UMass Boston News

Second Day of Global Oceans Conference Highlights Disaster Concerns

Office of Communications | May 22, 2012
Logo for the Global Conference on Oceans, Climate and Security (GC '12) at UMass Boston.

UMass Boston Hosting First Global Conference on Oceans, Climate, and Security

Jeffrey Masters describes being in the eye of a hurricane as being in a kind of prism, surrounded by white walls. The director of meteorology for Weather Underground, Inc., Masters shared his experience as a hurricane hunter during Hurricane Hugo and his predictions for 12 weather disasters that could happen in the next 30 years at the second day of the Collaborative Institute for Oceans, Climate, and Security (CIOCS)’s Global Conference on Oceans, Climate and Security (GC '12) at UMass Boston.

Scientists, military and civilian policymakers, and thought leaders from many disciplines are taking part in the dialogue and outcomes-driven conference, which wraps up Wednesday. Tuesday night, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick will be on hand as Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus receives the Energy & Environmental Security Award.

Hurricanes and floods dominate Masters’ top-12 list of potential weather disasters that he believes have at least a 10 percent chance of occurring, but Masters says he is most concerned with droughts; he says there is a 50 percent chance of a drought in the U.S. in the next 30 years.

“It’s going to be very expensive when Las Vegas runs out of water,” Masters said.

At the opening session of the conference, Margaret Davidson, director of the NOAA Coastal Services Center, spoke about how extreme weather events represent a trend. She said in recent years we have seen a greater distribution of what she calls “cascading disasters” where the impact gets worse as time goes on, such as Hurricane Katrina, the Haiti Earthquake, and last year’s tsunami in Japan.

“They had planned for a tsunami water level of 18 feet and it was more like 30 to 40 feet,” Davidson said.

Saying that 87 percent of what Americans consume comes through a port, Davidson talked about the importance to the economy and the population to create partnerships to integrate climate information and planning tools, to understand cultural perceptions and values, and to use tools and training to incentivize policy changes.

“I’ve long been a fan of UMass Boston because this is what you do,” Davidson said.

Commander Tony Miller, the director of the U.S. Navy Task Force on Climate Change, talked about concerns over the destruction of wetlands, which protect the coastlands from erosion, as well as melting in the Arctic, because ice dampens the effect of high seas. He says the task force is commissioning a sea level rise study.

Steve Fetter, the assistant director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, spoke about “ocean surprises” and how the release of undersea methane could cause rapid warming.

“Methane from beneath the Arctic Ocean is reaching the atmosphere; it is critical to know if this is accelerating,” Fetter said.

Janot Mendler de Suarez, who serves on CIOCS’ Council of Advisors and is a facilitator for Wednesday’s “Gaming and Communication to Address Impacts and Adaptation” session, said bringing science and policy leaders together presents potential for action. 

“I think it’s great. I think we’re bringing together the right mix of people,” she said.

Christopher Smith, a 2010 alumnus who received his master’s degree in international relations and did his capstone project on climate change, said he looked forward to the opportunity to hear ideas he hasn’t heard before.

“It definitely says a lot about the university being a center for this type of thinking,” Smith said.

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