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Hofstra Launches Center For Climate Study

A team of Hofstra University professors, with the help of a three-year, $500,000 dollar grant from the federal Department of Energy, have launched a multi-disciplinary center devoted to the study of climate change.

The new Hofstra University Center for Climate Study (HUCCS) will pursue three areas of climate research: the study of prehistoric hurricanes using sediment cores, the effect of rain on ocean absorption of greenhouse gases, and the impact of climate change on Long Island's ecology. The grant also includes funding for student researchers, and public outreach that will eventually feature an exhibit about the center's work at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City.

"This establishes a center that combines the expertise of three departments - biology, geology and engineering, and enables research we would have had a hard time doing on our own," said Dr. E. Christa Farmer, associate professor of geology, who spearheaded the grant application and will be conducting the prehistoric hurricane research - called paleotempestology. While this kind of work has been done in hurricane zones such as Florida and Alabama, there has been little examination of prehistoric hurricane patterns in the northeast, and what they can tell us about the impact of global warming, Farmer said.

"We're going to hire a lot of students to help with the research," Farmer said, referring to sediment collection for the palestempestology research, which will begin this spring. "It gives us a much better way to involve them in our work."

Drs. Russell Burke and J. Bret Bennington will investigate the impact of climate change on Long Island's terrestrial and marine ecosystems. The work will include modeling changes in major plant species in important local ecosystems, such as the Pine Barrens. Dr. Bennington will study the sediment collected for Farmer's work to analyze how marine ecosystems in the Great South Bay have reacted to past environmental change, and use that information to project the impact of future climate changes.

Dr. David Weissman, the Jean Nerkin Distinguished Professor of Engineering, will lead the center's research on the combined effect of rain and winds on the transfer of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to the ocean. He will employ NASA space-based microwave radars that observe the sea surface and ground-based National Weather service radars that measure rainfall over the ocean. Previous studies using lab measurements have shown that rain significantly increases the rate of carbon dioxide absorption into a wind-driven sea. The Hofstra center's project is the first time such measurements will be conducted in the ocean, over a wide range of conditions.

As human carbon dioxide emissions rise, research has increasingly focused on the role the oceans play in regulating the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. "Obtaining better measurements of how rain and wind affect absorption is critical to scientists' understanding of the gas-exchange processes that affect global warming," Weissman said.