Newscast: Global Climate Change

todayMarch 5, 2013 11

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Virginia Brown

Scientists have predicted that rising global temperatures caused by the trapping of sunlight by greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, such as carbon dioxide, will have a detrimental effect on human society. A  graduate student, Jon Richey, is conducting research that will increase that accuracy of those predictions.

The goals of this project are two-fold:

1) Assess climate sensitivity (that is, the effect of doubling carbon dioxide levels upon global temperature). Modern climate models suggest a possible rise of approximately 3 degrees Celsius/doubling carbon dioxide.

I hope to refine this estimate by looking at climate sensitivity in during the time of the dinosaurs, a period thought to be similar to Earth’s future climate given current global warming trends.

2) Assess natural variation in carbon dioxide levels in the past. I am inspecting a carbon release event at the Early-Late Cretaceous Boundary that is analogous in some ways to the current injection of large amounts of carbon dioxide by humans.
– Jon Richey

By using a botanical method, Richey hopes to use the relationship between the number of gas exchange openings on leaves, stomata, and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to predict carbon dioxide levels.  Stomata allow carbon dioxide to enter the leaf where photosynthesis occurs. At high carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere plants are able to have less stomata, allowing maximum photosynthetic production without having to worry about water loss.

“To perform this method, epidermal cells and stomata are counted in various modern materials, and a graph of changes in stomatal index vs. changes in atmospheric CO2 is produced…”
– Jon Richey

The data gathered during this project will be used in the modeling of future climate which the scientific community relies on to make predictions. These predictions have the ability to shape legislature and conservation efforts of various governmental bodies. The completion of this project will give the scientific community a better idea of the effect of rising carbon dioxide levels and global climate change.

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