Videos explore Yale research on climate change in Connecticut, the region, and the world

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Dozens of Yale faculty, students, and other Yale community members will contribute to the negotiations, climate research, and informational sessions at the United Nations Climate Change Conference “COP21,” that began Nov. 30 in Paris. The goal of the gathering is to create a legally binding international agreement to help limit global climate change.

In a series of videos YaleNews has recently explored Yale faculty research and local campus community actions to both examine and help limit the effects of climate change here in Connecticut and on the Yale campus. These stories range from the need to effectively communicate the dangers of major coastal storms, to sustainability efforts in Yale’s campus operations, to how the subtle but steady changes in local average temperatures affect our Connecticut wildlife populations.

The videos in this series include:


Storm Warnings: Hurricane Perceptions of Connecticut Coast Residents

Last summer a team led by Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies researcher Jennifer Marlon found that most Connecticut coast residents underestimate the threat from large storms like hurricanes and Nor’easters. Communication is key here, she notes: 70% of coastal Connecticut residents said they were unsure or unaware whether they were even located in an evacuation zone.

Marlon says “One of the surprising things we found is that no one sees their job as communication. You have the weather forecasters who are giving us information about storms, when they are going to hit, wind speeds, and things like that, but there isn’t really a group that’s devoted to communicating before, during, and after a storm. Emergency responders for example are worried about moving trucks, and people, and dealing with logistics. They’re not really focusing on communication, so this is a big need going forward.”

A team led by Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies researcher Jennifer Marlon found that most Connecticut coast residents underestimate the threat from large storms like hurricanes and Nor'Easters. Communication is key here: Seventy percent of coastal residents said they were unsure or unaware whether they were even located in an evacuation zone.


Sustainability solutions at Yale: Global challenges, local action

Members of Yale’s Sustainability strategic planning process are charged with designing and implementing the many ways in which Yale is both addressing sustainability and climate change as an institution, and integrating sustainability study and research into the academic mission of the university. “As you think about Yale and climate change there’s at least two broad categories of responses. There’s the question of what Yale’s operations contribute to climate change, and how we address those, and then there’s also the newer and more difficult part of how we collectively tap into Yale’s academic mission of creating, preserving, and disseminating knowledge in ways that will help the world address climate change” says Brad Gentry, professor of management, and of forestry and environmental studies.

One new feature of Yale’s sustainability planning is a more active partnership between what happens in classroom and research labs and Yale’s business and infrastructure logistics that impact sustainability. Associate provost James Slattery says “We recognized a need to better link our operational sustainability initiatives to our research, teaching, and learning initiatives. And further we want to connect those initiative to both local and global climate issues.”

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Drowning marshes: Sea level rise and the fate of Connecticut’s salt marshes

Salt marshes in Connecticut and all along the East Coast are increasingly endangered by the recent increase in the rate of sea level rise. The marshes are caught in a vise between the rising waters, and coastal development that limits the inland migration of marshes.

Shimon Anisfeld of Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies says “I think people on the Connecticut coast are not that aware that the landscape is changing, that the border between the ocean and the land is changing rapidly over time, and that it’s going to continue to change. If we care about our marshes and want them to survive, their future lies in providing space for them to rise as the sea level rises.”

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Evolution and climate change: What wood frogs and alewives can tell us

Two of Yale’s senior biologists, David Skelly and David Post, discuss their work in and around Linsley Pond in North Branford, Connecticut and how the rapid pace of climate change is driving evolutionary changes in the animal species they study.

“For some species we’re going to see evolution in response to climate and temperature. Interestingly, the term ‘climate adaptation’ is used almost exclusively to think about how people will deal with climate change,” says Skelly, professor of ecology and director of the Peabody Museum. “We have a good idea that at least some species will evolve, but we’re not quite sure how that’s going to shake out for them. Any sort of natural selection of this type is likely to erode variation. Variation is the way species cope with change, and by removing some of the species genetic variation that may make them vulnerable to other aspects of climate change — we just don’t know.”

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Crucible of evolution: G. Evelyn Hutchinson and the invention of modern ecology

Yale University has a long history of researching the effects of climate change on both the local and global environments. In the 1930s Yale biology professor G. Evelyn Hutchinson began a series of research projects centered on North Branford’s Linsley Pond, and this field research became the foundation for a landmark series of scientific papers that established ecology as an experimental, quantitative science. Hutchinson is now widely regarded as the “founding father” of modern ecology, and his work in the Connecticut landscape also provided much of the early the scientific basis for the environmental movement that began in the 1960s. Hutchinson was also one of the earliest scientists to warn about the dangers of global warming and excess man-made carbon dioxide, and testified before the U.S. Congress on these issues in the early 1960s.

“One of the things I love about the perspective Hutchinson could bring is that it’s still valid today. That’s the only way we’re going to address the ecological and evolutionary effects of climate change is to look at the effects of climate on nutrient cycling, on community organization, on evolution. Hutchinson’s skill at bringing that together was really important,” says Yale professor of ecology and evolutionary biology David Post.

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