North Carolina State University
Host of the Global Change Forum
In the past, U.S. scientists and government officials have risen to big challenges. The Mercury, Gemini and Apollo Programs brought together vision, science and technology that eventually allowed us to reach the moon. However, the same technological revolution that allowed us to set foot on the lunar surface also has been raising atmospheric CO2 concentrations for over 150 years, and is now a primary cause of global climate change. By 2100, much of the southeastern United States is predicted to have climates no cooler than those that currently characterize Central Mexico. Existing coastlines will be under water and both aquatic and terrestrial resources will be fundamentally changed. Fortunately, scientists have been aggressively studying the current and potential future impacts of climate change since the early 1990s, and much progress has been made in understanding the impacts and management options to address this issue. Now, the major challenge is to ensure that the knowledge learned about climate change adaptation, mitigation and coping strategies are accurately and efficiently conveyed to federal, state and private individuals who need that information.
As the climate of the southeast changes, many challenges requiring a central network of researchers, data and communication will arise. For example, under such conditions many species from tropical regions will be capable of living in the southeastern U.S., including new diseases and their vectors. By the same token, many species currently in the region will be unable to persist without adaptive management. We need major collaborations from scientists across many fields to address these challenges of managing both wild and managed species and ecosystems. If the challenge of going to the moon was to build a spaceship, the challenge of dealing with climate change is much more like the challenge of Babel, that of communication both among researchers and with the public. We use many tools to predict what will happen with climate change, from large-scale experiments, to models, to field observations. But just as importantly we need to seamlessly link the information gathered from such research to anyone in a position to act upon it.
In 2010, North Carolina State University was selected by the Department of Interior as the host of the United States Department of the Interior Southeast Climate Science Center. The Center, conducted as a university/USGS cooperative agreement, is dedicated, in the words Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, to “provide the science needed to understand which resources are most vulnerable to climate change and work closely with natural and cultural resource managers faced with planning for those changes.”
Up to 5 PhD level federal scientists will move to NCSU to lead the center and will collaborate with the many ecologists, evolutionary biologists, entomologists, geneticists, atmospheric scientists, anthropologists and other scientists and extension agents at North Carolina State whose work bears on or directly addresses climate change. Up to $7.5 million per year will be available to fund collaborative research and resource management projects. North Carolina State University and U.S. Geological Survey researchers will provide the core group of researchers conducting SECSC studies. The center will support an annual cohort of graduate students that will study climate change as an interdisciplinary topic and also learn techniques for involving researchers and mangers in structured, collaborative decisionmaking processes.
In a way, says Damian Shea, the primary investigator of the grant that brought to center to NCSU, “it was easy to go to the moon. What is more difficult is to deal with the problems closer at hand. The new Climate Center offers an opportunity to rise to the challenges that confront us. And with one of the hottest years on record currently upon us in North Carolina, the moment to do so is now.”