Treading Water

Scientists, like those who work out of the Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences’ Marine Sciences Center, are constantly asking questions, as the desire grows to find links between correlation and causation. File photo

Researchers often desire more data to help make the distinction between correlation — it rained the last three Tuesdays — and causation — dumping nitrogen into the lake caused the growth of algae that robbed the lake of oxygen.

Scientists don’t like to get ahead of their information, preferring to take the painstaking steps of going that extra mile to control for as many mitigating or confounding variables as they can.

Researchers are often “reluctant to say with certainty that they are correct,” Larry Swanson, the interim dean of the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University said.

This hesitation to indicate a certain conclusion can raise challenges for politicians, who would like to rely on scientific proof in developing plans for their constituents.

“Policy people want to create a law or regulation that is definitive and will have the desired outcome,” Swanson added.

File photo.

Since he began working in and around Long Island waters in 1960, he started his work collecting data at wetlands around New Haven, and has since studied hypoxia — the process through which oxygen levels are depleted in waterways.

Swanson urges a more extensive collection of data around Long Island.

“I believe we need to monitor the physical environment for changes not just for time series data, such as temperature, but in order to understand how ecological processes are being altered as a consequence of warming,” Swanson said.

Henry Bokuniewicz, a distinguished service professor of oceanography at Stony Brook, said there was a coastline monitoring program in place in 1995 after nor’easters and hurricanes in 1992, but that the effort petered out.

“This should be re-established if [New York State is] serious about coastal impact of shoreline changes,” he said.

Bokuniewicz also suggests measuring and recording waves that are close to shore, and water levels at the ocean coast and interior bays.

Stony Brook had an initiative for additional hires in a cluster for coastal engineering and management, but never completed the hires for budgetary reasons, Bokuniewicz said. “We could do much better with a new generation of scientists dedicated to the Long Island shore,” he said.

Scientists acknowledge that the study of climate change rarely involves establishing the kind of linear connection between action and reaction that turning up the thermostat in a house would provide.

Scientists distinguish between the weather — is it raining today, tomorrow or next week — and the climate — how does March in New York compare to March in North Carolina?

File photo

The climate, generally, remains consistent with a long-term outlook, even if Long Island might experience an unseasonably hot July, an unusually cool September and a heavier-than-normal snowfall in December.

With climate change, scientists collect as much data as they can to determine how the climate is shifting. That presents significant challenges: how do researchers pick data to feed into their models and the patterns to explore?

The broader trend in March could be that spring starts earlier, extending the growing season and creating opportunities for insects, plants or animals to affect the habitat. That could be slightly different this year, amid a cold snap that lasts more than a few days, or in the wake of an unexpected blizzard days before spring.

Indeed, until, and even after there is a scientific consensus, researchers debate long into the night about their interpretations, conclusions and simulation models.

More often than not, scientists crave more information to help them interpret evolving conditions.

“While we know in general why hypoxia will be bad, we can’t really predict it,” Swanson said. “When will it start? How long will it last? This is because we do not understand all the processes — things like the role of bacteria, phytoplankton and the blooming processes and water circulation.”

Science, as it turns out, is often more about collecting more information to ask better questions and developing more precise theories.

As researchers often point out, they can be wrong for the right reasons and right for the wrong ones, all of which, they hope, helps them understand more about the inevitable next set of questions. And, as scientists have offered, it’s a never-ending discussion, as the best answers lead to more questions.

How to defeat ISIS, save the economy and reunite the country

By Michael Tessler

Michael Tessler

Historically speaking, the United States economy tends to thrive in wartime. Americans become patriotic when faced with a great foreign menace. In times of crisis, we tend to buy American products. Our star-spangled workforce works harder and innovates quicker. Our domestic political disagreements seem smaller when we tackle something larger than ourselves. In these moments of dire necessity, we find common purpose. Under that pretense our nation was founded and through the centuries has propelled it to unparalleled success.

Thankfully, we do not need another world war to accomplish this spirit of unity. This may all feel impossible as the gap between our political factions has never felt wider. On every issue it seems partisanship dictates idleness and/or delinquency. So how do we bridge that gap? How do we break the ice? Well the answer is simple — by protecting it.

Climate change is the key to a new era of American greatness. Now, even if you don’t believe in climate change, hear me out. Before we can proceed, please remove the term “climate change” from your mind as some abstract scientific concept. Let’s personalize it, treat it in the same fashion we’d treat any great and terrible foreign power or dictator. It helps to imagine it with an evil little mustache. Envisioning it now? Good.

This Blue Scare (yes, as in excess water) threatens our homes, our livelihoods and our way of life. If we lose this literal “Cold” War, our cities and towns could be decimated not by atomic fire but by superstorms, erosion, dust bowls and flooding. Each day we wait, the Blue Menace grows stronger, melting glaciers and capturing our territory, inch by inch.

Let us form an iron curtain around the ozone layer, protect it from further damage and economically punish those who aide in its destruction. We must establish a great coalition of all civilized nations to combat this threat in an act of global unity, all the while strengthening and cementing our role as an international leader.

This Blue Menace has allied itself with our nation’s greatest physical enemy, ISIS. Their terrorist organization wants nothing more than for us to continue to ignore this mighty faceless foe. According to the United States Treasury and Dubai-based energy analysts, ISIS receives nearly $1 to $3 million a day selling oil. Meanwhile, the United States continues to be the global leader in daily oil consumption accounting for 20 percent of all global use each and every day.

By ending our addiction to oil, we could decimate the so-called Islamic Caliphate without dropping a single bomb. Without the money from that precious resource, they would be unable to remain an effective fighting force. Our nation would no longer have to maintain alliances with false friends, who have used their swaths of oil as leverage over our current state of dependence.

Meanwhile, we can commit that all investments in green energy jobs must be American. We can hire every single unemployed American to help build a modern and green infrastructure. We will see the greatest investment in public works since President Eisenhower built the interstate highway system. We will create a new generation of energy-producing highways (yes, that’s an actual thing), new energy fueling stations, bullet trains, green appliances and the vehicles of tomorrow.

Industry will boom and the workforce will grow as we upgrade and innovate many existing products and power plants. Regardless of how one views climate change, the economic possibility is real and should not be ignored.

One of the biggest concerns I’ve heard is how will communities that produce outdated energy sources be impacted? Though the merits of “clean coal” can be debated, it is simply not a renewable resource. Our economy cannot survive or remain competitive in the 21st century using finite resources.

We cannot and will not abandon those who live in coal and oil country either. We will continue to ensure that their communities thrive by transforming them into clean energy economic hubs, providing not just new jobs, but training and tax subsidies to aide in their transition. Their concerns are genuine and have a right to be heard.

As long as the United States can be fundamentally held hostage by oil, we are at-risk. We owe it to all those who have sacrificed, to our children, born and unborn, to the ideals of America itself, to create a country that relies solely on the ingenuity of its people rather than foreign pipelines and the fuel of a bygone century.

So let’s defeat ISIS, let’s grow the economy, let’s reunite our country, let’s do something bold — we have landed a man on the moon, and with that same American tenacity, we can harness the power of the sun.

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