Science

UW Scientist wins grant to further research in climate change

Dr. Andrea Dutton’s research contributes to a larger picture of the effects of greenhouse gases on global temperatures and subsequent sea-level rise.

Dr. Andrea Dutton’s research contributes to a larger picture of the effects of greenhouse gases on global temperatures and subsequent sea-level rise.

Image By: Courtesy of Creative Commons

Dr. Andrea Dutton, a research scientist at UW-Madison, received the “Genius Grant” to continue her research on constructing sea levels from 125,000 years ago. The motivation behind her research is to showcase the effects of rising sea levels on communities and educate the public on environmental changes as a result of global warming. 

In order to understand past sea-levels, Dutton analyzes limestone rocks and fossilized coral. Coral is hugely advantageous in terms of studying sea-level changes, as she describes in her “Reframing Sea Level Rise” Ted Talk. By analyzing coral fossils, she learned that sea levels during the penultimate interglacial period were 20-30 feet higher than they are now. 

Since she recently transferred to UW-Madison from the University of Florida, most of her research is on climate change in Florida. Her research led her to become concerned about the mid-Atlantic and southeast portions of the country in terms of sea-level rise, as those areas have seen particularly high increases.  

Dutton was recently awarded the MacArthur Fellowship — more colloquially known as the “Genius Grant” — for her work in answering essential questions concerning climate change. Most centrally, answering questions concerning how much sea levels will rise. 

Cecilia Conrad, the leader of the MacArthur Fellowship, explained that climate change scientists were specifically chosen to receive the grants in order to express the urgency the scientific community feels regarding the pertinence of climate change. 

The $625,000 awarded will go towards further researching and prompting public concern. The scientific community as a whole does not feel like the world — in particular, countries that release a large amount of carbon into the atmosphere — is doing enough to combat the issue. Dutton herself argued in a CNN article that “policies that curb greenhouse gas emissions can have a strong effect on future sea-level rise.” 

Dutton has been cited by CNN, The Washington Post and The New York Times. She also wrote for publications such as The Hill and Science Daily. 

Her work alarms the scientific community because it provides evidence that when the average temperature of the earth was only a few degrees warmer than it is now, the oceans rose 20 to 30 feet.

If that were to happen today, many large coastal cities — such as New York and Miami — would be flooded entirely.

Dutton’s data raises even more questions, prompting her to continue research. In an interview for InsideClimate News she is unsure how quickly the sea will rise, but she knows the rate ice is currently melting increased over the past few years. 

Dutton’s current focus is on educating the public about the effects of climate change, explaining that the issue is undeniable. 

She is cited in articles discussing the 2019 IPCC report released by the United Nations.

The report states with “very high confidence” that greenhouse gases are causing the Antarctic ice sheet to melt faster than was originally predicted, leading to a potential “sea-level rise of several meters,” which will cause “irreversible ice sheet instability.” 

The consensus among scientists is that greenhouse gas emissions are the primary cause of global temperature rise and subsequent melting of the ice caps. As the temperature rises, the oceans get warmer. Sea levels rise as a result of this process, as well as from the melting of the ice caps. 

According to World Ocean Review, more than one billion people live in low-lying coastal regions. The immense economic and humanitarian impact rising sea levels could have is incalculable. 

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