Tree rings, ice cores, coral reefs and mangrove forests probably don’t come to mind when someone says meteorology, but these unique items are used in the study of climate change.
Two Penn State professors are participating in a larger multi-university research project studying the Everglades region of Florida. The research project was made possible through a National Science Foundation grant, and it involves four other universities besides Penn State.
The research will focus on water management in the Everglades, the impact of future climate change on water resources and the carbon cycle of the mangrove forests on the coast. The research’s funding began in January.
The award that Penn State received was for five years and totals $300,514. Penn State had to compete for the grant with more than 400 other proposals, said Jose Fuentes, professor of meteorology and principal investigator on the project from Penn State.
With the population growth in southern Florida, management of fresh water and maintenance of the Everglades, research becomes necessary to decipher how people can develop in a sustainable fashion, Fuentes said.
A significant question in the research project is how climate change will influence these mangrove forests, said Michael Mann, distinguished professor of meteorology who is working with Fuentes on the research.
The mangrove forests play an important role in the global carbon cycle because they act as carbon sinks, meaning they absorb carbon that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere, Mann said.
The mangrove forests along the shoreline in the tropics are the most effective ecosystem in the world for storing carbon in the trees and the soil, or sediment, around them, Fuentes said.
Terrestrial and marine biospheres have released half the carbon people give off, and scientists have to study these carbon sinks because they don’t know how long the sinks will last or how climate change will affect them, Mann said.
Another important question the research is focusing on is whether water will be sustainable in the region, Fuentes said. He added that the building and population growth near the Everglades has caused a water table shift, which may allow a salt-water intrusion into the region to take place.
Fuentes said they expect the research will provide invaluable information to policy makers.
Professor of Meteorology Anne Thompson said she believes the duo has good chemistry together and produces quality work.
“These two scientists combine field experience, measuring chemicals in the delicate ecosystems of the coastline with predictive climate modeling capabilities that Penn State is well known for,” she said.
Fuentes and Mann have worked together previously, as they published an article in “Nature” last year.