Global Climate Change Briefing at William and Mary
By Denise M. Stefula
A panel of leading research scientists and policy makers convened at the
College of William and Mary on Nov. 29, 2007, to discuss the latest findings
on approaches to deal with the impact of global climate change on
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the synthesis
of its Fourth Assessment Report on November 17, noting three key items for
the first time: 1) human activity is responsible for global warming; 2)
global warming is here now and we have to adjust to that reality; and 3)
many technologies already exist to avert the worst consequences of global
Image Right: This map, used in Bruce Wielicki's presentation, shows the areas that would be under water should a sea-level rise of four meters occur. Image credit: Weiss and Overpeck, The University of Arizona.
"Forecast Virginia: A Briefing on the Impact of Climate Change" was held to
share information on the observed and projected impacts of global warming.
The National Environmental Trust (NET) and the Pew Charitable Trust
cosponsored the event. The NET was established to inform the public how
environmental problems affect our health and quality of life. The Pew
Charitable Trust uses science and policy analyses along with advocacy
campaigns as tools to address climate change.
In recent congressional testimony Gov. Tim Kaine called Hampton Roads "the
second most vulnerable region in the nation" to the effects of sea-level rise from
global warming. A sea level rise of two to three feet would impact the
resources of the Chesapeake Bay and the economic significance of regional
ports. It would have military and security implications, impact the
historical significance of America's first English settlements and place a
population at risk from tidal events.
The need for information on the challenges and strategies is clear.
Dr. Robert Correll, program director at the H. John Heinz Center for
Science, Economics and the Environment, began the discussions by framing
global warming in an historical context, looking at changes over the last
400,000 years from deep cores into the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets.
He then pointed to the mid-1900s being an important time of recognition, but
characterized the last two decades as a "tipping point" in physical climate
change, as well as the public awareness of the challenge. Correll warned of
acceleration in the rate of change: "Compared with past changes—physical,
bioecological or human—the current change is abrupt."
"Humans are now geoengineering the planet. We just don't know very well how
to do it," said Dr. Bruce Wielicki, Senior Scientist for Earth Science with
the Science Directorate at NASA Langley Research Center. Wielicki said one
of the biggest challenges we face is that there is "no national climate
Wielicki's presentation began with a broader, national perspective, then
focused on regional implications. One shocking image clearly illustrated the
impact on Hampton Roads of a sea-level rise of four meters. Hampton, Poquoson,
Virginia Beach, Norfolk and Portsmouth—all under water.
Wielicki said that
sea level was 12 to 18 feet higher at the peak of the last interglacial warm
period 125,000 years ago. At that time, the polar regions were as warm as
human greenhouse gas emissions will make them this century. What is unclear
is how long it will take the glaciers to respond. What is more sure is that
just the expansion of warming ocean water will cause at least a 1-2 foot sea
level rise by the end of this century.
Roger Mann, Virginia Institute of Marine Science's Professor of Marine
Science and Director of Research and Advisory Services, stressed that given
the current state of warming, Virginia should become a "national laboratory"
or focus of study. "Virginia has an incredible diversity of native
ecosystems, yet without boundaries. Each is intimately involved with the
next, and everyone of them is subject to climate change impact," he said.
Mann's discussion went on to stress for Virginians what Wielicki indicated
earlier in the briefing as one of our nation's biggest challenges.
"We have no coherent plan to assess impacts at natural resource or societal
levels," Mann said. "A large picture of the integrated ecosystems that are
the Chesapeake Bay watershed is lacking in Virginia—and it is needed."
The Chesapeake Bay watershed extends from the Shenandoah to the shelf break
The fourth speaker, Air Force Lt. Gen. (ret.) Lawrence Farrell, focused on
how warming affects national security and our regional economy. Of national
concern, Farrell says, "climate change drives instability around the world.
Climate change trends, security and energy dependence are related."
The final speaker, Stephen Walz, is Kaine’s Senior Advisor for Energy
Policy. His office is tasked with setting recommendations for state actions.
The ports of Hampton Roads have the biggest growth potential of any in the
nation. "Along the outer continental shelf, oil and gas exploration are in
the works," Walz says. "These economic endeavors will be staged along the
Also, the ports are home to the largest cranes in the world. The growth
potential makes us what Walz describes as the "largest economic choke point"
for shipping. Hampton Roads is No. 2 in the country for the tonnage of cargo
that passes through its ports.
NASA Langley Research Center
Managing Editor: Jim Hodges
Executive Editor and Responsible NASA Official: H. Keith Henry
Editor and Curator: Denise Adams