Hamilton College students present climate change findings

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CLINTON — Warmer temperatures and increased rainfall are inevitable, and the Clinton/Kirkland area has already begun to experience some of the ramifications of climate change, which has included increased flooding in
recent years.

According to students in Dr. Aaron Strong’s Climate Risk & Resilience course at Hamilton College, the risks will become more detrimental over the next decades if the right actions aren’t taken to deter or adapt to them.

Carol Gable, coordinator of the Kirkland-Clinton Climate Sustainability Committee Taskforce, explained that a presentation by students on Nov. 19 via Zoom was among the first steps in the community’s climate change vulnerability assessment.

After the assessment “is reviewed, discussed, shared, etc., the taskforce will begin working with municipal leaders and the community to develop Climate Action or Climate Resiliency Plans, to address how to mitigate and adapt,” said Gable. “I believe the focus of work in 2021 will be on these.”

Strong’s students were responsible for researching different environmental trends, and measuring and tabling what those trends — such as average temperatures, number of days recorded at below zero and increased rainfall — were in past decades, comparing them to today and what they’ll possibly look like at least 80 years into the future. The college has been assisting both municipalities in completing the benchmarking work needed for the climate change assessment.

“We hope this is a starting point to start addressing the community’s concerns, and we hope this meeting sparks discussions on what steps to take next,” said the assistant professor of environmental studies.

Junior Jason Kauppila began the presentation by explaining how fellow students measured and tabled different climate risks. They also reviewed the hazards of climate change, such as how warmer temperatures could result in different bird species migrating out of the area, and how trees and other vegetation could be affected. Students also looked at the “adaptive capacity” of the community — residents’ ability to adapt to the changes over the years and address the impact.

Projected impacts were measured using a Representative Concentration Pathway, or RCP. RCP is a greenhouse gas concentration (not emissions) trajectory adopted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Four pathways were used for climate modeling and research for the IPCC’s fifth Assessment Report (AR5) in 2014. The pathways describe different climate futures, all of which are considered possible depending on the volume of greenhouse gases (GHG) emitted in the years to come. The RCPs – originally RCP2.6, RCP4.5, RCP6, and RCP8.5 – are labelled after a possible range of radiative forcing values in the year 2100.

For the sake of their study, Hamilton College students based their projections on possible RCPs of 4.5 (mid range) and 8.5.

Student Nina Merz said when it came to measuring average yearly temperatures, students compiled data from both Oneida County Airport and Griffiss. According to measurements starting in 1960, and comparing them to recent years while predicting what’s ahead using possible 4.5 and 8.5 RCP scenarios, “Looking at either scenario, it’s obvious that temperatures are going to get significantly warmer in this area, and that’s going to be starting very soon,” said Merz.

Student Benjamin Given was responsible for looking at the number of days in the region that had reached up to 90 degrees within a 24-hour period. He said in the 1980s, there were about 100 90-degree days total recorded within the decade, and according to projections, the number of 90-degree days could reach over 600 by between 2080-2090.

Student Francesca Lanni modeled what the average yearly precipitation could look like from 2020 through 2100.

The area is “definitely expected to see more precipitation on a daily basis,” said Lanni.

She explained that a substantial weather event today would be considered 2 inches, or 50 milliliters, within a 24-hour period. By between 2090-99, a “significant event” could reach up to 9 inches of rain, which would lead to a substantial increase in flooding, as well as damage caused by flooding, Lanni explained.

Student Asha Grossberndt looked at winter and how the number of days that have reached at or below freezing have been reduced dramatically over the decades.

“In the 1940s, you had 706 days that were at or below freezing, and by 2100, that’s projected to be below 100 days,” she said.

Days below freezing led to predictions in snowfall reductions, and Strong explained later that there may be snow in future winters, but nothing that sticks to the ground for long — it will come, then quickly melt.

Students also derived flood maps, showing how the increased hazards for flooding in the future could effect the flood plains within Clinton-Kirkland, and how some areas could potentially end up under water.

Other students looked at farming — like the apple industry, corn and milk production — and how increased precipitation, temperatures and weather events could have an impact. Their findings showed that certain crops could potentially show a great vulnerability to climate changes, such as shortened growing seasons. Higher average temperatures could also affect milk production in cows.

Student James Carhart looked at tree species in the region, and how the dominant maples and birch could one day be replaced by species more known for a warmer weather climate. The same thing goes for birds, with certain species that now live in the area migrating north toward colder temperatures. They will be replaced by turkey vultures and other species now familiar to the South, he said.

Strong said he plans to further review his students’ findings, “triple-checking the data” before submitting their study to the KCCSC Taskforce by Dec. 4. Meetings will be held next year involving community members and leaders to review and discuss possible actions.

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