500m. The smaller pixels should help identify more areas as either gaining or losing carbon, and the net change should remain the same.
We would also like to separate the losses into those from deforestation and those from degradation. And to separate the changes in carbon density into those from human management and those from natural processes. This last attribution is extremely challenging, but it would reveal the potential for humans to manage the global carbon cycle. WHRC is up to the challenge.
Forgotten Feedbacks Susan Natali
The Arctic is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the globe, and that warming threatens a vast release of carbon locked within permafrost (frozen soil) – an amount that represents more carbon than has been emitted through all of fossil fuel combustion to date. Projections of the impacts of permafrost thaw on the global climate system vary widely because scientists do not yet understand how fast or how much carbon will be released. The timing and magnitude are uncertain, but the climate effects of a warming Arctic are clear: permafrost thaw will release more carbon into the atmosphere and further amplify climate change. Yet, permafrost thaw and the associated climate feedbacks are not included in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) climate models.
Thawing permafrost on exposed riverbank oozes into the Kolyma River in Siberia. Photo by Chris Linder.
The IPCC was formed in 1988 by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) to examine current scientific research on the role of human activities on a changing climate. The IPCC issues assessment reports which draw on the expertise of more than 2,000 scientists from nearly 160 countries to examine the physical science of the changing climate, the impacts of these changes, and policy options for mitigating these effects. Unfortunately, the most recent Fifth IPCC Assessment report does not include the effects of permafrost carbon feedbacks on climate.
In 2012, a UNEP report found that permafrost thaw could substantially intensify global warming if warming occurs as projected in the Arctic. The report also suggests that thawing permafrost could radically change ecosystems and break down infrastructure. These impacts are already visible in the Arctic with “drunken” trees, sinking buildings and the Russian pipeline break, which resulted in the largest oil spill on the land.
These impacts are dangerous and obvious, but the greatest danger from permafrost thaw is invisible at its source and it is irreversible. Permafrost contains 1.5 trillion tons of carbon – twice the amount of carbon that is in the atmosphere today. As it thaws, carbon can be converted by microbes into carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4), a heat-trapping gas that is 28 to 34 times more powerful than CO2 on a 100 year timescale. Further, arctic warming has occurred many times faster than earlier climate models predicted, rendering current warming projections too conservative. Permafrost thaw has the potential to up-end all future climate projections, but human actions can minimize its effects. Current climate models without permafrost feedbacks underestimate future warming trends. Better models that include the role of permafrost in the future climate system are needed in order for the global policy community to respond. Canopy
Restoring the Biosphere Richard A. Houghton
The following sentence appeared in the July 31, 2014, issue of New Scientist: “Scientists are betting that if there are intelligent beings outside of Earth’s galaxy, they’ve probably been polluting their environment just like we have, a fact that could one day unlock clues leading to their discovery (my italics).” Is that what our intelligence has brought us… to be recognized by our pollution?
120 billion metric tons of carbon are released back to the atmosphere through the complementary process of decomposition (or respiration). Enter humans. Not much changed at first. We hunted and gathered, like other animals, and we used fire that converted the carbon in organic matter to carbon dioxide, skipping the process of decomposition – hardly noticeable to the global environment. A few hundred thousand years ago there were only a few million of us.
Before there were people on Earth, the planet functioned in a way not very different from the way it functions “Every year about Then some groups today. Plants take discovered that carbon dioxide out of 120 billion metric they could make the atmosphere to feed life easier if they tons of carbon are themselves through stayed in one spot fixed into organic photosynthesis creating and grew their food (organic matter) own (domestic) matter by green from inorganic carbon. A crops and meat plants, and about instead of hunting by-product is oxygen. A and gathering. It few organisms can form 120 billion metric didn’t happen all organic matter through tons of carbon are at once, but settled chemosynthesis, starting but most of the food released back to the agriculture, about 10,000 years that we and the rest ago, began to replace atmosphere through of the animals on forests and other Earth share comes the complementary natural ecosystems from photosynthesis. with croplands and process of What we don’t eat pastures. As forests accumulates as organic decomposition (or were cleared, the matter in soils. There carbon stored in respiration).” it forms the food for trees was emitted to microbes that convert the atmosphere as the organic matter back into carbon carbon dioxide. Again, the emissions dioxide, releasing nutrients and were minor, less than a half of consuming oxygen in the process. billion tons of carbon per year. The That’s the global carbon cycle. carbon dioxide concentration of the Every year about 120 billion metric atmosphere didn’t increase because tons of carbon are fixed into organic the oceans could keep up with matter by green plants, and about absorption of those emissions.
Somewhere along in the industrial revolution, the substitution of coal, oil, and gas for wood (or whale oil) began to add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere faster than the oceans or growing forests could take it out, and the concentration of carbon dioxide began to increase. There were perhaps a billion of us then.
Our use of fossil fuels has increased since then, partly because there are more of us and partly because each of us uses more energy than our grandparents did. In 2013 we emitted about 10 billion tons of carbon to the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels, and we released another billion tons from our continued conversion of forests and tropical peatlands to agricultural lands, for the production of food and fuel. During the centuries that preceded the industrial revolution the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was 278 ppm (parts per million) (that’s 0.0278%). In 2014 the concentration reached 400 ppm, and its growth is faster than ever. Stopping at 450 ppm looks unlikely. 278 ppm is what the concentration would be in the absence of intelligent life on Earth. But the expansion of agricultural areas over the last ten thousand years did more than reduce the amount of carbon held in vegetation and add it to the atmosphere. Cultivation also reduced the amount of carbon of soils. In rich soils, crop production flourished anyway. But in poor soils, over-cropping reduced the fertility of soil, diminished
yields, and led to abandonment and moving on to the next plot of fertile land. Depleted soils are slow to return to forests, and today there are formerly forested lands that support neither agriculture nor forests. We call these lands degraded, or, where forests have made less than a full come-back, degraded forests.
Fortunately, we know that degraded Restoration of the biosphere enables us to simultaneously meet the three forests and degraded lands that needs of the new climate economy: once supported forests can support greater production of food for the forests again. Many of the lands next billion people, many of whom degraded over the last centuries will be joining the middle class and can be recovered and can be made consuming more; to produce food or wood reduced emissions at the same time they re“Restoration of of greenhouse accumulate the carbon stocks that existed prior gases; and economic the biosphere So here we are today. We need to to human intervention. development for reduce emissions of carbon dioxide has the potential We might be able to countries through and other greenhouse gases at the recover to the carbon supply of resources to turn the land same time we need to increase stocks that existed before that are demanded by food production for another billion from 10% of humans – even though the growing appetite people joining the Earth by 2030. we still need large areas for food, feed, fiber, the problem to Many of those added will be looking for agriculture and can’t fuel, and ecosystem for a better life, which translates 50% or more of return all cleared areas services. into higher rates of consumption. back to forests. But even the solution to Huge challenges. The good news Such thinking may on agricultural lands, not is that the increased demand for sound optimistic, but to mention grasslands, climatic change resources such as food and wood has tundra, marshes, and optimism is the only mitigation.” the potential to fuel the economic other non-forest lands, viable alternative. And development of poor countries we can increase the there are indications where such development is needed. carbon stocks of soils. that the process has begun in some neighborhoods. Tropical But can we meet these challenges? And some of the good news is even deforestation rates have declined Can we increase crop production at better. Soils with more carbon over the last decade, while crop the same time we reduce emissions? in them usually produce higher production has increased in some of Can we increase yields without yields of crops. So, as we add the same countries. Forest area has cutting down more forests? Can we carbon to agricultural soils through been increasing for nearly a century conservation tillage or no-till, we deliver more resources and do it increase yields on the same areas. In sustainably? in some developed countries and short, we restore the for decades in China and India. Earth, restore the Restoration of the biosphere has the “In 2013 we emitted about 10 billion tons capacity of natural potential to turn the land from 10% ecosystems to carry of carbon to the atmosphere from burning of the problem (net emissions of 1 out ecosystem billion tons carbon/year) to 50% fossil fuels, and we released another services, such as or more of the solution to climatic water conservation billion tons from our continued conversion change mitigation (3-5 billion or erosion control tons of carbon uptake/year). And in addition to of forests and tropical peatlands to that’s only the carbon side of the withdrawing agricultural lands, for the production of accounting. Doesn’t that sound like carbon from the a more intelligent way of managing atmosphere. It is a food and fuel.” win, win, win. our resources? Canopy
Science for the Future of the Earth Richard A. Houghton
sinks, and to include only those The two preceding stories go sources and sinks that can be somewhat farther than reporting attributed to management – not the results of environmental those attributable to nature or research. They make statements random events. The rationale is about what should be done, and why that we should be rewarded and it should be done. They advocate. penalized for our actions, not for The “Forgotten Feedbacks” piece processes beyond our advocates for including direct control. But permafrost thaw in “Science offers the the warming itself is future climate models so that those models discovery of things largely attributable to human activity, will do a better job of to be concerned so the emissions predicting the future about before they of carbon from rate and extent of global warming and climate become disruptive, thawing permafrost are also attributable change. “Restoring the and options for (indirectly) to human Biosphere” advocates dealing with and activity. The difficulty using land management is that the sources strategically for the time overcoming such and sinks attributable required to transition concerns.” to warming are away from fossil fuels. communal; they can’t Both pieces are based on be easily attributed to particular research, and both suggest specific changes for dealing with climatic activities, industries, sectors, and disruption. They are opinions based nations. Nevertheless, there is a on science. They advocate change. need for the policy makers to begin to determine how to include these The “Forgotten Feedbacks” piece indirect effects in their system of could go farther. It could point credits and debits. That is one out that the current mind-set for policy implication for the “Forgotten managing carbon is to reduce emissions and increase carbon Feedbacks” research.
Taking a step back, imagine where we’d be if the science behind these two pieces had never been carried out – if we didn’t have the knowledge to be concerned about permafrost thaw or if we didn’t know that one option for stabilizing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was land management. We would have a limited understanding of both the dangers and the solutions to climatic disruption.
That’s what science offers: the discovery of things to be concerned about before they become disruptive, and options for dealing with and overcoming such concerns. And this role of science is why governments have long recognized the need to invest in research. Lately, our government has been forfeiting that responsibility and we need your help. Our research is for the common good. Think of it as conservation writ large – not for individual species or habitats, but at a global level for all species and all habitats. Science for the future of the Earth. It helps us define what’s needed to achieve a greener, healthier, more productive planet.
“Our research is for the common good. Think of it as conservation writ large – not for individual species or habitats, but at a global level for all species and all habitats.” 20
Imagine a world not dependent on fossil fuels that allows natural systems to regulate the Earthâ€™s temperature
Invest in the future of the Earth Invest in research
Please make your gift to
support the Woods Hole Research Center today.
Photo by Chris Linder. Canopy
I am the first Ph.D. in my family, and as far back as I can remember, I have been curious about how people live around the globe and care about nature. When I was 18, I went to Nicaragua for an international solidarity project. It was an eye-opening experience on poverty, inequality and the role of a healthy environment for human well-being. Climate change is the biggest challenge we face. I do my research because I have hope that we can find solutions to reduce poverty and protect the resources of our planet, and I want to be a part of the solutions.
Prajjwal Panday Brendan M. Rogers Postdoctoral Fellow Inspired by an environmental science class in college, I enrolled in semester-long field courses in the Nevada desert and Australian rainforest. I became consumed by the infinite diversity of life and ecosystems. I knew then that I would devote my life to understanding the processes governing them. After college I spent a year traveling the world and began to grasp the effects of human activities on the environment. Pollution, over-population, landscape fragmentation, invasive species, and climate warming were changing the biosphere. Climate change is particularly scary, as it affects every aspect of the Earth’s systems. I believe that, if we understand the relationship between human activities and a changing climate better, we can mitigate the effects of climate change. My work examining Boreal forest fires is one of the keys to understanding and managing climate impacts.
Patrick Jantz Research Associate
Postdoctoral Fellow My love for science started early in the foothills of Nepal, where I was fascinated by nature – streams, brooks, lakes, and rivers in particular. I started reading Edward Abbey, Rachel Carson, John Muir, and Henry Thoreau and developed a passion for and commitment to environmental issues and challenges. At present, my research focuses on understanding the impacts of climatic and anthropogenic changes on terrestrial hydrology. I believe that a better understanding of ecosystem processes will help prepare us for how an ecosystem may respond to global climatic and environmental changes. This will hopefully allow us to communicate openly and honestly to stakeholders and policymakers to plan for action that will mitigate potential impacts.
My first college course taught me how to draw a map on the computer which was really challenging, because before that I had never even seen a computer! In the end, I made a beautiful map and chose GIS as my major and continued on to my Ph.D. in Earth Systems and Geoinformation Sciences. I am interested in the interactions between climate change and land surface.
I grew up in the suburbs of a medium sized town in the southeastern U.S. Although the abandoned fields and fragmented forests near my house provided some wildlife habitat, real wilderness was something I could only read about. And read I did. Book after book from Thornton W. Burgess, Jim Kjelgaard, Jack London and others. Later, in college, these childhood excursions of imagination grew into a love of biology and ecology and led to hikes in the great mountain ranges, forests and deserts of the US. After college, a Woods Hole Research Center internship revealed to me the sheer scale of human actions in the Earth’s wild places and strengthened my resolve to devote my career to understanding and mitigating some of the negative impacts of our time here on Earth. As the geographic focus of my work has expanded to include developing countries, I’m internalizing the lesson that ecosystem functions and human well-being are inseparable, and I use GIS and RS approaches to identify forest conservation and restoration opportunities that provide multiple benefits for human and natural systems. Fall 2014
My grandmother grew up in a tiny town near the mouth of the Amazon River. As a kid I was fascinated by her plant-based home remedies and spent long afternoons listening to her weave stories of the Amazon’s forests, rivers, and wildlife. I especially loved hearing about my dad’s pet capivaras and agoutis. As I grew older, I learned that the environment they grew up in was changing rapidly. I did school projects about the massive Serra Pelada gold mines and rampant slash-and-burn deforestation. When I was 12, Chico Mendes, leader of the rubber tapper’s movement, was murdered for defending the rights of forest people. That year I visited the Amazon for the first time and was awed by its vast forests and rivers, rich plant and animal diversity, and vibrant people. I was hooked – and I knew then that I wanted to understand this complex environment so I could help conserve it. At WHRC, I spend my days studying tropical forests from space and on the ground. We are trying to find creative solutions that reconcile the need for forest conservation and human development.
Kevin Guay Research Assistant
Min Li Postdoctoral Fellow
Tina Cormier Research Associate Ever since I was a little girl, I loved to play outside; it’s where I felt most alive. I’d run through the woods and fields collecting grasshoppers and worms, saving turtles that were trying to cross the road, and listening to beautiful bird songs. Over time, I have witnessed disturbing changes in our environment—rapidly changing land use, pollution of our air and water, climate change—that have lead to extinctions, food insecurity, and human health issues all over the world. In my own backyard, places that I love have been turned into parking lots and malls. I now have to filter my water to avoid known carcinogenic toxins that run through the pipes in my town. Though these issues seem too overwhelming for one person to change, I decided to pursue an advanced degree in Natural Resources and do something about them in the best way I knew how: with science. I hope that the work I do can advance our understanding of how we affect the environment and what consequences those actions can have on our well-being.
In college I studied computer science, environmental studies and geology. I analyzed algorithms, wrote operating systems and debugged lots of code, but I also analyzed water samples, explored renewable energy sources and studied rock formations. It was truly an eclectic experience. When asked what I was going to do afterwards, my response was always that I was passionate about both and hoped that one day I could find a way to combine them. Working at Woods Hole Research Center has been the answer. I am able to use my programming skills in conjunction with my knowledge of the environment and physical sciences to study land-climate interactions related to climate change using satellite data. My work at WHRC has inspired a deep interest in ecology and changed the way that I look at the world.
After spending a year-and-a-half in engineering school, learning how to flatten terrain and straighten rivers, I realized it wasn’t for me. My childhood was split between roaming the woods and working in my father’s and grandfather’s wood shops, so I turned my attention and studies to something more fitting – forestry. Forest ecosystems have always been appealing to me, both for their natural beauty and as a renewable source for so many products. I study forests to help understand and share their value, both to markets and to the ecosystem.
Mary Farina Research Assistant Growing up, I knew that I wanted to work toward addressing global environmental issues, but I didn’t know whether science, policy, or another avenue was the right path for me. I was very lucky to take a course on environmental remote sensing in college. This course introduced me to the world of geospatial analyses and helped shape my future goals. I took more classes, which showed me how remote sensing, GIS, and other mapping tools allow us to monitor environmental conditions at varying scales. I learned how these tools can integrate different kinds of data and help us to understand the interactions between environmental and human processes. Aside from these motivations, working with maps can be a lot of fun! Here at WHRC, I am working on projects that combine satellite data and ground-based measurements of trees in order to map biomass across the globe. I’m excited to contribute to this global endeavor, and I hope to help produce biomass data that can be used in future carbon accounting work. Canopy
Happenings October 2013
Board Dinner: A Wild Solution for Climate Change Woods Hole Research Center Board member Dr. Thomas E. Lovejoy presented “A Wild Solution to Climate Change” to a packed room at the Hotel Monaco in Washington, DC. Dr. Lovejoy coined the term biodiversity in the 1980s and has devoted much of his career to studying and describing the importance of diversity of plants and animals for the benefit of functioning ecosystems and for humanity. He is most well known for introducing the idea of debt-for-nature swaps.
Earth Day Celebration: Ecology and the Common Good
Associate Scientist Robert Spencer and professional science and conservation photographer, Chris Linder. The presentation examined their research trip to the Siberian Arctic where warming temperatures threaten to release large quantities of ancient carbon contained in permafrost and its subsequent effects on climate change.
Photography Exhibit: Sustaining the Earth Scattered around the globe and part of our collective legacy are some of the most visually striking places on Earth, many of which are among the locales most at risk in a changing climate. A photography exhibit, “Sustaining the Earth,” mounted in WHRC’s Harbourton Auditorium, told the story of three ecosystems, revealing ways in which deforestation, land disturbance and climate change are affecting these lands and all of humanity.
The Woods Hole Research Center held an Earth Day celebration to mark the publication of Ecology and the Common Good: Great Issues of the Environment, a book of essays from the greatest environmental science and policy thinkers of our time. Dr. Sandra Steingraber, renowned biologist, author and cancer survivor spoke to the crowd about the moral imperative for scientists to speak out about environmental Biologist and author Sandra Steingraber (center) with threats to human health.
Community Lecture: Changing Climate, Rising Seas: Cape Cod
There is no debate that sea levels are rising. Here on Cape Cod, even a small rise will have profound effects, including increased coastal erosion, greater vulnerability to storms and stresses to infrastructure. The questions are, how much, how soon, and what can we George Woodwell (left) and Richard Houghton (right) do about sea level rise? The answers to these questions depend on our responses to a changing climate. A community lecture May 2014 featuring Geologist Rob Thieler from the United States Community Lecture: Detecting the Geological Survey (USGS) and WHRC’s Senior Scientist Max Holmes examined local sea level rise assessments, Lit Fuse of the Arctic Carbon Bomb implications and possible adaptations within the context of the causes and effects of climate change A community lecture entitled, “Detecting the Lit Fuse of the Arctic Carbon Bomb,” featured WHRC around the globe. 24
Community Lecture: Extreme Home Energy Efficiency Inspired by the green architecture of the Woods Hole Research Center (WHRC)’s Woodwell building and the carbon emissions research that motivated its design, Research Associates Greg Fiske and Jesse Bishop have developed a passion for home energy efficiency. The duo led a community lecture describing simple and advanced techniques that can be employed to reduce home energy consumption.
Conference: Ocean Acidification and Southern New England Fossil fuel emissions pump more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every day. One quarter of these emissions are absorbed by the ocean causing it to acidify, which could have profound and irreversible effects. Shellfish growers in the Pacific Northwest have already been impacted through declining oyster harvests linked directly with ocean acidification. Fisherman and aquaculturists around the globe are asking, “Who’s next?”
The Ocean Acidification and Southern New England Conference will jumpstart the search for solutions for our region by bringing together coastal resource users, planners, ocean acidification experts, stakeholders and other concerned citizens. The goal of the conference is to find common ground among these groups concerning the risks to our region from ocean acidification.
WHRC’s Lawrence S. Huntington Environmental Prize The Lawrence S. Huntington Environmental Prize recognizes leaders in the public and private sector who advance and promote research and communication on climate, Earth sciences and conservation. This year Dr. Johan Rockström of Stockholm University and the Stockholm Resilience Centre accepted the 2014 prize and delivered an address entitled, “Human Prosperity within Planetary Boundaries,” at the New York Yacht Club.
Dr. Houghton Accepts ICCG Award in Venice On October 2, 2014, Dr. Houghton attended the International Center for Climate Governance (ICCG) award ceremony in Venice, Italy, and received the award for WHRC as the top-rated think tank active in the field of climate change economics and policy. Dr. Houghton accepted the graceful Murano glass sculpture and delivered a speech entitled, “Beyond REDD+: What management of land can and cannot do to help control atmospheric CO2.”
Photo by Christy Lynch Design.
Woods Hole Research Center 149 Woods Hole Road Falmouth, MA 02540 www.whrc.org