Monthly Newsletter – February 2017

Monthly Newsletter of WHRC


Dr. Philip DuffyA clear choice

Dr. Philip Duffy, President & Executive Director

This is a pivotal moment that presents unprecedented risks and challenges. The issues go well beyond an administration that refuses to address climate change. We’ve survived that before, although the risks of delay increase with every passing year. They even go beyond having climate change deniers in the White House and heading the federal agencies that should be leading the fight, terrible though that is. Recent attacks on climate science are part of a broader war on environmental science, science in general, and even truth itself (“alternative facts”). This is accompanied by personal attacks on scientists, reporters, and other guardians of truth. What’s even more dizzying is that those who proclaim falsehood after falsehood also accuse truth-tellers of spreading lies, creating genuine confusion about what and who to believe.

This blurring of truth and falsity is particularly galling to scientists, whose worldview is centered on truth because they know that anything else will fail, sooner or later. The reason that the United States got to the moon before the Soviet Union did is not that our scientists and engineers were smarter than theirs (the Soviets were in fact notoriously intelligent) but that Soviet scientists worked within a political system that suppressed freedom and truth. Propaganda can’t make rockets fly, and calling climate change “very expensive bulls***”1 won’t make the sea stop rising. As a sign at a recent protest in Boston read, “objective reality exists.”

How should the scientific community respond to these challenges? Some inside the community warn against the politicization of science. Perhaps they’ve spent too much time in the lab recently to notice that this happened some time ago. Others warn that protests by scientists will be characterized and discounted as self-serving. Most protests are, and there is nothing wrong with protecting one’s interests. Nonetheless, it is important to emphasize the value of science to society as a whole, and the case is not difficult to make. Even if one cares nothing about exploration, knowledge, or how the universe works, or about the many practical benefits science has produced (without which many of us would not be alive), it would be wise to remember that science and technology are the foundation of our economic strength and our military strength—two things which I believe are still supported across the political spectrum.

We should certainly not condemn scientists who don’t speak out in public. Those working within the federal government, for example, are in a very difficult position and may be able to do the most good by working quietly within the system. Any scientists taking a public stand may face personal or professional risks. Even death threats against climate scientists have become common. And many scientists are simply uncomfortable in the spotlight.

For WHRC and for me personally, however, the choice is clear. We have long supported the role of science in informing policy, and our voice has never been needed more than now. It may seem like a giant step backwards—maybe two—to have to defend not only climate science but science itself, but the stakes are enormous. We will continue to work within the system—as we always have—when opportunities present themselves. But, with help from our friends and supporters, I and others at WHRC will raise our voices in favor of science and evidence based decision-making. All of us who value these ideas need to make ourselves heard, and now is the moment.

Thanks as always for your interest and support.


John Holdren returns to WHRC after White House service

After serving for eight years as President Barack Obama’s science adviser, Dr. John Holdren has rejoined WHRC as a senior adviser to its president.

Dr. Holdren joined the Obama Administration in January 2009 as Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. He became the longest serving Presidential science adviser since the inception of the position in World War II.

Prior to his White House service, Dr. Holdren was president and director of WHRC from 2005 to 2009. During that time he was also a professor of environmental science and policy at the Harvard Kennedy School and Harvard’s Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences—roles to which he was re-appointed after leaving the White House last month.

“I am delighted to be connected again to the superb group of scientists and policy analysts at Woods Hole Research Center,” Dr. Holdren said. “The Center’s work on the causes, dynamics, and consequences of climate change and on the actions needed to reduce its damages has never been more important.”

During his time at the White House, Dr. Holdren was the president’s chief adviser on issues related to science and technology policy. He played a critical role in developing and implementing the Obama administration’s domestic and international climate policies. Dr. Holdren, his former doctoral student, Professor Kelly Sims Gallagher of Tufts University, and WHRC President Philip Duffy were important players in the engagement with China that made the 2015 Paris climate agreement possible. He was also a uniquely effective science communicator, appearing everywhere from congressional hearings to David Letterman’s Late Show.

At WHRC, Dr. Holdren will hold a pro-bono role providing strategic guidance and helping to ensure that WHRC remains on the cutting edge of important climate change research.

“We are excited to have John Holdren return to the WHRC community,” said WHRC President Duffy. “John’s public service was historic and groundbreaking on many scientific fronts, and we at WHRC are honored that he has chosen to dedicate his volunteer time to climate change. His experience driving climate action on the national and international stages will be invaluable to our mission of supporting science-based climate policy.”

WHRC launches project to help Costa Rica meet Paris commitments

Woods Hole Research Center scientists are developing a national reforestation strategy for Costa Rica in an effort to help that country reduce emissions and meet its commitments under the Paris Agreement. The project was launched in late 2016 with a generous start-up grant from Chris Kaneb.

The effort has received enthusiastic interest from Costa Rica’s National Forest Fund (FONAFIFO), according to WHRC economist Dr. Glenn Bush, who is leading the research. The WHRC team is scheduled to meet with senior FONAFIFO officials in the coming weeks to coordinate the work.

“Costa Rica has been a world leader, over the last three decades, on forest conservation and restoration,” Dr. Bush said. “It has an ambitious goal to further extend the forest estate by 7 percent to reach its goal of 60 percent forest cover under its Paris Agreement commitments. This project offers a unique privilege to help guide Costa Rican efforts on where and how to focus policy to restore what will undoubtedly be the most challenging final frontiers for reforestation.”

The project is designed to address three primary criteria in the reforestation plan—biophysical, economic, and social. Dr. Bush said that focusing on all three criteria—instead of simply maximizing the potential area for reforestation—will make the plan more sustainable and offer a better chance of success.

Brazil workshop develops climate vulnerability indicators – Tanguro Ranch research continues

In mid-February WHRC’s Amazon team convened at the Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM) headquarters in Brasília for a joint two-day workshop to develop climate vulnerability indices for protected areas of the Amazon. These indices are a key component to helping forest managers adapt their management techniques to a changing climate.

WHRC scientists are working closely with IPAM on projects at Tanguro Ranch, the field station in the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso. Researchers have been sampling aquatic macroinvertebrates in streams, while student collaborators are looking at aspects of nitrogen cycling: nitrogen fixation in burned forests and nitrogen fluxes from fertilized farm fields.

Dr. Macedo and Paul Lefebvre have been preparing the instruments for greenhouse gas sampling in small cattle reservoirs. A drone will be employed to locate and map the Tanguro Ranch reservoirs, while floating chambers will measure methane escaping from them. The sampling, which is part of Dr. Macedo’s Fulbright award, will take place during the spring.

WHRC’s Glenn Bush, who has been working in the Democratic of the Congo for the past several years, visited Tanguro and neighboring ranches where he met with farmers to better understand their concerns regarding environmental legislation and profitability. Dr. Bush will explore incentives to encourage Brazilian farmers to avoid deforestation. He will also apply farm production models to determine how vulnerable profits are to environmental change—and what the response could be.

“Getting farmers engaged in environmental management is a tricky business,” said Dr. Bush. “You’re not going to convince a farmer that implementing some sort of on-farm forest protection scheme is in his best interest if he can’t pay the bills at the end of the  season. Understanding the farmers’ business structure and organization is key to finding the local incentives for conserving forests, especially if it can make their business run more efficiently or effectively.”

NASA’s ABoVE program prepares for upcoming research season

More than 100 researchers gathered in Boulder, CO, recently for the airborne and science team meeting of NASA’s Arctic Boreal Vulnerability Experiment (ABoVE).

WHRC’s Susan Natali and Brendan Rogers attended the meeting – both scientists are working on grants as part of the major 10-year campaign to study climatic change in the Arctic. According to Dr. Rogers, the researchers met to plan for the collection of airborne remote sensing data, coordinate field research, and introduce the growing number of ABoVE projects.

Drs. Rogers and Natali are leading or collaborating on a variety of ABoVE projects:

  • Developing a spatially-explicit understanding of fire-climate forcings and their management implications across the ABoVE domain (Dr. Rogers)
  • Understanding the Causes and Implications of Enhanced Seasonal CO2 Exchange in Boreal and Arctic Ecosystems (Dr. Rogers)
  • Mapping and modeling attributes of an arctic-boreal biome shift: Resource management implications within the ABoVE domain (Dr. Rogers is a co-investigator)
  • Increasing fire severity and the loss of legacy carbon from forest and tundra ecosystems of northwestern North America (Dr. Rogers is a co-investigator)
  • Winter respiration in the Arctic: Constraining current and future estimates of CO2 emissions during the non-growing season (Dr. Natali)

High school students help with arctic research at WHRC

When WHRC researchers returned from the Arctic last summer, they brought with them a collection of vegetation that required sorting for further analysis.

On February 15 students from the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School traveled to WHRC headquarters for a workshop at WHRC to learn about sorting and processing samples. Some of the students had traveled to WHRC scientist Dr. Sue Natali’s field site in Alaska last summer, and the workshop provided another opportunity for hands-on science. To process the samples, the group followed protocols established by Dr. Natali, researcher Sarah Ludwig, and Tom Lane, a visiting high school teacher from Vermont.

WHRC launches Youth Council on Climate Change

High school students from across the country recently joined WHRC scientists for the first Youth Council on Climate Change—an online program designed to deliver cutting edge science to students and gather insights on effective ways to communicate climate change science to a younger generation.

The first session was held on February 21 and included students from California, Indiana, New York, and Massachusetts. WHRC’s Zander Nassikas delivered a presentation on the greenhouse effect, the broad consensus on climate change, and the possible emissions paths that society can follow in the future. WHRC staff then asked the students for feedback on how they hear about climate change in their lives.

“It was a great first installment,” Mr. Nassikas said. “I’ll never forget seeing kids from Huntington Beach, California, Muncie, Indiana, and the Bronx, on the same screen talking to each other about climate change.”

The project will continue with a second session on March 29. Students are being asked to decide if they want to learn about climate change impacts in the Arctic or in the Amazon.

“The kids loved the talk and the meeting as a whole,” said John Wood, a science teacher in California who coordinated the students there. “We’re looking forward to continuing this important effort.”

WHRC was fortunate to receive guidance on the project from Tom Lane, a science teacher from Vermont. For the second installment, student groups from Vermont, Alaska, and Virginia are slated to join the initial participants.

To learn more about the project, and for information on how to get involved, please contact WHRC Communications Director Dave McGlinchey.

October 2017 Columbia & Snake rivers expedition

Have you ever wondered what it is like to be a scientist? WHRC invites you to be a part of the next floating science expedition on the Columbia and Snake rivers this October. Co-sponsored by WHRC and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), the expedition will showcase the work of scientists involved in the Global Rivers Observatory, a project focusing on ways in which climate change, deforestation, and other disturbances are impacting river chemistry and land-ocean linkages (

The expedition will offer guests insight on an extraordinary river ecosystem, observation of scientific field work, and interactive discussions. View the trip brochure to learn more about this rare opportunity to enjoy the abundant natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest, while observing scientists conducting world class research. Contact Beth Bagley at Space is limited.

WHRC in the news

Woods Hole scientists face climate of activism ran in the Cape Cod Times, quoting President Phil Duffy and Deputy Director Max Holmes. 30 January.

Nature magazine ran Obama science adviser: Trump immigration ban ‘an abomination’, an interview with John Holdren, former White House science adviser and now Science Adviser to the WHRC President. 30 January.

John Holdren, Obama’s Science Advisor: “I’m not going to be silent now.” ran in Cape Cod Wave magazine. 1 February.

Dr. Susan Natali was interviewed about permafrost thaw in the Arctic on Provincetown’s community radio station, WOMR/WFMR. 9 February.

Upcoming Events

Climate Progress in an Alternative-Facts Era
Monday, March 6, 2017 from 7:15-8:30 pm

Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center 130 Center Street, Vineyard Haven, MA

This climate change forum panel will include: Phil Duffy, WHRC President and Executive Director; Dylan Fernandes, MA State Representative for Barnstable, Dukes and Nantucket Counties; and Richard Andre, President and Founding Director of Vineyard Power.

Community Lecture
In the Line of Fire: Northern Forests Under Threat
Thursday, March 23 from 5:30-7 pm
A half hour wine & cheese reception beginning at 5:30pm will precede the talk.

Woods Hole Research Center, 149 Woods Hole Road, Falmouth, MA

Associate Scientist Brendan Rogers will illustrate the importance of Northern boreal forests, which cover a third of our planet’s forested land and house an immense amount of carbon in their soils – and which are increasingly in the direct line of fire from human-caused climate change.

Please RSVP online for the community lecture.

Woods Hole Research Center is an independent research institute where scientists investigate the causes and effects of climate change to identify and implement opportunities for conservation, restoration, and economic development around the world.