Concerns over climate change grow in COS community

Dominic Duarte, Reporter

Hurricanes, melting ice caps and record high temperatures are common occurrences in the world. Scientists who have studied climate change for over 10 years estimate these common occurrences would happen. The tipping point is approaching and hurricanes such as Irma and Harvey may be stronger in the future.

“You’re going to see massive droughts in some areas and you’re going to see heavy rain fall in others,” said Jose Salazar, a graduate from the COS biology department.

The outcomes in Texas and Florida are tragic, but not unexpected. Scientists studying climate change have found that warmer temperatures should lead to bigger storms. Rob Hansen, a COS biology and ecology professor, says hurricanes become stronger as they pass over warm ocean water. If climate change is warming the ocean, the general trend would be that next hurricane season, the oceans will be warmer and will contribute to creating stronger hurricanes.

“We cannot pick one storm event, it is impossible to say that storm happened because of climate change, but we are being able to say with more certainty,” Hansen said.

Hansen said that other countries that understand climate change are working with the realities of it. Germany’s power comes more from the sun, as opposed to energy (coal and petroleum) that comes from the ground. The accumulation of CO2 emissions began during the Industrial Revolution, burning coal in factories and later began drilling for oil to use as fuel for cars. Hansen said CO2 and other gases build a layer in the atmosphere, holding in the heat instead of balancing the intake as naturally done in nature.

“Humans have introduced enough carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that we are now above any level that carbon dioxide has reached for the last 400 thousand years,” said Eric Hetherington, a COS geology professor.

Hetherington said climatologists believe we are reaching a tipping point, gradually adding greenhouse gases and that key things could happen. As climate rises, the ice tundra in the North Arctic continues to melt. Trapped under the tundra is the gas methane: a greenhouse gas even more effective than CO2 at trapping heat. As CO2 levels continue to rise, the tundra thaws more and gradually releases more methane into the atmosphere. Besides snow melting off the tundra, heat is being better reflected into the air.

Salazar and Hetherington both agree that other feedback mechanisms contribute to climate change. One of these is how the Earth reflects a certain amount of solar energy. Based on the color, heat will either be absorbed or reflected. In the Arctic regions, ice and snow reflect the sun, keeping their locations cold. As ice melts due to increases in temperature, the rocks that were covered begin to be exposed, absorbing more energy and growing warmer. As the process goes on, the cycle of melting the ice continues.

Rising sea levels are a consequence of climate change that people must now adjust to. Most cities by the sea, such as Houston, have felt this effect and if it continues will have to relocate its citizens to higher ground.

The faculty at COS have made actions to lower carbon emissions already. The campus has changed all the lights in their buildings to modern lighting that no longer use halogen lights. It saves power and money for the district. The solar power in the parking lot saves energy while providing shade for students and faculty for their cars. Hansen said what students can do best to help are to educate themselves, be open-minded, to learn what greenhouse gases are and, and what climate change is.
“What students can and should do is inform themselves,” Hansen said.