Energy and Climate Scholars visit NOAA

Mia Wong and Stelio Louka, Contributing Writer and Staff Writer

Hidden in the recesses of the school (the back of the library) at dark hours of the night (from 6:30-8:30 pm), largely unbeknownst to the rest of the school, 13 Princeton Day School students meet with Princeton University graduate students to learn and discuss various climate change related topics through the Energy and Climate Scholars program.

The Energy and Climate Scholars title comes from a program at Princeton University created to encourage interdisciplinary understanding and solutions for Climate Change problems. The Princeton Energy and Climate Scholars (PECS) consist of a group of graduate Princeton University students with majors such as Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, the History of Science, or Public and International Affairs. PECS students meet monthly to share their research with fellow PECS students. There are also many outreach programs, including for the first time, one at Princeton Day School.

Last year, after the Environmental Activity (EnAct) club was once again generously awarded a large donation from the Whole Earth Center in Princeton, the EnAct club sought an effective use of these funds, eventually settling on a PDS program based on the PECS model. Princeton Day School’s Energy and Climate Scholars have monthly dinners where three PECS members present their research as Princeton Day School students ask questions. Topics have included how governments can reduce carbon emissions, the potential impacts of climate change through climate modeling, sea-level rise predictions and implications, and alternative energy sources. After the presentations, everyone, which includes PECS students, PDS ECS students, and ECS faculty advisor Liz Cutler, split into two groups. Each group engages in discussion related to the material just presented. In these discussions, PDS students have the opportunity to guide the discussion and engage with the Princeton University graduate students.  

ECS scholars have learned about the extent that climate change solutions reach; students who applied ranged in their subject of interest. Although most students involved are EnAct members, many students who had no previous affiliation to environmental outreach found interesting discussion as well.

On March 10, ECS scholars were given the additional opportunity of visiting the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). During their time there, the ECS scholars saw the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, and heard from speakers from many different divisions of the NOAA. Not only did ECS scholars get to hear about the science behind each topic, but each panelist also discussed how they got into their specific profession and how they ended up at the NOAA. They first learned about hurricane forecasting from Tim Marchok, who became interested in weather as a young child, watching his favorite weatherman on television and continued this passion all the way to NOAA. He discussed how hurricanes were formed and amplified. Mr. Marchok said that he enjoyed both the work and the positive impacts of his work, given that hurricane forecasting helps communities prepare for and minimize possible storm-related damage.

Next, Princeton Day School’s ECS scholars heard from Olga Sergienko, a research glaciologist. Ms. Sergienko discussed the impact of climate change on glaciers, ice streams, ice shelves, and icebergs. She also elaborated on the biological impact of melting icebergs and glaciers. Given that icebergs play a large part in determining ocean currents, which directly affect the nutrient cycles of the ocean, the melting of icebergs actually affects the ability of marine life from all levels of the ocean to get nutrients.

The final panelist was Vincent Saba, a research fishery biologist. Mr. Saba became interested in the impacts of climate change on marine life during a trip to Costa Rica where he tagged and studied leatherback turtles with a group of scientists. Mr. Saba discussed the various complicated ways that climate change affects marine life, such as causing changed migration patterns, food supplies, and many other things. Given that the ocean absorbs a large amount of heat and CO2 in the atmosphere, the resulting higher water temperatures and increased acidity cause further problems in marine ecosystems.

After hearing from the speakers, the ECS scholars were given the opportunity to tour the high performance computer facility equipped with huge “super computers” and robotic arms to organize and retrieve needed data. The NOAA also has sister labs and computer facilities in other parts of the United States, such as Tennessee. In the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL) that the ECS scholars visited, a lot of the weather and climate data is received from other sister labs. Much of the work being done at the GFDL revolves around analyzing the data and turning the data into graphs, which more easily show the implications of the study.

The Energy and Climate Scholars program at PDS is a way for students who are fully invested in studying climate change, along with those who are simply interested in learning about something less familiar, to spend time studying the effects of the dramatic environmental transformations we are now witnessing. This program allows PDS students to educate themselves about a current major worldwide issue that will likely continue throughout their lifetimes.