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Lecture on ‘Using Land to Mitigate Climate Change’

A Five College Sustainability Studies Lecture
April 21, 2011

Global temperatures are climbing, the icecaps are melting and droughts are becoming more severe. As scientists struggle to invent new technologies to mitigate climate change, one solution is growing all around us.

In his lecture “Using Land to Mitigate Climate Change: Strategies and Trade offs,” Jerry Melillo, senior scientist at the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory, explored how preserving and expanding forests and properly growing vegetation to produce biofuels could help stabilize global temperatures.

Melillo’s talk, part of the Five College Sustainability Studies Lecture Series, was presented on April 21 in Paino Lecture Hall in Amherst College’s Natural History Museum.

Melillo’s research focuses on the impact of human activity on terrestrial environments. His research into carbon and nitrogen cycling in ecosystems has taken him from the arctic shrublands of northern Sweden to the temperate forests of North America to the tropical forests and pastures of the Amazon Basin of Brazil. A widely recognized expert on climate change, Melillo co-chaired and co-edited a 2009 White House report on the impacts of climate change on the United States.

Soil contains large quantities of carbon, and agricultural activity has the potential to release significant amounts of it into the atmosphere. A rising concern among some scientists is how the process of growing vegetation for biofuels could unintentionally release this carbon. In his work at Woods Hole, Melillo and his colleagues developed computer modeling that shows if such work follows best practices and is combined with carbon sequestration efforts such as preserving and expanding forests, the net impact could actually help stabilize global temperatures.

The Five College Sustainability Studies Lecture Series has included events focusing on climate change politics, the environmental costs of war, and media portrayals of important environmental issues.

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