March to Extinction


     Last week in my March to Extinction: The Impact of Climate Change on Biodiversity class we did an exercise focused on climate change. On Tuesday we split the class into five groups, each with a different topic. My topic was climate forcings and magnitude. Each group had to brainstorm and come up with everything they knew about the subject and all their uncertainties they had and then present it to the class. Before the following class on Thursday, we were instructed to address all of the uncertainties we had and present again. The exercise was helpful in forcing me to realize it’s not so easy to just talk about climate change and teach a class about it without any preparation. We had a reflective assignment to do wrapping it all up. The first question was “Did this exercise teach you anything new or identify for you important gaps in your knowledge?” I responded with the following…

“I have to say that no this exercise did not really teach me anything new in terms of substantive material, however I did get something out of it. I realized that I might think I know a decent amount about climate change but when it comes time to actually verbalize my knowledge, I struggle. Having discussions with people or teaching and informing people is very different from writing a paper, taking a test, or reading a book. You have less time to think about what you are going to say in a conversation and it’s certainly not as easy as reading something for class and absorbing only the big picture or listening to a lecture. I found it difficult to vocalize my knowledge that I do have, on the spot.

     As far as knowledge gaps go, this is something I struggle with all the time. In fact, it stresses me out. There is literally so much more for me to learn in the environmental field as a whole. Even after being in the mosaic I feel that I still have only briefly touched the surface and that’s stressful to me. How am I going to make a difference (on the bigger scale) if I don’t know enough? I’ve been researching and exploring sea level rise since last semester, my paper is currently at 22 pages and I STILL feel like I don’t know nearly enough about the subject. What’s worse is there isn’t enough time in the day to learn everything.”

A Visit to La Molina University

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By Elizabeth Plascencia

This past weekend Will and I attended a Mountain Peatlands and Climate Change Conference at La Molina University. The conference was organized and sponsored by the Rangeland Ecology and Utilization Lab, The Mountain Institute, and the Natural Resource Ecology Lab at Colorado State University. The conference consisted of several lectures and workshops presented by Peruvian universities, American universities, and NGOs. The conference was a great opportunity to learn and understand the importance of mountain peatlands and wetlands (bofedales) in front of a changing climate.

Bofedales in the high Andean region
Bofedales in the high Andean region



What are bofedales? Bofedales are high Andean wetlands. These native environments are being directly affected by climate change through extreme weather-related events and glacial retreat. Bofedales are key for those living downstream of the their water resources. The wetlands store water from rainfall and glacial melt.




During the coffee break, Will and I had the opportunity to talk to a couple of professors and it was really nice to hear their perspectives on the 20th Conference of the Parties (COP20). After the last couple of presentations the floor opened up to a dynamic workshop that was lead by the leader of the conference. We split the entire auditorium up into three groups: Peruvian universities, American universities, and NGOs. We were all given three questions to answer and then we presented our findings and discussions to the group.

La Molina Presentation
La Molina Presentation



Each group selected a representative to share perspectives with the audience about what each group had discussed. I was honored to have the opportunity to represent the American universities sector of the workshop. Overall, the cooperation and collaboration between the groups was really nice to be a part of and I feel more aware of the importance of the fragile bofedales in the Andean region.

The Chemistry of Earth Systems

Dried Samples

By Elizabeth Plascencia

Our sample site location off of I-81 in Carlisle, PA
Our sample site location off of I-81 in Carlisle, PA

As an Earth Sciences major in the 2014 Global Climate Change Mosaic, the elective course that I choose to enroll in was ERSC 331: The Chemistry of Earth Systems. This course is a major requirement and I also thought that it would be useful in addition to the ERSC 204: Global Climate Change mosaic course. Fundamentally this course has expanded my understanding of chemical principles and mechanisms behind major earth systems. The marriage between ERSC 204 and ERSC 331 further enabled me to comprehend the earth systems as a whole in understanding ocean acidification, thermal expansion, extreme weather-related events, anthropogenic environmental effects, natural hazards, etc.

Our final research project for this course revolved around the central theme of trace elements (particularly metals) in the environment as pollutants. Within our lecture course we were taught the differences between anthropogenic and geogenic sources of elements, so that once we began our field work in the Carlisle area we were able to make educated guesses on where to collect our soil samples. Scientific studies suggest that certain trace elements are more likely to be derived from anthropogenic sources while others are more likely to be geogenic, related to and sourced from the bedrock.

Our class was split into five research groups in order to help determine the sources and effects of pollutant trace elements since Carlisle has a large diversity of land-use. Once the research groups collected, analyzed, and presented their results, as a class, we attempted to infer the potential toxicity to the Carlisle population and environment.

Dried soil sample from I-81 off of Carlisle, PA
Dried soil sample from I-81 off of Carlisle, PA


The objective of my group research project was to discern the effect of transportation on soil chemistry, if any. Carlisle is a historical hotspot for truck traffic since its geographic location can reach over 100 million people within a 10-hour driving radius. Therefore, I-81 and the PA Turnpike are major areas for noxious emissions from the burning of oil and gas. Our sample technique consisted of collecting 10 soil samples on a vertical transect from I-81. We collected a sample every 10 meters from the road and proceeded to collect a top soil and deep soil sample in order to test for possible trace element accumulation overtime.


Making a glass disk from one of our soil samples in order to run an XRF analysis
Making a glass disk from one of our soil samples in order to run an XRF analysis


Our hypothesis is as follows: If truck traffic affects soil quality, then we should find high concentrations of trace elements closer to the highway near the soil surface. Trace element concentrations should exponentially decrease as we move away from the road and with depth. After XRD, XRF, and Total Carbon (TOC) analytical tests on our soil samples we concluded that Co, Cu, Zn, and Pb exponentially decreased as we moved away from the road. Zn and Pb also revealed a trend of exponential decrease with depth as well. Oddly enough we found that Na was extremely high above our Hagerstown background soil sample that we used as a standard to test against our soil samples. We soon realized that road salt was another anthropogenic source for this element.

Overall I found this material extremely helpful as an elective course for the mosaic. Further developing my understanding of the geochemical and geophysical reactions that drive the earth systems has helped me immensely.

Renewable Revolution!


Climate change does pose significant threats to prospects for sustainable development. It impacts our environmental, economic, and social development. With climate change in our radar, our ability to meet basic needs to sustain life would be difficult. The behavior that we are carrying out currently may allow or disallow our use of planet earth by future generations. It is also very difficult for developing countries to develop sustainably due to lack of government policy, finance and adaption plans.

In “Renewable Revolution: Low-Carbon Energy by 2030” by Janet L. Sawin and William R. Moomaw, the focus is on sustainable development but by the reduction of energy usage by using it more efficiently and using mostly renewable energy resources.  “Humanity can prevent catastrophic climate change if we act now and adopt policies that reduce energy usage by unleashing the full potential of energy efficiency in concert with renewable energy resources” (Sawin & Moomsaw, 2009).  This is a valid statement because climate change is first and foremost a challenge to development.  Climate change is not just a pollution problem.  In Sawin and Moomsaw’s article, they also stated that “A combination of political will and the right policies can get the world on track to mitigate climate change in the near term while also meeting demand for energy services, providing energy access for the world’s poorest, boosting the global economy, bolstering energy security, and improving the natural environment and human health” (Sawin & Moomsaw, 2009).

According to “Integrating Development in Climate Change: A Framework Policy Discussion Paper on Key Elements for the Development of the Post-2012 Global Climate Policy Regime” by the South Centre, global cooperation to reduce developed countries’ climate footprint and support developing countries’ adoption and implementation of low carbon sustainable development methods should be a priority. In context of the climate change negotiations, there is hope for developing countries to form policies that would promote and aid sustainable development objectives. The South Centre proposed that the post-2012 framework should support the creation of an international economic system that supports and promotes economic development of developing countries (South Centre, 2007). However, certain aspects need to be accounted for such as the need of flexibility to properly determine what policies are needed for development as well as what is best for adaptation to climate change. Policy parameters for the design of economic and environmental policies that were projected by the South Centre are “…the development policy space for developing countries in the areas of tariff and non-tariff barriers, intellectual property, investment promotion and regulation, regional integration, industrial policy, and finance regulation; and the environment and carbon space to increase GHG emissions, to the extent that may be required to enable them to increase the standards of living of their peoples to levels commensurate with a decent and dignified way of life” (South Centre, 2007).




Sawin & Moomaw, Renewable revolution: low-carbon energy by 2030, Worldwatch Institute, 2009.

South Center, Integrating Development in Climate Change. Nov. 2007.



Climate Change is Missing from Museums


By Maeve Hogel

Growing up in the city of Pittsburgh, and with a teacher as a father, I spent a lot of time in museums. I learned what happened to the dinosaurs at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, what makes earthquakes occur at the Carnegie Science Center and the concept of rotational force when spinning around at SportsWorks. Museums are one of the best supplements to school, taking what you’re learning and bringing it to life.

However, currently in Pittsburgh, and in the rest of the United States, there is a lack of discussion about climate change in museums. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recently published two article’s (one about Pittsburgh museums and another about museums nation-wide) discussing how climate change is, for the most part, missing for exhibits. It states that only about half of U.S. science facilities address the issue.

The articles allude at two main reasons for this. The first being the stated reason by many museums: climate change is just too complicated for kids to understand. However, the articles also suggest that maybe climate change is underrepresented because the big donors of the museums want it that way.

In my opinion, both reasons are bad ones. Educating the next generation about climate change is an extremely important of increasing awareness and finding solutions. Keeping it out of museums makes it seem like its not important enough to be there.

Sylvia Earle: Mission Blue


By Elizabeth Plascencia

This weekend I finally watched the documentary, Mission Blue, which has been at the top of my Netflix list for months. The documentary showcases legendary oceanographer and marine biologist Sylvia Earle. As a fellow female scientist, Earle has been somewhat of a hero to me. I first heard about Earle’s work in my Introduction to Marine Biology course in the eighth grade. Within the course we spoke about leading female scientists in the field and naturally Sylvia Earle was at the top of the list as the first female chief scientist at the U.S National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). She has been on my radar ever since. Earle has spent her entire life studying and protecting the ocean and the documentary, Mission Blue, is all about her campaign to create a global network of protected marine sanctuaries.


I find her work particularly moving because although she is witnessing devastating damage to the ocean she often remarks that she will never give up because there is nothing else that she loves more than the ocean.

Sylvia Earle
Sylvia Earle


Why should I care about the ocean? Because the ocean is the cornerstone of earth’s life support system, it shapes climate and weather. It holds most of life on earth. 97% of earth’s water is there. It’s the blue heart of the planet — we should take care of our heart. It’s what makes life possible for us. We still have a really good chance to make things better than they are. They won’t get better unless we take the action and inspire others to do the same thing. No one is without power. Everybody has the capacity to do something – Sylvia Earle


In 2000, Earle was honored as a new member of the National Women’s Hall of Fame. In 2009, Earle received the TED prize after the global launch of Mission Blue and in 2011, she received an honorary doctorate from Smith College, followed by delivering the commencement address at Warren Wilson College. I am deeply moved by Earle’s activism and it is without hesitation that I informally nominate Sylvia Earle for next year’s Rose-Walters Prize at Dickinson College. Am I right?

For more information, please feel free to watch Sylvia Earle’s TED Talk: 

Climate Physics 101


By Elizabeth Plascencia

Physics comic strip from WUMO comics
Physics comic strip from WUMO comics

As an Earth Sciences major at Dickinson College I am well aware of the seminars that we host as a department in order to foster an open platform to share student-faculty research, relevant geoscience news, geologic field excursions, and more. I have personally participated in two seminars in which I helped present student-faculty research in Iceland and a field excursion in Baffin Island, Canada.

Today, I attended a seminar of this sort but the Physics department hosted it. What attracted me most about this seminar was the topic of discussion in lieu of all of my studies so far within my courses, ERSC 204: Global Climate Change and ERSC 331: Chemistry of Earth Systems. Additionally, Professor of Meteorology at Pennsylvania State University, Kenneth J. Davis, presented his talk in a way that was readily accessible to the non-physicist.

This Physics Colloquium was officially called “The Breathing of the Earth and Fires of Industry: Measuring Greenhouse Gas Sources and Sinks at Regional Scales”. I found this talk compelling, because Davis spoke passionately about human activity increasing the greenhouse gas concentration in the earth’s atmosphere, resulting in an irreversible greenhouse effect. I especially appreciated his position on the matter because he was proving anthropogenic climate change with physics equations that I had never even heard of before! As a budding Earth scientist I found this talk to be extremely conducive to my climate change background as a whole, because I had never seen the information presented in that way and everyday I am realizing that this is truly an interdisciplinary field of study.

Example of tower-based turbulent flux measurements for eddy covariance
Example of tower-based turbulent flux measurements for eddy covariance

Davis spoke about the distinct methods for data collected like tower-based turbulent flux measurements, extrapolation of ecosystem fluxes across space using space-based remote sensing, and atmospheric budgets that utilize weather forecast systems combined with tower-, aircraft- and satellite-based greenhouse gas concentration measurements. Overall, I am happy to say that this talk has prompted me to look into reaching a stronger background in physics within my Earth Sciences major.





For more information please feel free to check out this awesome video describing the methods used in eddy covariance flux towers:

Climate Change’s Link to Decreasing Honey Bee Populations

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Honey bee populations have decreased from “5 million in the 1940s to only 2.5 million in 2014 in the United States” ( USDA) .  Human-induced CO2 emissions could have affected the honey bee populations. Honey bees are major pollinators for plants, hence they are vital for our agricultural system. An example of this dependence is Californian farmers bringing in colonies of bees to keep crops alive through pollination. Plants and bees have co-evolved together, so bees know when to pollinate flowering plants.  The major issue is that scientists do not know the environmental and genetic triggers that cue plant and pollinators to have synchronicity. Meaning temperatures have increased due to global warming, warmer temperatures have caused plants to flower earlier in the season than bees have been ready for.


Another outcome from global warming’s increased temperatures is that it has changes in migration patterns, which results in native plant’s lacking pollination. Another issue is that bees have been laying their eggs earlier in the season because of increased temperatures from climate change. Bees lay their eggs when temperatures are warm enough outside and require a constant temperature of 93 degrees for their eggs to survive. However, since they are laying their eggs earlier in the season there is a greater chance for cold days.  These cold snaps have resulted in all the eggs in a nest dying, causing the future populations of bees to be stunted. (Earth Observatory). For example, bee keepers have seen a 30-90% population decline in winter. These cold snaps have resulted in all the eggs in a nest dying, causing the future populations of bees to be stunted.  The decline of bee populations can be observed in weighing the nests. The nests indicate the bee’s health and their health has declined seen from the decreased weight.  Although the effect of climate change on honey bee populations is still relatively speculatively, these points have shown that changing climate could have negative consequences on bee populations.   Fortunately the United States has set up an $8 million fund for the preservation of honey bees.

To Climate Change Deniers


By Maeve Hogel

In preparation for COP 20 in Lima, we’ve been learning about the difficulties that arise in climate change negotiations. For such a global problem, we need a global effort and it’s hard to get that many nations, cultures and peoples on the same page.

However, even within the United States, we still aren’t on the same page. Despite all of the data and statistics showing that the planet is warming, U.S. Representative Paul Ryan said today that we still don’t know if humans are causing climate change. When asked in a debate if humans were the cause of climate change, Ryan said “I don’t know the answer to that. I don’t think science does either.”

To all climate change deniers, our favorite science guy, Bill Nye, says perfectly, “that living things change through a process that Darwin and Wallace calls natural selection. Those are facts. Tectonic plates move and that’s a fact. And the world is getting warmer because of human activity. And thats a fact.”

How can we decide?


The Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) aims to close the gap between emission pledges of countries and the possibility of countries actually having the ability to make the global average temperature to be below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels. In order for this to happen, countries must come to an agreement by getting involved. However, from the start of the UNFCCC negotiations, parties have had a difficult time agreeing on whether to choose a top-down approach or a bottom-up approach.

A top-down approach is more of a contractual approach. Obligations are decided through international negotiations and it is done with targets and timetables. On the other hand, a bottom-up approach is a facilitative approach that lets a country unilaterally decide what they want to do. It is more of a voluntary approach. The bottom-up approach or “facilitative model” of “international agreements starts from what countries are doing on their own, and seeks to find ways to reinforce and encourage these activities. International law can serve a number of catalytic and facilitative functions. Gatherings such as the annual meeting of the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties can focus attention, help raise public concern, and prod states to do more” (Bodansky, 2012). This approach displays the work of countries and what they are doing. There is an assessment of the overall effectiveness. Countries that do not have the financial and technological capacities are not singled out. This approach gives them a better chance to allow greater actions to be taken. It allows for flexibility and inclusivity because it does not require a protocol or international legal agreement unlike the top-down approach (Bondansky 2012). An example of the bottom-up approach would be the Copenhagen Accord and Cancún Agreements. It is only partially committed, not legally binded which increases followers. The fact that it is flexible allows a larger amount of countries to agree to follow an agreement because they are getting what they want. “Bottom-up approaches score well in terms of participation and implementation, but low in terms of stringency” (Bodansky, 2012).However, flexibility is an issue because it gives countries a way to do less towards climate change since they decide what they will do.

The Kyoto Protocol is an example of a top-down approach for mitigating climate change negotiations. The issue with this protocol is that developed and developing countries could not come to an agreement when negotiating the protocol. The top-down approach enacts regulations explicitly but has issues with participation and implementation (Bodansky, 2012). The mixed-track approach is a fusion of both top-down and bottom-up approach. However, I believe that the bottom-up approach is the best because it starts at an individual level. It may create a division and that may be a weakness for it but the fact that a country is willing to do something is better than nothing. Arguing to negotiate on climate change will not stop it or reduce it. Taking even the smallest bit of action will. We need implementation and participation as well as fast action by the government to reach the 2020 goals of the ADP.




Work Cited

David Bodansky, “The Durban Platform: Issues and Options for a 2015 Agreement,” Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (2012): 1-11.