Dear Students, Staff, Faculty, Alumni, and Friends:
As 2017 comes to a close, we can reflect on a year during which federal environmental programs have experienced philosophical changes from protection, management and recovery to a laissez-faire model and considerable disregard for environmental stewardship. Rejection of the Paris Climate Accords by the U. S. is a major setback—unfortunate for us and a totally irresponsible example for the world. Many cases of wrong-headed thinking could be enumerated but from my own experiences, that of oil drilling in the Arctic certainly rises to the surface, figuratively and literally. Despite technological improvements to reduce accidents, drilling in the ocean for oil and gas will never be foolproof and our history of being prepared and responding effectively to spills, particularly in harsh climates, is marginal. Perhaps market forces will keep the drilling in check until rationality returns.
Physical and ecological consequences of climate change and sea level rise are certainly measurable and noticeable. Just recall the impacts of the last hurricane season. Is the summer of 2017 what we can anticipate for coming years? And a changing climate is what is making the oil drilling in the Arctic more palatable to the oil industry. In the early 1960s, when I participated in producing the first detailed bathymetric survey of the Chukchi Sea for the U.S. Navy, my shipmates and I were ecstatic when one summer the pack ice retreated to 74 degrees North. Today, that is a common occurrence. More broadly related is the abandonment of the Clean Power Plan. Will it be an imperative to drink totally wasteful bottled water because the federal government has abrogated its responsibilities under the Safe Drinking Water Act? All of this is indeed alarming.
Despite major environmental setbacks, however, there are some bright spots. The U. S. Congress is supportive, even if the administration isn’t, of the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Estuary Program (including Long Island Sound) as well as the National Sea Grant Program. It is also encouraging that several states, including New York, are stepping up to address environmental problems as the federal government falters. New York is committed to uphold the Paris Climate Accords. It is also pursuing programs to protect and improve drinking water as well as coastal waters. It is creating its own Ocean Action Plan and investigating the extent of and solutions for ocean acidification. SoMAS is actively engaged in all these pursuits.
Certainly, with all the changes occurring in the political arena and consequential alterations in the environment and its related processes, SoMAS research and educational programs are crucial as we adapt to a changing political reality.
Dr. Heidi Hutner will be stepping down as Director of the Sustainability Studies Program in January and embarking on a well-deserved sabbatical. We thank Heidi for her service and leadership, particularly during the time of transition from the Provost’s Office to SoMAS. Dr. Kate Aubrecht has been appointed as the next director. I wish her the very best and look forward to working with her in the future. Sustainability faculty are now actively contributing to the Marine Conservation and Policy Program—a foray into graduate education. Sustainability faculty have also aggressively redesigned their majors to include a minimum of 18 STEM credits in each major and the number of majors has been reduced from five to three in order to provide more substance to each. The program revisions have been submitted to SUNY Central for approval.
The Flax Pond Laboratory is now part of the State’s effort to cleanse and reinvigorate coastal waters by introducing shellfish reared at a number of Long Island’s existing hatchery facilities. A portion of the lab is being redesigned and an addition built to accommodate a nursery/hatchery facility to raise some 2.5 million 6-8 mm clams per year. The pond will also serve as a reference location by which the success of the five state-designated, embayment sanctuary sites can be evaluated. The design team has commenced its work and is touring relevant hatchery facilities.
The lab is also being outfitted for ocean acidification research. The U. S. EPA and the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation are going to install an air quality monitoring station—particularly for ozone measurements. Drs. John Mak and Daniel Knopf deserve credit for helping to establish the site. The data will bolster their atmospheric chemistry research and educational programs.
Congratulations to Dr. Ali Farhadzadeh on the dedication of the Coastal and Hydraulic Engineering Laboratory located in the Heavy Engineering Building. Ali holds a joint appointment with Civil Engineering and SoMAS. This wave tank facility will be a major resource as SBU continues to be engaged in understanding coastal processes.
Emily Markowitz (M.S., 2017) has been selected for the prestigious 2018 Sea Grant Knauss Fellowship. She will be posted to the National Marine Fisheries Service, a part of NOAA. Way to go Emily!
Our 50th Anniversary celebration in October, “The Risk of Saying Nothing” was a great success. The speakers were energetic, informative, and very interesting. Most events were standing room only. We were pleased to see so many alumni. Jerry Schubel, former dean, gave an inspiring talk to a packed house at the Wang Center. It was great to see Jerry and his wife Margaret back at SoMAS. Our Mark Lang and Matthew Colson of SBU Alumni Relations wonderfully orchestrated the whole weekend.
We look forward to December graduation at which we will have 7 Ph.D.s hooded, 9 M.S. and 3 M.A. degrees conferred. Thirty undergraduate degrees will be awarded in Marine Sciences, Environmental Studies, and Sustainability.
On February 3, 2018, SoMAS will be hosting its 17th Bay Scallop Bowl. Please volunteer for this great traditional event. The winning high school in our New York State Regional competition will go to the nationals in Boulder, CO. The theme this coming year is “Our Ocean Shaping Weather.”
We all have much to be grateful for as 2017 ends but clearly SoMAS has a responsibility to be aggressively engaged in the troubling national and international debate concerning the global environment and its sustainability through research, education, and policy engagement. Understanding the fundamentals of oceanic and atmospheric processes and their interactions has never been more important. We must be bold and imaginative in our research and messaging.
Here is to a wonderful, rewarding, and successful New Year!