Editor’s note: This event has been canceled due to adverse weather, which has affected the presenter’s travel plans.
It may seem out of place for a world-renowned oceanographic department to be part of a research institute situated in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, hundreds of miles from the ocean, but studying the world’s major bodies of water is more than just mapping coral reefs or swimming with dolphins.
Laura Landrum, an oceanographer with the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, said that within her division, there is a major focus on scientific research in the areas of climate and climate change. She said it’s primarily a global focus, but other research institutions take results from NCAR’s models and downscale them to show the regional impact on local climate of everything from burning fossil fuels to consumption of plastics.
As part of the Colorado Mountain College Speaker Series, Landrum will present two talks on Friday, March 7, in Breckenridge. The first will be targeted toward the younger crowd.
“We’re going to talk about the water cycle, water and the Earth and a little bit about climate in the region, at well,” Landrum said of the children’s talk. “And some of the work I have done with Antarctic sea ice and how a warming plant is changing the water cycle, changing the climate.”
The adult-focused talk will explore how carbon dioxide is changing the climate and changing things for the ocean, Landrum said, and what NCAR is studying in relation to climate change.
Our impact on the ocean
Landrum said the global climate is changing everywhere, from the oceans to land-locked areas such as Summit County. We’re all connected, and though we may not live near an ocean, how we use our resources has an impact on the world’s water.
“Climate impacts weather,” she said. “Most of the surface of the Earth is covered in ocean and about 98 percent of the planet’s water is in ocean water. If you warm the world, for example, you warm the ocean, change the chemistry in the ocean, and that influences climate and weather patterns, even in Colorado.”
The chemistry and temperature of the oceans are being changed by greenhouse gases, Landrum said, primarily carbon dioxide. As part of her second presentation, the oceanographer will demonstrate a couple of experiments that show these impacts.
“Anything we do impacts the carbon dioxide levels,” she said. “Burning fossil fuels, consumption of and use of plastics, pollution — energy use as a whole affects that. We use chemicals on our lawns, fertilizers, anything we put into rivers, into the water, flows downhill into the ocean. We can change the coastal chemistry of river outlets by what we put into the river and whether or not the water makes it to the ocean.”
Examples in our backyard
Landrum used the Colorado River as an example. Very little of the water that begins in the river at its headwaters gets from Colorado to the ocean, which has a direct effect on the estuaries at the mouth of the river.
“We have a lot of water in the mountains, but we can have droughts, wildfires,” she said. “Our day-to-day lives are impacted by the water cycle, whether we get a lot of rain and snow in a year. People in Colorado are familiar with the basic weather patterns that impact our precipitation and when we get that precipitation can be impacted by climate.”
It’s important for all of us to remember that we’re part of a global planet, Landrum said, and that our personal actions are part of a bigger picture.
“I also like to convey that there’s a lot of work that we do as oceanographers that’s really exiting,” she said. “I do oceanography in a way that people don’t think about, with climate models. I have a fantastic job; it’s really fun. I get to answer questions, and it’s in an arena that I care about.”
Landrum said she loves getting kids excited about the fun jobs you can do with science, technology and math. She also encourages people of all ages to visit the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder to take a tour and learn more about the research that is conducted there.
“The more education we have, the more we can be concerned and educated citizens, making conscious decisions in our own lives with how we vote, how we spend our money and what we care about,” she said.