By Kenneth C. Oldham
INDIANA - Fossils of a bonefish and a juvenile ichthyosaur adorn the wall. A hanging plant and two Apple computer screens burst with life. The prehistoric past, the bustling present and a questionable future share the office space in 115 Walsh Hall, where Steven A. Hovan, Ph.D., heads the Geoscience Department at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.
Earth's fate is the question, global climate change is the prompt, and Hovan is deliberate in his answer.
"If you look at the data, it is hard to argue that human induced climate change is not real," said Hovan in an Oct. 7 office interview. "It is happening."
Hovan knows the science. He contributes to it.
He works with international research programs that extract sediment cores from ocean floors. Hovan analyzes dust within the cores to learn how climate has evolved and how to predict its changes.
Recognition of his work included a 2007 award as University Professor, an honor granted an IUP faculty member with an outstanding record of research and other scholarly activities.
Hovan can cite the climate research of others, including a 2007 assessment conducted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a multi-governmental scientific body created by the United Nations Environment Programme and the World Meteorological Organization. It concluded that there is a 90 to 99 percent chance that global warming documented over that past several decades is the result of human activity.
Moreover, a 2010 study by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and a 2006 annual climate analysis by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association agree that the surface temperature for Earth has increased 1.2 to 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit since 1900, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Hovan knows climate change occurs both naturally and unnaturally - that is, human-induced.
Naturally induced climate change has occurred throughout Earth's history and has affected climate over long periods of geologic time. Factors include the sun's intensity, Earth's orbit and volcanic activity, according "Climate Change Science Facts" produced by the EPA.
But human-induced climate change associated with the greenhouse effect has the potential to affect climate over shorter periods of time, Hovan says.
Human activities, such as burning fossil fuels, clearing forests, developing farm land and building roads, have added a significant number of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, according to the EPA. Heat-trapping gases such as carbon dioxide and methane trap heat provided by the sun, thus producing the warming effect.
"Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased 60-65 percent since the Industrial Revolution," said Hovan.
Despite conclusive evidence, Hovan warned that dangers lie in confronting a complex problem such as global climate change.
"It is easy to focus on the alarmist part of the argument," Hovan said. "Instead of that, I hope we can focus on the real issues that will have a greater impact on our society overall."
Some of the real issues are facing Pennsylvania. They were outlined in a 2008 study "Climate Change in Pennsylvania: Impacts and Solutions for the Keystone State." The study was a collaboration between the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit research and activist organization based in Cambridge, Mass., and a group of independent Pennsylvania experts and scientists.
Their study concluded that if human-caused emissions of heat-trapping gases such as carbon dioxide and methane continue to increase in Earth's atmosphere, by 2099 the following effects are likely occur in the Keystone State:
Many Pennsylvania cities can expect dramatic increases in the numbers of summer days over 90 F, putting vulnerable populations at greater risk of heat-related health effects and curtailing outdoor activity for many individuals.
Heat could cause urban air quality to deteriorate substantially, exacerbating asthma and other respiratory diseases.
Heat stress on dairy cattle may cause declines in milk production.
Yields of native Concord grapes, sweet corn and favorite apple varieties may decrease considerably as temperatures rise and pest pressures grow more severe.
Snowmobiling is expected to disappear from the state in the next few decades as winter snow cover shrinks.
Ski resorts could persist by greatly increasing their snowmaking, although this may not be an option past midcentury as winters become too warm for snow--natural or human-made.
Substantial changes in bird life are expected to include loss of preferred habitat for many resident and migratory species.
Climate conditions suitable for prized hardwood tree species such as black cherry, sugar maple and American beech are projected to decline or even vanish from the state.
One of the global impacts that the EPA stresses is the risk of humans contracting diseases carried by mosquitoes and other insects. The diseases include yellow fever, malaria and West Nile Virus encephalitis, whose presence already has been recorded in Indiana County.
The science behind global climate change and its potential impacts raises questions about how governments and individuals will respond -- and how quickly. On this aspect of climate change, Hovan has doubts.
"As a scientist, it is hard to understand how to fit long-term science into a political system that works on a short-term scale," said Hovan.
-- Kenneth C. Oldham, a senior majoring in journalism at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is from Windber.
Sidebar: How to Get Involved
Citizens may learn how to reduce their carbon footprints -- their emissions of greenhouse gases -- by visiting the U.S. Environmental Protections Agency website and click on the "What You Can Do" link.
Pennsylvania residents may contact and attend meetings of the state's Climate Change Advisory Committee.
The CCAC uses the 2008 study "Climate Change in Pennsylvania: Impacts and Solutions for the Keystone State," as a reference to formulate solutions to global climate change in Pennsylvania, act on these solutions and conduct further research, according to its web page.
The committee meets in Harrisburg. It also hosts webinars that allow participants to call a telephone number and access code to submit questions. Contact:
Climate Change Advisory Committee
Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection
Rachel Carson State Office Building
400 Market St.
Harrisburg, Pa. 17101
Phone: (717) 787-2814
Sidebar: For More Information
For more information on global climate change, contact the following sources:
Walsh Hall, Room 111
302 East Walk
Indiana, PA 15705
Phone: (724) 357-2379 (department); (724) 357-5625 (office)
Fax: (724) 357-6208 (department)
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
c/o World Meteorological Organization
7bis Avenue de la Paix
Geneva 2, Switzerland
Phone: +41-22-730-8208 / 54 / 84
Fax: +41-22-730-8025 / 13
According to its website , the IPCC, a 2007 Nobel Peace Prize winner, "reviews and assesses the most recent scientific, technical and socio-economic information produced worldwide relevant to the understanding of climate change."
United Nations Environment Programme
United Nations Avenue, Gigiri
PO Box 30552, 00100
Phone: (254-20) 7621234
Fax: (254-20) 7624489/90
According to its website, UNEP is "the voice for the environment in the United Nations system."
World Meteorological Organization
7bis, avenue de la Paix,
Case postale 2300
Geneva 2 Switzerland
Phone: + 41 (0) 22 730 81 11
Fax: + 41 (0) 22 730 81 81
According to its website, the WMO is "the UN system's authoritative voice on the state and behaviour of the Earth's atmosphere, its interaction with the oceans, the climate it produces and the resulting distribution of water resources."
National Aeronautics and Space Administration
NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies
New York, NY 10025
Phone: (212) 678-5500
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association
National Climatic Data Center
151 Patton Avenue
Asheville, N.C. 28801-5001
Phone: (828) 271-4800
Fax: (828) 271-4876
NOAA's National Climatic Data Center -- "the world's largest active archive of weather data," according to its website -- produces a State of the Climate Report for every month of every year. Annual reports extend back to 1998.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Region 3 Headquarters
1650 Arch St.
Philadelphia, Pa. 19103-2029
Phone: (215) 814-5000; (800) 438-2474
Fax: (215) 814-5103
2 Brattle Square
Cambridge, Mass. 02138-3780
Phone: (617) 547-5552
Fax: (617) 864-9405