LACC Associated Faculty Member's research focuses on impacts of climate change

Steve Oberbauer’s extensive research supports the belief that man is precipitating climate change around the world.

By Martin Haro

Source: FIU News

LACC associated faculty member and FIU biology professor Steve Oberbauer spends about three months of the year in the Alaskan tundra, the Costa Rican rainforest and the Florida Everglades, researching climate change and focusing on plant response to the stresses of these different areas.

“I’m particularly interested in how climate change affects the timing of events in the life cycle of plants,” Oberbauer said. He adds that his research seeks to understand how changes in the timing of events affect ecosystem responses to climate change and how the response of vegetation in turn affects climate change.

His findings, he says, should give everyone significant cause for concern: Climate change in one area of the world will impact another.

South Floridians need only look at our sea level for proof.

“Anything that causes an increased sea level is going to have a big impact on us here in South Florida,” Oberbauer said. “There’s this large store of carbon in the soil in the Arctic and if the vegetation cannot respond quickly, if it doesn’t remove more carbon from the atmosphere than what is coming out from the soil as it warms up, we’re going to have more climate warming, which means more melting of the ice caps, which means a higher sea level for us in South Florida.”

And that is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. These changes, Oberbauer says, also affect the life cycle of many organisms, not just plants. For example, bird migration patterns are changing and sea life around the poles is being altered.

“There are strong connections, biologically, between the Arctic and anywhere throughout the temperate and even tropical zones. The Arctic and the Antarctic are the refrigerators of the planet and if they’re not reflective snow covers then that means there’s more heat trapped in the atmosphere, which then means more warming and more melting.”

Is man to be blamed for these changes?

“I think so,” Oberbauer said. “The physics are too overwhelming. The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was about 280 parts per million before the industrial revolution. Now it’s about 390. It’s a very large increase in a short time. Man has to have an effect. To think otherwise, that’s basically hiding your head in the sand.”

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Professor Oberbauer joined the FIU faculty in 1988. He works in an office in the HLS I building at Modesto A. Maidique Campus, surrounded by books and files, as well as his research equipment, which has taken over the floor.

When he is not on campus, teaching undergraduates and grad students or advising doctoral candidates, he is away conducting his research. Since he can spend about three months of the year in the field, he requires assistance and has often turned to FIU grad students or post-docs to “be there” in, say, Costa Rica, an equatorial climate that is equable year-round. “You really need to be there all year if you’re going to capture what’s going on,” he says.

He also has been able to take undergraduates with him to Alaska, through a research experiences for undergrads program, using funds from the grants he has received from the National Science Foundation.