News / Highlights

News and Highlights in June 2021

The Oak Ridger reports an interview with RCI Affiliate Alan Robock concerning nuclear winter, a concept Robock has been instrumental in developing. In a nuclear winter, as Robock puts it, “temperatures would plummet below freezing most days… food crops would fail and massive starvation would kill millions of people who survived the blast effects and radioactivity of nuclear bomb explosions”. The nuclear weapons detonating would cause fires and thus smoke. This smoke would be so widespread as to block heat and light from the sun, causing massively decreased temperatures. Robock first published a paper detailing this effect in 1984, and he believes that his work and other contemporary papers helped halt the arms race. Since then, the amount of nuclear weapons has decreased by about 85%, but Robock still hopes for the amount to fall further. “A nuclear war between any nuclear states, using much less than one percent of the current nuclear arsenal, would produce climate change unprecedented in human history. A small nuclear war could reduce food production by 10 to 40 percent for a decade, with massive increases in ultraviolet radiation,” notes Robock. He calls for policy changes, including removing the power of the President to launch these weapons by himself and dismantling the existing weapons, to ensure a nuclear winter never occurs.

"For far too long, policymakers tended to see climate change and biodiversity loss as separate issues, so policy responses have been siloed," said RCI affiliate Pamela McElwee, co-author of the first ever report by scientists collaborating through both the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). As reported in Reuters, although climate change has become a more salient issue on the global agenda, biodiversity remains a serious issue and it and climate change have similar impacts on human welfare and must be combatted together, the report indicates. Loss of natural greenhouse gas sinks like forests and other ecosystems has exacerbated climate change. The report has been published before the upcoming U.N. conferences on biodiversity and climate change. A goal of the conferences is to commit more countries to protecting at least 30% of their land to conservation, a critical step in preserving biodiversity and limiting climate change.

In the first of a two part episode of Conservators Combating Climate Change, Natalya and Marie talk to two professors at Rutgers University, Dr. Trinidad Rico and RCI Affiliate, Dr. Victoria Ramenzoni, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Human Ecology at Rutgers University, about the overlap in heritage and environmental conservation. Victoria shares her thoughts on the complexity of defining and creating sustainable protocols, Trinidad reflects on how her early training in art conservation affects her current practice in critical heritage studies, and Marie and Natalya reflect on highlights of their two answers. In the second half of a two-episode conversation, Marie and Natalya continue their discussion with Dr. Trinidad Rico and Dr. Victoria Ramenzoni about the ways in which heritage conservators, environmental conservators, and critical heritage professionals approach overlapping issues, such as balancing stakeholder needs. Victoria shares thoughts on the use of the term “restoration” when referring to landscape preservation and Trinidad contextualizes this notion in regards to preserving community monuments for the present. The speakers expand on the political nature of the way institutions define and interact with heritage and share advice on how to move forward collaboratively.


RCI Affiliate Mark Robson has been named the 2021 recipient of the Daniel Gorenstein Memorial Award, which is given each year to a Rutgers University faculty member noted for both outstanding scholarly achievement and exceptional service to the university. Robson is a professor in the Department of Plant Biology, and Edward J. Bloustein School Senior Policy Fellow in Global Health Policy and Practice.  He has focused his studies on the health effects of agricultural chemicals and food production practices in developing countries, which has resulted in important policy changes regarding the safe use of pesticides. He has received numerous awards for his work, including the Constance Mehlman Award from the International Society of Exposure Science. He has been inducted as a fellow in the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences, the Academy of Toxicological Sciences, and the Collegium Ramazzini in Italy. Professor Robson has also been a leader in the Rutgers University community for decades. He is heavily involved in Rutgers Global, the Faculty Engagement Committee and serves as the Faculty Director of the Byrnes Seminars and sits on the editorial board of the Rutgers University Press. He has received many honors for his service and teaching, including the Clement A. Price Human Dignity Award, Faculty-Scholar Teaching Award, Warren I. Susman Award for Excellence in Teaching, UMDNJ Foundation Teaching Award, and the Chancellor’s Award for Global Impact at Rutgers University–New Brunswick.

mark robson

Professor Mark Robson. Photo by Rutgers University


As reported in phys.org, a new study from the University of Agder explores the role of marine animals in the natural carbon cycle. Angela Martin, of the University of Agder, and colleagues, including RCI Affiliate Grace K. Saba, have studied how these animals affect the movement and storage of carbon in the ocean. "Animals eat carbon in their food, which can then be stored in their bodies, excreted in their poop, or breathed out. Some fish and whales also poop nutrients that plants use to photosynthesize. These plants produce organic carbon from carbon dioxide. And when animals move, the carbon and nutrients can move with them," Martin says. However, she says that it is difficult to determine whether these animals are a net positive or negative on climate change. Either way, biological processes comprise a small percentage of the carbon process in the ocean. As more carbon has been released into the atmosphere via anthropogenic sources, about 25 percent has been absorbed into the ocean, resulting in warmer and more acidic waters. While Martin reminds us that only a reduction in human emissions can prevent climate change, she does note that some policies that utilize natural environments, such as the construction of carbon-absorbing salt marshes and seagrasses, have become more popular.


New Jersey has launched MyCoast:NJ to collect and analyze photos of coastal events and places portal that helps document changes to its coast. New Jersey is the 10th state to launch its own offshoot of a national portal that allows people in coastal communities to upload photos of ocean, bay, and tidal river flooding, to help their government representatives make more informed decisions about mitigation strategies. The app also allows users to upload photos of places they love, hoping to capture a full picture of the Jersey Shore and its value to the people of New Jersey. The project was developed by the Jacques Cousteau National Estuarine Research Reserve, which is jointly managed by Rutgers University and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The Reserve is partnering with the NJ Department of Environmental Protection to start up New Jersey's version of the MyCoast portal.


The SEBS and NJAES Newsroom reports on a study led by Rutgers Earth System Science & Policy Lab and co-authored by RCI Affiliate Robert Kopp finding that the Antarctic ice sheet is less likely to become unstable and cause sea level rise if global warming is kept below the 2° Celsius target set by the Paris Climate Agreement. If global warming were to exceed that level, sea level rise would increase an additional .07 inches per year by 2060. If warming were to exceed 3° Celsius, sea level would increase an additional .2 inches. The Antarctic ice sheet is a critical variable in projecting sea level rise, but one that is uncertain. The ice sheet contains eight times more ice above sea level than Greenland, but thus far it has been less affected by global warming.