The last eight years have been the hottest on record, according to scientists at the EU’s Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S).
NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have observed similar phenomena. C3S ranked 2022 as the fifth hottest year, and NASA ranked 2022 as tied with 2015 as the fifth hottest year. NOAA ranked it as the sixth hottest.
“I’ve been worried about the planet becoming more energetic for more than 20 years,” climate scientist and SRU geography, geology and environment professor Julie Snow said.
Snow has worked in the Pentagon since September 2021, serving as the Army’s climate science advisor on a fellowship with the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
“Things have changed a lot since I first started in this area,” Snow said. “People are starting to pay more attention to what they’re seeing out their windows as opposed to scientists trying to tell them what was coming.”
In physics, temperature is the average measure of kinetic energy. Airports around the world take temperatures every day; then climate scientists measure the average temperatures over the span of more than 30 years to pick up on trends.
The world is now 1.2 degrees Celsius, or 2.1 degrees Fahrenheit, hotter than it was in the second half of the 19th century, as reported by The New York Times.
“When we say the temperature on the planet is increasing, we’re saying the planet’s atmosphere is getting more energetic,” Snow said, “and you can see that in the energy associated with storm systems.”
She referenced stronger hurricanes and intense storms in California as examples of an increased amount of energy moving around the planet.
Much of this buildup is caused by the increase in greenhouse gasses trapping energy from the sun.
However, the increased amount of energy in the atmosphere does not mean energy will increase at the same time in every location. Some places may get colder, and rainfall patterns may shift.
Snow used the analogy of a child eating sugar. When a child eats too much, they become more energetic and unpredictable similar to the climate.
The New York Times also reported that the Arctic is warming four times faster than the rest of the world.
Climate scientists use the term “telecommunication” to explain that everything is connected.
Snow said that there are scientists currently studying if the rapid warming in the Arctic is changing the structure of the mid-latitude jet stream, which is the jet stream that pushes weather across the U.S.
Some evidence shows the jet stream is starting to slow down and become unstable. The Arctic warming faster causes the temperature difference between the Arctic and the mid-latitudes to shrink and lose energy.
As the jet stream becomes more unstable, it traps storm systems instead of quickly moving them across the U.S. and leads to flooding and downpours in one area.
“It’s reality,” Snow said. “We’re already seeing these things happen. If we want to make the world a viable place for young people, then everybody needs to get together and work on it.”
Scientists have collectively said that the world needs to get to a 50% reduction of overall greenhouse gas emissions by 2023.
The Macoskey Center for Sustainability Education and Research (MC) at SRU aims to inspire and create a more just and sustainable future through education, demonstration and research.
The MC partners with faculty in all departments who use the 70-acre facility for a wide variety of research projects and classes, and the center is silver certified in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED).
A LEED certification is a globally recognized sustainability certification that encompasses building materials and the way the facility is maintained. LEED’s goal is to promote the transformation to more sustainable practices.
Related to climate change, professors in the biology department and park and resource management program are comparing invasive species and natural vegetation utilizing deer exclosures.
“When you’re thinking about a warming climate, a lot of these invasives have a competitive edge and are able to take over certain areas,” MC director Samantha Laurence said.
The native species are used to certain temperature ranges and migratory paths, so they are the most affected by a changing climate. Invasive species adapt and reproduce quickly, so they can better withstand a changing climate.
Invasive species do not usually have natural predators where they migrate. Deer and other animals in the area will only eat native species because their bodies have already adapted to them.
Laurence has worked at the MC for about five years, starting as a graduate student and moving up to the director position.
In her time at the MC, Laurence has seen dramatic changes in the local environment including original parts of the trail system constructed 30 years ago being washed out.
This led Laurence to discuss with local park managers how to create flooding mitigation buffer zones using native vegetation that likes water to soak up extra flooding.
Much of the research being conducted at the MC looks at how to support native systems, resiliency and trail maintenance in a changing climate.
“During the summer, there was a state of emergency flood that happened at Slippery Rock Borough where downtown was blocked off,” Laurence said. “These things that are typically once-in-a-lifetime are happening more frequently in our region and within our area.”
The MC property is shaped like a bowl, and with the increased rainfall, it’s seeing wetland areas more often and having flooding issues that erode and damage habitats all over the trail system.
Sustainability education graduate assistant Danica Buchanan-Wollaston thinks Slippery Rock would benefit from researching trends in the water table.
The water table is the underground boundary between the unsaturated and saturated zones, according to National Geographic. Below that boundary, any empty space in the rock is filled by water.
The water table is most often used by farmers and homes with wells.
“When you’re looking at an area, especially a wetland area, snowfall and snowmelt do a lot more for the water table than rain because rain tends to fall quickly and run off quickly,” Buchanan-Wollaston said.
Warmer winter and less snowfall could cause the water table to shrink over time.
Warmer winters also interrupt the freeze-thaw cycle which causes early blooming before temperatures drop again. This makes farmers lose crops and money.
The federal government has passed recent legislation in response to climate change including multiple executive orders and the Inflation Reduction Act, which delegates $370 billion to funding clean energy and climate investments.