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Delmarva classrooms take on climate change - February 2, 2012

Here are the things I learned last week.

Weather and climate are different. Weather is what is happening outside right now. Climate is the pattern of long-term averages of daily weather, measured in increments of 30 years or more.

Greenhouse gases are the primary driver of climate variability. While greenhouse gases are produced naturally, the amount of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere has increased at an unprecedented rate in the last 100 years. Human activities generate more greenhouse gases than any other natural causes.

On Delmarva, sea level rise is occurring at twice the global average rate because of subsidence -- as the sea level is rising, the Delmarva Peninsula is sinking.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, "the warming of the climate system is unequivocal as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea levels."

According to a study just released by the University of Hawaii, "nearly one-third of CO2 emissions due to human activities enter the world's oceans. By reacting with seawater, CO2 increases the water's acidity."

The 2012 USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map was also released last week. Overall, average minimum temperatures in zones across the United States increased by five degrees.

Changes in our climate are occurring at a rate far beyond the range of natural variations ever recorded. Now what?

As French philosopher and writer Voltaire noted, "no snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible."

But as sentient, rational beings, humans are wired to and capable of examining their impact and considering the consequences of their actions. Each of us, individually, has an impact on our shared world. Together, we are the avalanche.

Yes, there is still more to learn about climate change. But enough credible science is out there to convince me that we need to act. Whether or not we agree on the primary causes or priority solutions, we need to do everything we can. We need to behave more responsibly. We need to lesson our impact on the planet.

Along with four courageous, dedicated, enthusiastic teachers and 266 gifted students, I will be learning more about climate change in the coming months.

Together, we will be examining the issues more closely. It's controversial and it's complicated. But we're committed to learning more.

Wicomico County teacher Nancy Rowe notes, "It's a controversial issue, however, that makes it a perfect topic to share and explore with students in order to teach them how to be critical thinkers. They must examine the evidence, analyze it to be sure it isn't biased, and formulate their own opinions."

Team teacher Kelly Hamilton said: "Hopefully, this will encourage them to further investigate the issue and possibly become part of the solution."

The Maryland Coastal Bays Program is in the process of updating its Comprehensive Conservation Management Plan, the plan, developed by multiple stakeholders, that guides our work. In this new iteration, climate change will, necessarily, be addressed.

Thanks to a grant from the Community Foundation of the Eastern Shore, the Climate Change Issues Investigation program is being developed for local students and teachers. The program will connect teachers and students with local resource professionals, including scientists and field experts from the Maryland Coastal Bays Program, Assateague State Park, Assateague Island National Seashore, NOAA, and more. Together, we will gain a deeper understanding of the impacts of climate change on Delmarva.

If you're interested in finding out more, please contact me at csamis@mdcoastal

Carrie Samis is education coordinator for the Maryland Coastal Bays Program.

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