Thursday, 02 April 2009 07:26 Roger That! Reef Tanks and Climate Research
Written by Ava

It's true that when I first decided to speak to Dr. Roger A. Pielke, Sr., it was for matters of climate.  I knew that he was a respected climate scientist who researched the effects of climate change on all forms of life. 

But things got even more interesting when I learned he could add past saltwater aquarium owner to the mix.   Upon being alerted to The Reef Tank blog, he made sure to point out this fact.

And so, the two of us had a plethora of topics to talk about.  How to maintain a saltwater tank, how to be a marine conservationist and aquarium owner, and of course, how exactly does climate change affect marine life and what does the media have to say about it? 

All these topics found below.

For more on Dr. Pielke's vast climate change research, visit his ClimateSci blog here.

Tell me about yourself and your past and current research situation.

I was a Professor in Atmospheric Science at Colorado State University for 25 years, and for the last few years, have been a Senior Research Scientist at the University of Colorado in Boulder. I was also State Climatologist for Colorado and President of the American Association of State Climatologists. My research has been on weather and climate.  

You said you once owned a saltwater aquarium? Describe the time.  What was that like and was it worth it to you?

When I was a child, I had a fresh water 10 gallon aquarium. More recently, in the 1980s, after a trip to Hawaii, I became very interested in the very colorful salt water marine life that I saw there, and purchased a 20 gallon salt water aquarium. While the challenges of maintain the aquarium were greater than with the fresh water aquarium, the rewards were worth it!  I continue to snorkel, and have scuba dived, and I really enjoyed the ability to bring some of the salt water ocean experience home.  

What’s one bit of advice you would give newbie saltwater hobbyists?

I suggest starting modestly, with a limited number of fish and not too large of an aquarium. A 20 gallon size is a good choice for first timers. Then, if you are able, a larger aquarium with larger fish would be a worthy goal.

What would be your ideal saltwater aquarium situation?

I would enjoy living very near one of the major public or private salt water aquariums. I visit them whenever I can.  I recently visited Sea World in Orlando, for example, and enjoyed their aquarium where you travel (on a moving sidewalk) underneath the marine life which include sharks and barracudas. Their porpoise, killer whale and manatee exhibits are also excellent.

You also study climate change, which if you studied alongside marine life would probably entail you to be a marine conservationist.  Can someone be an aquarium hobbyist and still be considered a marine conservationist?

Certainly; if the habitat is properly set up, the educational (and often research activities) associated with being an aquarium hobbyist can help others better appreciate the need to preserve our natural marine environment.

What do you study within climate change?

We have investigated a wide variety of issues, including the role of land use change on the climate system. We have examined how this climate forcing, as well as a wide range of others, including nitrogen deposition, atmospheric aerosols, and, of course, carbon dioxide alter the environment. I discuss this in testimony I presented last year to Congress [see here].

How is your research helping to relieve the situation or at least spread awareness of it?

Our research has shown that the focus on just carbon dioxide as the dominate human climate forcing is too narrow. We have found that natural variations are still quite important, and moreover, the human influence is significant, but it involves a diverse range of first-order climate forcings, including, but not limited to the human input of CO2. These other forcings, such as land use change and from atmospheric pollution aerosols, may have a greater effect on our climate than the effects that have been claimed for CO2.

In your opinion, how does climate change affect marine life? What are the ramifications?

Climate has always been variable and marine life has learned to adjust to this variability. Humans are now also altering the climate. However, most research so far suggests that other human disturbances have a much greater effect than human caused climate change, including river pollution into the sea, dredging, and toxic dumping in the oceans.  We need to better quantify each of these threats in order to best plan on how to protect marine life.

You’ve mentioned on your blog that the media is biased when presenting climate science? How are they biased and do you consider them biased when they present the effects and issues of climate change on marine life?

Yes; the public has not been given a balanced view on the range of climate and other environmental issues. The focus on carbon dioxide is preventing more valuable policy actions to protect marine life and other environmental resources, since the emphasis on carbon controls will divert funds from these other issues.

What can we do to spread awareness of our dire climate situation and help our marine world?

I recommend that we first identify what is the spectrum of risks to the marine world. We would then be in a better position to develop policies to reduce these risks. From our research, while climate variability and longer term change are certainly important concerns, other threats to marine life are more serious.  We need to develop and implement effective responses to these threats in order to better protect the marine world.  

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