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Friday, December 19, 2014

Student presents climate data

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By Benjamin Covey / New Mexico Daily Lobo

UNM Ph.D. candidate Kimberly Samuels-Crow explains the data behind climate change research to the League of Women Voters of Central New Mexico on Monday. Samuels-Crow was the guest speaker Monday for one of the group’s October discussions on environmental issues.

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Climate change became the focus of a discussion by a UNM department Monday.

In keeping with its community outreach and education programs, UNM’s Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences held a discussion with the League of Women Voters of Central New Mexico (LWVCNM).

The League invited UNM Ph.D. student Kimberly Samuels-Crow to present about global climate change at an event held at La Vida Llena Retirement Community in the northeast heights.

The discussion, titled “Climate Change: The Data Behind the Conclusions,” included an introduction on which factors may be threatening global climate stability. Research and statistics associated with global climate change and subsequent specific conclusions within the scientific community were also discussed.

Samuels-Crow said three conclusions sum up her presentation at the event.

“The first is that ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree that global temperatures are rising,” she said. “Second, these temperatures are rising due to increased concentrations of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. And third, the concentrations of these gasses are rising due largely to human impact, namely the burning of fossil fuels.”

Samuels-Crow, now in her fourth year at UNM, said the outreach and public education efforts that the department provides helps the community navigate its way through the complex scientific data about climate change.

She said she aims to present factual climate change data in a way that people outside the scientific community can understand.

“I think the scientific data often gets lost in politically driven discussions about climate change,” Samuels-Crow said. “I also think that everyone can understand the basic data if they just get a little bit of an explanation. It’s up to scientists to try to communicate with the general public so we can have a say in how our work is perceived, and it’s up to everyone to stay informed about issues that affect us all.”

Samuels-Crow said her research at UNM focuses on the scientific study of atmospheric water vapor. She said she studies the isotopic composition of water vapor, which she measures via satellite, to understand how water vapors are transported to tropical glaciers, hyper-arid subtropical deserts and to the Andes Mountains in South America.

“My main goal is to use modern measurements to understand past climate variability as recorded by tropical ice and other paleoclimate records,” she said.

The data she presented point to conclusions that present-day climate aberrations are influenced by humans. These conclusions are based on a 2013 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was established by the United Nations.

Samuels-Crow said this recent report is an update of data from 2007, but the conclusions presented at the event remained similar.

Monday’s discussion was one in a series of monthly presentations that the LWVCNM provides to its members and to the public. October is dedicated to topics surrounding the environment; earlier this month, Peter Fawcett, a climatologist with the Earth and Planetary Sciences department, held a similar event.

LWVCNM President Andrea Targhetta said that these forums fall in line with the organization’s mission statement of “encouraging informed and active participation in government, working to increase understanding of major public policy issues and influencing public policy through education and advocacy.”

“What we do is invite speakers, whether they be politicians, scientists or local professionals, to come and speak to our groups,” she said. “Once we study the issues, we form a position and an advocacy based on the facts.”

Although Targhetta said her organization is in the process of coming up with a more educated stance, it is sure to advocate against the destruction of the environment.

“As far as climate change is concerned, we are certainly advocating for a cleaner environment,” she said. “We want to encourage our members to be active, educated participants in our government, and that was what today was all about.”