University of Rhode Island

09/19/2017 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 09/19/2017 10:07

URI lecture: Measuring ocean warming

NARRAGANSETT, R.I., Sept. 19, 2017 -Knowing how much and where the ocean is warming is important to understand how fast the atmosphere will warm and how much seas will rise.

Gregory C. Johnson, an oceanographer at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, is an expert on measuring ocean warming-and now he'll share his research during a talk at the University of Rhode Island.

Johnson's presentation at 4 p.m., Sept. 27 at the Graduate School of Oceanography is part of the annual Vetlesen Distinguished Speaker Series.

Free and open to the public, 'Improving Estimates of Earth's Energy Imbalance' will be held in the Coastal Institute Auditorium on URI's Bay Campus, 215 South Ferry Road, Narragansett.

Because of the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere due to human activity, including burning fossil fuels, more energy is entering than leaving at the top of the Earth's atmosphere.

The ocean has been absorbing most of this energy, slowing atmospheric warming but raising sea levels as it expands in response to the warming.

Climate change is expected to bring profound changes to coastal communities throughout the world. In Rhode Island, scientists project sea levels to rise 3 to 5 feet by 2100, and recent government projections are as high as 7 feet. This could cause catastrophic flooding, especially during storms.

Greatly improved ocean sampling over the last decade has made it easier to pin down how much and where the ocean is warming, says Johnson.

Johnson and his research group collect oceanographic data from Argo, an international program of 3,800 free-drifting floats that measure the temperature and salinity of the upper part of the ocean. Data are available on the Internet just hours after collection.

Scientific research papers using Argo data are published daily, Johnson says. The data are also used for weather, seasonal and El Niño forecasts; commercial navigational and naval operations; and fisheries research and operations.

'My talk will focus on measurements of uptake of heat energy by various parts of Earth's climate system,' he says, 'especially by ocean warming analyzed with Argo data.'

Johnson is also an affiliate professor at the University of Washington's School of Oceanography, a position he's held since 1993. He earned his doctorate in oceanography from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in 1991.

He was awarded the Georg Wüst Prize in 2013 by the German Society for Marine Research and the NOAA Administrator's Award in 2014. He will receive the Henry Stommel Research Award from the American Meteorological Society in 2018.

The lecture series is sponsored by the G. Unger Vetlesen Foundation, presented by GSO, and coordinated by Brian Heikes, URI professor of oceanography.

The other Vetlesen lectures are:

Oct. 18, Patricia Yager, professor in the department of marine sciences at the University of Georgia, on 'Climate Change Impacts on Antarctic Marine Ecosystems.'

Nov. 1, M. Dennis Hanisak, director of the Harbor Branch Marine Ecosystem Health Program at Florida Atlantic University, on 'Exploring Pulley Ridge: The Deepest Mesophotic Coral Reef on the U.S. Continental Shelf.'

Since its founding in 1955, the Vetlesen Foundation has advanced prominent oceanographic and earth science institutions in the United States. The foundation provides grants totaling $5 to $7 million annually to various institutions.

The foundation also gives out the Vetlesen Prize, which is awarded biennially for scientific achievement that results in a clearer understanding of the Earth and its history or connection to the universe. The international award is one of the highest honors an earth, oceanographic or atmospheric scientist can receive.