Busalacchi Speaks on Climate Change and the Chesapeake Region at CPFLC Luncheon

By: Chris Neely
Publisher: Council on the Environment (ConE)
Published: December 6, 2012

The University of Maryland’s Office of Sustainability hosted its bi-annual Chesapeake Project Faculty Learning Community (CPFLC) Luncheon Tuesday afternoon and welcomed Council on the Environment Chair, Dr. Antonio Busalacchi to talk about the effects of climate change on the Chesapeake region.

The attendees were faculty members who have participated in the Chesapeake Project, which is an annual two-day workshop, held every May, geared toward members of the faculty learning about sustainability and discovering new opportunities to integrate the subject into their courses.

“Climate change is already well underway and will continue for the foreseeable future,” said Busalacchi. However, Busalacchi’s focus was not on how to halt climate change, but rather, how to adapt.

Busalacchi cited several negative effects from climate change, including severe weather events such as hurricanes and floods. He also added that climate change is to blame for widespread droughts as well as the migration of pests and vector-borne diseases.  According to Busalacchi, climate change affects a whopping 40% of the U.S. economy, with an average loss/gain of $100 billion.

During the presentation, Busalacchi mentioned that there were many tools for predicting short-term weather events as well as 100-year global warming model simulations and scenarios. What is lacking, however, is a tool that can cover the middle ground in prediction.

According to Busalacchi, tools needed now are tailored forecasts for regions and localities that can predict climate change on a weeks-to-decades timeframe, and integrate across atmospheric, oceanic, terrestrial and social data; essentially an earth system model.

What is needed to make this all happen? “Unprecedented collaboration across the government, private sectors and academia,” said Busalacchi.

The second half of his presentation focused on a model system developed at ESSIC under the direction of Professor Ragu Murtugudde, over the last five years, called the Chesapeake Bay Forecast System Project.

Though only a prototype, the regional Earth system model (RESM) as Busalacchi called it, provides a predictive a tool for the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed across the seven states it runs through. The model integrates data from land use/land cover, stream flow, atmospheric physics and chemistry, oceanography and marine biology.

This data is coupled with a decision support tool that allows users to select any region and time horizon to see what the effects would be in a hypothetical, climate-related, situation.

An example situation would be if a user wanted to see how urban population growth in Baltimore by 2020 would affect the nitrogen levels in the Chesapeake watershed. The model will take information on population growth trends for the area, as well as how population growth effects nitrogen levels, and use them in an equation that accurately predicts the nitrogen levels in the selected timeframe for the selected region.

“Why the Chesapeake?” Busalacchi asked the faculty members. His answer: “The Chesapeake is a microcosm of all the stressors the earth is experiencing, all in our backyard.”

Besides being the largest estuary in the U.S., Busalacchi said the Chesapeake experiences tremendous stress from population growth, urban development, sea-level rise, warming, and agriculture, which is synonymous with the planet as a whole, but on a much smaller scale.

“The Chesapeake Bay is an excellent natural laboratory,” noted Busalacchi.

Reprinted from Council on the Environment (ConE) with permission. http://cone.umd.edu/index.php/news-events/277.