Part 3: Front Row to COP21

In this three-part series, Carol Collier, a leading authority on watershed management and policy, shares her observations, recommendations, and opinions after participating in the recent climate change conference in Paris. For Part 1, click here; Part 2, click here.

Part 3

By Carol R. Collier

Academy Senior Advisor for Watershed Management and Policy, Director of the Environmental Studies and Sustainability Program

Climate change presents enormous challenges to the world. I’m happy to tell you that the Academy of Natural Sciences and Drexel University are making a difference, starting in our own communities and extending to many parts of the world.

Our researchers and educators are teaching, collaborating, studying, and modeling environmental impacts to the natural world. We are developing short-term and long-term solutions and working on innovative technology aimed at a less carbon-centric future.

As strategies for adaptation are being developed, Academy scientists are playing an important role in demonstrating the natural interconnections and assessing the value of different approaches to environmental health. We already are working on key projects to better our understanding of natural and human impacts to watersheds and increasing resilience in natural systems.

Academy scientists are working on projects here at home and halfway across the world in Mongolia. They are studying detrimental impacts to sensitive lake ecosystems and coastal wetlands. They are monitoring changes in coastal marsh ecosystems that can play a key role in protecting our coastlines during storms, and they are highlighting these systems as one of the most important carbon sequestering systems in the world!

Staff Scientist Sylvan Klein conducts a rapid habitat evaluation to assess a site’s suitability for potential sampling.
Staff Scientist Sylvan Klein conducts a rapid habitat evaluation to assess a site’s suitability for potential sampling.

We have a team of aquatic scientists and natural resource managers playing a key role in the Delaware River Watershed Initiative. Started by the William Penn Foundation, this multi-year project, involving more than 50 organizations, aims to  improve water quality and the health of aquatic communities in the Delaware River Basin, which supplies drinking water to more than 15 million people in four states.

The initiative is preserving forested lands in areas where water quality is very good and making improvements in agricultural and suburban areas where water quality has been degraded by fertilizer runoff and other pollutants and issues. By preserving stream bank forests and improving storm water management, the program is increasing the resiliency of the ecosystem.

These forested areas and wetlands in this ecosystem dampen the severity of climate change-driven impacts, such as more intense storms that cause flooding, as well as droughts. It is unclear how changes related to climate disruption will modify water quality in the Delaware Basin, and this is an important area for study. The Academy continues to monitor changes in the river system and the benefits provided by the individual project enhancements.

We are also planning our evening Town Square programs to include more discussions on issues pertaining to climate change, especially addressing potential impacts in our geographic area. We’ll be announcing our 2016 schedule soon.

Students assist Academy scientists in field work in a New Jersey bay.
Students assist Academy scientists in field work in a New Jersey bay.

The Biodiversity, Earth and Environmental Science Department at Drexel already offers courses on various aspects of climate change science and impacts. There is a growing collaborative of professors among different departments within Drexel who are addressing the growing need for technical innovation, social change, and policy development.

So while some large structural projects may be needed to reduce the impacts of climate change, many small projects in individual municipalities can make a huge difference in the severity of impact we will see.  Efforts are needed at all levels.

The Paris Climate Change Agreement is getting the attention of the world. Commitments have been made by 195 countries. This is a game changer and the Academy and Drexel have key roles to play.



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