emilypknight's blog

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This blog was originally posted on Medium here

“It’s a level of abundance that the state will probably never see again.”

That’s the final line from a 2018 San Francisco Chronicle article about the decline of abalone populations in California. Currently, the long-popular recreational dive fishery for red abalone north of San Francisco is and will remain closed until at least 2021. The immediate causes were the combined effects of the 2014 – 2016 El Niño plus warming ocean temperatures plus an explosion of purple sea urchins, which decimated the bull kelp, the abalone’s main source of food.

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This blog was originally posted on Medium

When I was in graduate school, I conducted cooperative fisheries research at the University of Maine (go… Black Bears? I want to say? Sorry, not a sports person but sincere shout out to the University of Maine and the Darling Marine Center!). That is, I collaborated with a commercial groundfisherman to study the impacts of trawling on bottom habitats in the Gulf of Maine. Along with my advisor, we all worked to design the methods of the study. Part of that was identifying sampling sites that would allow us to compare currently trawled areas to places that had been closed to trawling for a good five years. This would help us explore both potential impacts and recovery dynamics.

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I know what you’re thinking: Isn’t it though? Depending on what we do now, we’re in for at least hundreds of years of warming. But also you might be thinking, well I know it’s not. We’re experiencing impacts now.

And both those reactions are correct. Climate change is a problem that is happening — accelerating — now, and will have ramifications for the long-term. But it’s that notion of “depending on what we do now…” that I want to pick apart a bit from the perspective of tightening the links between science and action.

What inspired me is a seemingly innocuous line I read in a new paper from Record et al. (2019):

“Climate change is often viewed as a long-term problem, and in this context, mean species range shifts could be a useful tool.”

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This blog was originally posted on Medium here

I gave a talk recently about linking science with action. In it, I posed the question: What makes science valuable to society?

My answer: Because the world is so much bigger than us… And yet we’re in the driver’s seat.

Reflect on that for a moment, and what it might mean to you. To me, it was an articulation of something I struggle with often, which is the fact that because of anthropogenic carbon emissions, we humans are driving Earth’s overall trajectory. And yet, within that trajectory there is much we don’t know about how severe the impacts will be or exactly how they’ll propagate through ecosystems on to human communities.

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