Representatives from climate and environmental organizations gathered Thursday at the University of the Virgin Island’s St. Croix campus to discuss he effects climate change could have on the Caribbean – and on the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico specifically.
Ryan Boyles, deputy director for the Southeast Climate Science Center and one of three presentes Thurday outlined what exactly scientists mean when they speak of climate change. the issue isn’t just what’s happening, but the pace, he said.
“Its not so much that the world is getting warmer, but how fast it’s all happening,” he said.
According to research, the amount of climate change that will occur in the coming decades will amount to greater and faster change then the Earth has experienced in hundreds of thousands of years.
Climate change has two variables: the amount of greenhouses gases in the atmosphere, and the changes that take place in the rotation of the Earth.
“It sounds complicated, but it’s really rather simple,” Boyles said. “I want you all to walk away from this with a better understanding of physically what’s driving this.”
It starts with something very basic that most third graders know: The Earth rotates around the sun. The tilt of the earth’s axis and whether the rotation is more circular or elpitical dictates how much sunlight, and therefore solar energy, is entering the atmosphere.
The more sunlight and energy the planet gets, the more it heats up. However, Boyles said, the heat actually comes from heat waves bouncing off the surface of the Earth and coming back up into the air.
“That’s why when you’re standing on black concrete it feels hotter than it does in the grassy areas,” said Boyles. “This is why trees play a huge part in our climate, because they provide shade and cool off the air.”
Greenhouse gases are an important component of climate change. Greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane gas, are tri-atomic gases, meaning they have three atoms bonded together, Boyles explained.
These compounds are larger than the diatomic nitrogen and oxygen that make up the majority of our atmosphere. When the solar energy that comes into our atmosphere tries to escape back into space, it bounces of the larger compounds and comes back down to Earth.
“They’re bigger,” Boyles said. “Each of the larger compounds react differently but in the end its still all coming back.”
This means a great deal to the Virigin Islands.
“With increased ocean temperatures, we may get less storms, “said Boyles, “but the storms that do form are going to monsters, and most of the time category 3 or higher.”
It is also going to have an effect on rainfall and winds.
“It may rain less often, but when it rains, it will rain harder,” he said, “and because of the changes in the wind, the windward and wetter sides of the island may change entirely.”
All of that sounds pretty serious, but Boyles held out hope.
“We are doing what we can now, and in 30 years we’ll have the technology to be precise in our predications and make better plans as to how to prepare for these changes,” he said.
Further, the more that humans limit greenhouse gas emission and allow for reforestation, the cooler the Earth can become, he said.