Monthly Newsletter – November 2015

Monthly Newsletter of WHRC

Dr. Philip DuffyAddressing the threats of climate change and terrorism

Dr. Philip Duffy, President & Executive Director

As WHRC prepares for the United Nations climate change conference in Paris next month, the terror attacks there jolt our attention away from the minutiae of climate policy to more fundamental issues: life and death.

Even as we mourn the victims of the Paris attacks, some climate change deniers are using the attacks to argue that we should ignore climate change in order to focus on combatting terrorism—as if one precludes the other. Luckily, we can address both threats, and I hope for the sake of humanity that we do. A few years ago I wrote a piece called “Climate change kills more people than terrorism,” and while this may not be the moment to revive that discussion, I hope it is not insensitive to point out that climate change is also a very dangerous threat, even now.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates the present annual mortality from climate change at around 150,000; this is projected to increase to 250,000 in the next couple of decades. Most of this comes in the form of malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea and heat stress, but extreme heat is also associated with higher rates of violent conflict from street crime to large-scale warfare and everything in between. In a recent report, the Department of Defense describes climate change as “an urgent and growing threat to our national security.” So, among the benefits of stopping climate change would be reduced levels of violence.

smog_webIf this isn’t enough, fossil fuel use is also very deadly. For example, WHO estimates that particulate pollution from coal kills 1,000,000 people per year globally; this includes over 10,000 Americans, according to the Clean Air Task Force. (The mortality per ton of coal burned is about 20 times less in the US than in China, because of the Clean Air Act and other “job-killing regulations.”)

Even this partial accounting makes it clear that the death toll from climate change and fossil fuel use combined is enormous. Nearly all of that would be eliminated by substituting renewable energy for fossil fuels. As with many of the societal impacts of climate change, the health impacts are here already, even if they are not widely recognized. Climate change kills, and, like terrorism, it could get much worse unless we act to stop it.

At moments like this, when the world seems crazy and dangerous, reason and fact-based policies are more important than ever, whether the issue is climate change or security.

Thanks as always for your interest and support.

Arctic Circle Assembly attended by three WHRC scientists


Left to right: Max Holmes, US Ambassador to Iceland Robert Barber, Scott Goetz, and Bill Moomaw

In October three WHRC scientists presented their work on warming arctic ecosystems, fire disturbance, permafrost thaw and arctic rivers to the Arctic Circle Assembly, a conference of 1500 participants representing 50 countries held in Reykjavik, Iceland. Max Holmes, Scott Goetz, and Susan Natali appeared as part of a panel organized by WHRC board member and Tufts University Professor Emeritus William Moomaw.

Scientific American ran a blog about the conference, noting that, “As Woods Hole Research Center scientists explained…, thawing of permafrost would release the heat-trapping greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and methane, triggering a feedback cycle accelerating even more warming. The big wild card is how soon and much. Unfortunately, most climate change models do not yet include the potential effects of permafrost thaw. Since permafrost comprises one-fourth of Northern Hemisphere land, it’s imperative for the federal government to support more scientific research about its large-scale impact. What we don’t know can hurt us.”

Mexico-REDD+ project meeting held at WHRC

Mex-REDDworkshop_webWHRC Associate Scientist Wayne Walker and others recently led a Mexico-REDD+ project planning meeting at the Center. The meeting’s primary objective is to help Mexico implement REDD+, drawing on the valuation of its natural resources and commitment to sustainable rural development with low carbon emissions.

WHRC leads the forest carbon Monitoring, Reporting, and Verification (MRV) component of the project, and the planning meeting was an opportunity to engage directly with key project counterparts at The Nature Conservancy, the Mexican Government, and Mexico’s National Forestry Commission/Mexico-Norway Project.

“WHRC played a critical role in supporting the development and implementation of a national forest monitoring system in Mexico,” said José María Michel Fuentes, MRV officer responsible for technical support of the national forest monitoring system in Mexico. “Thanks to the technology and training WHRC provided, the Government of Mexico is now empowered to monitor and better manage its forests. Undoubtedly, WHRC’s contribution will result in the conservation of much of Mexico’s natural landscape for generations to come.”

Duke University announces George Masters Woodwell professorship

George M. WoodwellOn November 5, Alan Townsend, Dean of Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment, announced the George Masters Woodwell Chair in Ecology, named in honor of WHRC’s founder and former long-time director. Dr. Woodwell has been associated with the Nicholas School community and a member of the school’s Board of Visitors since its inception.

“Having a professorial chair formally named for an ecologist is an unusually powerful acknowledgment of the increasing maturity of the curriculum at Duke, and a fascinating and, for me, highly flattering step,” said Dr. Woodwell. “I believe that the nation will be well served when every university develops to the point of having named professorships in ecology, honoring the scores of professionals now struggling with core issues of how the biophysical world works and how to keep it working.”

WHRC in the Media, Meetings – Workshops – Education, Publications, and Events

WHRC in the Media

The Cape and Islands local NPR station, WCAI, aired an interview with WHRC President Phil Duffy, “Meet the Directors: Three New Presidents Take the Helm in Woods Hole.”

A recent scientific paper on minimally disturbed “hinterland” forests co-authored by Senior Scientist Scott Goetz was highlighted in The Cape Cod Times.

A blog on Scientific American discussed the October Arctic Circle Assembly in Reykjavík attended by WHRC scientists Max Holmes, Scott Goetz, and Sue Natali.

The work of WHRC scientists Max Holmes, Michael Coe and Wayne Walker was featured in The Cape Cod Times article, “Cape’s top minds tackle climate change around the world,” and in an accompanying online video.

Meetings – Workshops – Education

WHRC President Phil Duffy was recently a panelist at a “first national summit focused on catalyzing the industry of natural infrastructure restoration,” organized by Caterpillar Inc., which has pledged its commitment to being “a global leader of sustainable progress.”

Senior Scientist Josef Kellndorfer attended the National Academy of Sciences Kavli Frontiers of Science symposium, a forum that brings together outstanding young scientists to discuss cutting-edge research in a broad range of disciplines.  Dr. Kellndorfer spoke about his work on Earth Observation Frontiers.

Senior Scientist Michael Coe and Assistant Scientist Paulo Brando taught a mini-course at the Brazilian State University of Mato Grosso, Nova Xavantina, on “Conservation of Tropical Forests in Anthropocene.” Twelve graduate students from Nova Xavantina and the Federal University of Goias received lectures and exercises on biogeochemistry, energy and water balance, and climate change. The students were then taught techniques for measuring and monitoring environmental health and human impacts during field exercises at WHRC’s Tanguro Ranch.


The Cape Cod Times recently published three op-eds by WHRC scientists: “Climate change and what to do about it,” by Senior Scientist Richard Houghton; “Ocean acidification endangers shell fishing industry,” by Scientist Emeritus Tom Stone; and “Climate change: Why should you care?” by President Philip Duffy.

Upcoming Events

A public screening of the film Merchants of Doubt will be held at 6 p.m. on November 20 at District Hall, 75 Northern Avenue, Boston. Inspired by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway’s book, this award-winning documentary lifts the curtain on a secretive group of pundits-for-hire who present themselves as scientific authorities as they speak about the well-studied public threats of toxic chemicals, pharmaceuticals and climate change.  Following the film, there will be a discussion with WHRC President Philip Duffy and his guest, Anne Kelly, Senior Director of the Policy Program at Ceres. Reservations are required: or 508-444-1521.

In March of 2016 the Woods Hole Research Center and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution will offer the Mekong River Science Expedition, a rare opportunity for guests to join the scientists of the Global Rivers Observatory and view the ecology and chemistry of the Mekong River. For more information or to participate in this unique journey, contact Beth Bagley, 508-444-1517 or

Recent Events

Woods Hole Research Center’s 30th Anniversary was celebrated at a Board of Directors’ dinner in Boston, where former South Carolina US Congressman Bob Inglis was the featured speaker. Mr. Inglis runs the Energy and Enterprise Initiative, a non-profit organization promoting free enterprise as the way to deliver innovation and solve climate change. He spoke about the virtues of a revenue-neutral carbon tax, an approach he believes will appeal to conservatives.

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