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What’s the Sea Got To Do With Us? Everything

Ocean Expert Warns of High Seas

School of Health and Environment Dean Shortie McKinney introduces Deborah Cramer, left. Prof. Margaret Quinn of Work Environment, right, invited Cramer to speak to students about the effect of the ocean on climate change.

By Karen Angelo

What does the ocean have to do with human life? And what do we have to do with the ocean? “Everything,” said scientist Deborah Cramer who recently spoke on campus to students, staff and faculty.

The talk was part of UMass Lowell’s growing focus on environmental studies and, in fact, spurred the launch of a new student environmental alliance.

Prof. Margaret Quinn of work environment invited Cramer—author of “Smithsonian Ocean: Our Water Our World” and “Great Waters: An Atlantic Passage”—to share the latest science on the changing sea with many groups across campus working on climate change and its impacts on health and the environment.

New Student Group Formed

During the event, Meghan Mandel, a political science junior and member of the Climate Change Initiative, announced the start of a new group called the Student Environmental Alliance that will work with UMass Lowell and the Lowell community to promote sustainable practices and educate others on environmental issues, particularly those related to the consequences of climate change.
A visiting scholar with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Earth System Initiative, Cramer didn't share your typical PowerPoint text and graphs. Instead, hypnotic pictures of walruses, hermit crabs and other sea creatures floated on the screen, all of which clashed with her words of caution, especially for New England.

“Since 1970, the temperature of the sea has risen by two degrees Fahrenheit,” says Cramer. “By 2050, the sea level is expected to rise by one meter. For Boston, this means that at high tide, water levels will rise by five feet.”

Faneuil Hall Under Water?

At that level, some of Boston’s prized areas like Faneuil Hall and the Back Bay could be submerged.

As carbon dioxide accumulates in the atmosphere, acting like a blanket that warms the Earth, the sea responds in many ways, she said. Warming sea temperatures are causing extreme weather events all over the world, from powerful hurricanes like Katrina to excessive rainfall and flooding in Lowell. Lack of snow in the west is dwindling fresh water supplies. Fish are traveling north and east from New England for colder water. The Gulf of Mexico marshes are all but disappearing, removing the barriers that protect marine life, people and the land from storms.

“We might feel a bit insulated because we live on dry land and don’t always feel the direct impact, but every one of us has been affected in some way, including extreme weather, rising costs of food and lack of fresh drinking water,” says Cramer.

UMass Lowell is taking action with last year’s launch of the Climate Change Initiative, spearheaded by Prof. Juliette Rooney-Varga, who also led the Climate Change Teach In in October. More than 200 students participated in discussions with scientists, faculty and students to develop solutions.