Report of the 1987 Sigma Xi Annual Meeting
by Kenneth M. Klemow, Ph.D.
Wilkes College Club delegate

The 1987 meeting of Sigma Xi was held on 16-19 October, at the Hotel Queen Mary, Long Beach CA.

The meeting opened on Friday evening, 16 October, with the first General Assembly of Delegates. At that Assembly, the Delegates were welcomed, and a several brief reports were made. After the General Assembly, the first Regional Assembly was convened. I met with the delegates from the Mid-Atlantic Region. The primary purpose of that meeting was to introduce ourselves to each other and to explore the opportunity for the association of nearby chapters and clubs into consortia. I discussed, with the delegate from the University of Scranton Club, the possibility of forming a consortium with their group.

The main program was held on Saturday, 17 October. The topic was "The International Geosphere-Biosphere Program". Dr. K. Timmerhaus (Sigma Xi President) and Dr. T. Malone (Sigma Xi President-elect) provided introductory remarks.

The first talk was "The International Geosphere-Biosphere Program: A Study in Earth System Sciences" by Dr. F. Bretherton (National Center for Atmospheric Research). He noted that concentrations of both carbon dioxide and methane have increased in the atmosphere over the past 25 years. For carbon dioxide, annual fluctuations have been observed, and are due to differences between summer and winter rates of photosynthesis. However, the overall increase is due to anthropomorphic causes - primarily burning fossil fuels. If carbon dioxide doubles in the next 50 years, as predicted, the mean global temperature will rise 2-3oC. However, the warming will not be uniform over the earth's surface. Specifically, the warming will be greatest in the higher latitudes. It is thought that the difference between present and the predicted future climate will be the same as that which occurred during the ice age and today's.

What might the world be like 50 years from now, if carbon dioxide concentrations double? During August in New York City every day will be 90oF with 95% relative humidity. In Alaska, fish populations will be booming, as will timber in the Pacific northwest. In mid-America, we will see a return to the "dust-bowl" conditions, especially because the primary aquifer will be gone. Canada and Siberia will become very productive and people will migrate there. A new international cartel will be created of those countries; they hold the genetic resources for producing most of the grain.

This is a likely outcome, but it is by no means 100% definite. To arrive at these predictions, the global system was examined and models were created with various inputs and outcomes. The shortcoming of the models, however, is that our understanding of the systems is poor. More study of the earth as a system is needed to improve the predictive capability of the models.

As mentioned, atmospheric methane is also increasing. Like carbon dioxide, methane causes a greenhouse effect. Why is methane increasing? We don't know. Possible sources of methane are cow belches, termite mounds, rice paddies, and changes in oxidation-reduction pattern of carbon dioxide due to air pollution. More study is needed on this, however.

To examine such problems we need an interdisciplinary science. Such science should supplement and not replace the types of research being done at present.

When getting such large scale research started, we must consider both spatial and temporal aspects. We see the individual pieces, but should also see how they interconnect. A general model of the earth's system should be constructed including both its physical attributes and biogeochemical cycles. To put together such a model we need to have a broad intellectual base.

The ice ages appear to have been due to changes in solar radiation caused by changes in the earth's orbit. Changes in the atmospheric carbon dioxide may have also played a role. However, the effect of carbon dioxide is influenced by ocean circulation, since the ocean water can store vast amounts of carbon dioxide. Thus, to fully understand how long-term climate change is triggered, it is important to consider many different (possibly interrelated) phenomena.

Research on the earth as a system will need to be both very large scale and long-term. We will need to take measurements on a global basis and then construct models that have predictive power. It is also necessary that the huge amounts of data already collected be incorporated.

One difficulty with using past and current data is that instrumentation is occasionally not well calibrated. For example, instruments on satellites show that solar irradiance fluctuates, and actually decreased, over the past eight years. However, the difference in the readings between two different light sensors on two different satellites is quite large. Thus any change when analyzing data from those two satellites may be an artifact.

Other efforts to gain an understanding of global conditions will focus on cloud cover, sea-surface topography, vegetation and volcanoes.

Dr. Bretherton concluded that the global science will need unprecedented international cooperation. There will also need to be a good integration of "big science" and "little science".

The second talk was "The Potential of Ice Cores for Paleoclimate Reconstruction" by Dr. E. Mosley-Thompson (Ohio State University). Her perspective was from that of an individual researcher trying to learn about the global system.

Dr. Moseley-Thompson noted that ice sheets in glaciers accumulate through time. By digging into such sheets, one can examine ice deposited in the past. Typically, the deposits form bands, similar to annual rings in trees. It is therefore possible to determine the exact age of the ice. Ice cores taken from polar areas can hold a longer history than those taken from non-polar areas. Cores collected in Antarctica, Greenland and the Soviet Union provide 200,000 years of data.

In studies done in the Andes Mountains, ice accumulates at a rate of 1 m per year. For each year, it is possible to find a dust layer containing particles from deserts, the ocean, and volcanoes, all preserved as a natural archive. It is possible to compare cores taken from different sites and compare the dust particles. Typically such cores match closely.

Ice also traps tiny bubbles of air. When the concentration of carbon dioxide is examined in those bubbles, it is possible to see that levels were quite low until recently, reinforcing other studies done elsewhere.

The last 10,000 years have been quite warm, compared to the period before that - corresponding to the Wisconsin glaciation. During the glaciation, more dust lain down each year than during the post-glacial period. The transition between the glacial and post-glacial periods appears very abrupt, less than 100 years.

Data from the ice cores also point to a "little ice age" between 1500-1850 A.D. Strata from that time have higher amounts of dust accumulation than those before or after. That pattern holds for ice cores collected in different parts of the world.

Research on the ice cores continues. Presently there is a cooperative agreement with China, which receives some of the cores.

The third talk, "Preliminary Plans of the Special Committee on the International Geosphere-Biosphere Program of the International Council of Scientific Unions" was presented by Dr. T. Rosswall (University of Linkoping, Sweden).

Dr. Rosswall stated that a timetable has been established for the program: 1986-1990 will be the planning phase, 1990-2000 will be the implementation phase, and 2000-2005 will be the synthesis. For the project to be successful, we need an interdisciplinary approach.

Earlier this year there was an organizational meeting. It was decided at that time that the project should try to: (1) document global change, (2) observe and understand forcing functions (atmospheric carbon dioxde and freon), (3) understand transient (rare) events, and (4) understand the factors that affect the availability of renewable and unrenewable resources.

The project will be coordinated by several panels, each with a different focus. At present these include: terrestrial biosphere - atmospheric chemistry interaction, marine biosphere - atmospheric chemistry interaction, biospheric aspects of hydrological cycles, and effects of any climatic change on ecosystems. These will not cover all aspects of interest, but will cover the key areas.

There will also be four working groups: global geosphere-biosphere modeling, data and information systems (to coordinate efforts of different countries), techniques for extracting environmental data of the past, and geosphere-biosphere observatories.

Why is this effort coming about now? There are several reasons. First, we have global changes that have been caused by humans. Second, we need to have programs where different disciplines can join together. Third, there have been advancements in our ability to gather appropriate data, especially from space. Fourth, great strides have been made in the development of computerized global models.

Evapotranspiration is a very important part of the hydrologic cycle. Currently many acres of tropical rainforest are being converted into grassland, especially in Amazonia. The effect that such a change will have on weather patterns there is unknown. Similarly, in the Sahel the rainforest has been cut down, with the effects being unknown. Rainfall has been less there, though. More study is critically needed.

In our analysis, it is important to look transpiration as it occurs at all hierarchical levels - from individual plant to community to landscape to global. This is very challenging as the question of scale is raised. This is a new way of looking at things.

The link between the biosphere and the atmosphere is worth examining in detail. Besides carbon dioxide, there are trace gasses that cause the greenhouse effect, including methane, nitrous oxide (N2O), chloroflorocarbons and ozone. We can see an increase in the concentration of methane over time, correlating with the rise in the human population. We do not know what has caused the increase, however.

It is important to have good baseline information and long term studies so that natural inputs into the atmosphere can be discerned from human inputs.

The increase of those gasses into the atmosphere has led to an increase in the global temperature. This, in turn, has led to a rise in the sea level caused by the melting of the polar ice caps.

The chemistry of nitrous oxide is interesting. At first it was thought that it was produced by microbes from NO2. We now know that its production is more complex, involving both oxidative and reductive processes.

Considerable nitrous oxide is produced in the anaerobic center of soil aggregates (crumbs). This, in turn, is affected by the amount of moisture in the soil. To best understand this, though, we need to examine the processes of denitrification and mineral leaching in the soils. The best type of study will examine patterns at several levels: individual crumb, agricultural field, watershed, region, and ultimately the biosphere.

A problem for the International Geosphere-Biosphere Program (IGBP) is that the efforts of scientists in many different disciplines must be coordinated. We also must be able to recruit new scientists that have an interdisciplinary perspective.

The fourth talk "The Challenge of Interdisciplinary Science in a Disciplinary Environment" was presented by Dr. M. McElroy (Harvard).

He posed the question "How do we handle interdisciplinarity in institutions that are set up along disciplinary lines?"

To answer this, one can examine issues related to atmospheric ozone. We live in a changing world; a fact much appreciated by atmospheric chemists. There is an increase in the concentration of chloroflorocarbons (CFC's), but the changes are really quite slow.

About fifteen years ago, people started to become concerned about the amount of ozone in the atmosphere. When ozone is depleted, there is an increase in the amount of ultraviolet light. Initially, high-flying aircraft were thought to be responsible for causing destruction of the ozone.

Recently, there has been intense scrutiny of depletion of ozone over the Antarctic. Until a few years ago, we knew nothing about it. In the 1970's, scientists discovered that the amount of ozone there was decreasing. It used to be 300 units, now it is 130.

If we look at the system in more detail, we see that there is a polar vortex, or pool of very stable air, over the Antarctic. It is formed and survives during the winter. The chemistry there is different and was unknown to atmospheric scientists. In the cold arctic atmosphere, ice forms that contain nitrates. The ice falls from the stratosphere, causing those nitrates to be removed. The crystals also contain hydrochloric acid. The chlorine is converted to free Cl radicals.

In 1987 there was an expedition of scientists from several nations to the Antarctic to examine the phenomenon. Many studies were done aboard DC-10 and U-2 aircraft from Chile. They flew into the stratosphere, 22 km above the earth's surface. Conditions there were dangerous and harsh, but good data were obtained.

The studies revealed that as the concentration of chloride radicals increased, ozone was depleted. The radicals were traced to CFC's generated by humans.

Why was there a sharp onset of the problem in the 1970's? Apparently it was due to the amount chlorine in the atmosphere exceeding a certain threshold level.

The researchers further concluded that, even if there is no additional input of chlorine into the atmosphere, the Antarctic hole in the ozone will still form for the next 75 years. This will lead to a 10 to 30-fold increase in the amount of ultraviolet light over a few hundred years.

What will happen to phytoplankton in the ocean there? They might photosynthesize at a lower rate, causing effects down the food chain. It might also lead to an increase in the concentration in carbon dioxide within the ocean, because it is not being used by the phytoplankton. This, in turn, will lead to a greater greenhouse effect.

How is one university handling investigations into this problem? Harvard is involved in this. They are encouraging their scientists to have a depth of knowledge in several fields. Harvard brought together scientists from different disciplines into a department of Earth and Planetary Sciences. Often, it is difficult to form such multidisciplinary groups in large schools. Clearly there is a great opportunity for smaller schools to take the lead in this.

Recent limits on CFC production, agreed to at the Montreal conference, will have little effect on antarctic ozone.

We are now looking for early signs of ozone depletion over the arctic. If such effects are observed, an effect should also be observed at mid-latitudes.

The fifth talk "Human Response to Global Change" was presented by Dr. I. Burton (Director, International Federation of Institutes of Advanced Study, Toronto). He examined the implication of this project for the social sciences, and how society will deal with global change.

He noted that in psychology and sociology there is poor collaboration between scientists in different countries.

Who would want to study global societal response? It is a huge task with a high liklihood for failure. Very young scientists might want to become involved because they are idealistic, but they often become discouraged by their older colleagues. Senior academicians might also want to tackle the problem because they do not have to worry about tenure; they can afford to take on risky research. We need to interest those social scientists who are in the middle of their career.

Early human concerns centered on the availability of enough food. That gave way to concerns about having enough energy. In the past 20-30 years, humans became increasingly concerned about the effects of pollution. Recently, we are concerned about the genetic diversity and species preservation.

Several options exist to determining society's response to environmental change. One is to study the environment, then to propose actions. We could study response to past environmental change. Much knowledge already exists.

A large segment of the population is not convinced that any change in environment is occurring. Even if all were convinced, what would be the reaction? There is a need for agreement and fairness (but what is fairness?).

The International Geosphere-Biosphere Program should be broadened to include social scientists, but many natural scientists resist that. There should be a new committee: "Human Response to Global Change" to cooperate with IGBP. The view should be both interdisciplinary and international.

Human systems are not at equilibrium. Newtonian, mechanististic explanations should be avoided. Model building in social sciences are often not valid, but if carefully constructed, models may provide valuable insight.

The effects of population density on human response are not clear-cut; perhaps some higher-density areas would do better than those with lower population densities. Poorer societies will probably suffer more when the climate changes.

There should be an ongoing exchange between social scientists and natural scientists, such as relating findings from remote sensing to societal issues.

A second approach would be for social scientists to set their own agenda. Look at risk assessment, analysis of complex systems, needs of most vulnerable communities and nations, and the global environmental history.

What are the major issues of global change?

Presently, there are 5 billion people on the earth. In the next generation, we expect to have another 5 billion. There is no way to escape that increase. Of the people now alive, 2 billion live in poverty. To improve their situation, we need to have a massive expansion of the world economy.

Turn to the national debt. There are great problems there. Other problems abound as well. Universities now lack some of the basic equipment that they had ten years ago. Renewable resources are being expended faster than the population is increasing. Global military spending is now very high. It is wasteful, and leads to more poverty. Indeed, military spending is now rising faster than general economic growth.

There are encouraging events, however. The recent ozone agreements, reforms of the world bank, disarmament agreements, and IGBP.

Much needs to be done, however.

The sixth, and last talk, "The National Science Foundation (NSF) Global Geosciences Program" was presented by Dr. R. Corell (NSF).

He noted that several agencies are involved with doing global research, including NASA, DOE, NOAA, and others. What is NSF's role?

NSF provides funding for research in academia. Their mission is one of providing basic support. The agency sees itself as being responsible for the health of various disciplines. Over 60% of the funding for environmental science projects comes from NSF.

We now know that global change is occurring. Sciences are maturing. Previously, the focus was regional. Now, we must look at larger scales. There needs to be more cooperation between scientists and agencies.

In the 1940's and 1950's studies were typically on systematics. In the 1960's, processes were examined. In the 1970's and 1980's multidisciplinary studies emerged. In the 1990's it is expected that global studies will be a primary emphasis.

The tools that we will use to conduct these studies will include satellites, super-computers and assorted new methodologies. We can do it because society now cares. All of these factors are now converging.

The precursor to IGBP is the Global Geosciences Program, which started in 1987 and is projected to continue through at least 1988. Its goal is to understand the earth system with emphasis on being able to predict future events.

The Global Geosciences Program includes several different elements: Global Geotropospheric Chemistry, World Ocean Circulation Experiment (WOCE), Tropical Oceans and Global Atmosphere (TOGA), Global Ocean Flux Study, Global Ecosystem Dynamics, Ridge Crest Processes, Solid Earth Dynamics, Paleoclimates from Ice Sheets, and Coupling, Energetics & Dynamics of Atmospheric Regions.

The outlook for these projects is 5-10 years. Often it is difficult to plan science, however.

WOCE will consider the oceans as three-dimensional entities, to better characterize ocean behavior, especially as it relates to climate.

In the domain of atmospheric science, the Global Tropospheric Chemistry Program will be very important. It will examine the upper atmosphere and the influence of solar radiation. NASA will provide muich assistance to that project.

Solid Earth Studies will seek to understand the earth's deep structure. One objective will be to provide a "CAT scan" of the earth. It will also precisely resolve the status of the sea level and will look into global tectonics.

One expected outcome of the project is that it will enable us to integrate many different kinds of studies in ways that have never been done before. IGBP should also enable us to have truly international science.

In terms of budgeting, it is expected that funding for science will double during the period. The funding should maintain and facilitate growth for core science. It should also enable new ideas to flourish, especially those that are cross-disciplinary, and should fund science and technology centers. Lastly, the funding should be used to improve science education, from kindergarten through the post-doctoral level.

Studies of global change will have the following attributes: they will be intellectually challenging, they will demand much from institutions, they will be socio-politically explosive, and they will be financially restrictive.

The success of these studies will require creative, broad-based thought, candor, open and direct interaction, and more trust and cooperation. In essence, we will need a new mind set.

Dr. Corell finished by stating that he would like to meet with academicians to discuss how this program might affect them, and how they might serve the program.

The annual banquet was held on the evening of 17 October. After the meal, the 1987 Proctor Prize for scientific achievement was presented to Dr. J. Van Allen (Iowa), who then gave a presentation on his work.

On Sunday, 18 October, Sigma Xi conducted several workshops. These focused on Science and Mathematics Education, Membership, and New Officers. An enjoyable "Town Meeting on the Public Understanding of Science" was held after the workshops ended. In that session, the organizers presented a number of resolutions pertaining to the relationship between science and the public, and those in the audience were encourage to speak for or against each resolution. The resolutions were then voted up or down, in a non-binding referendum. The debate was often very lively, with many interesting points being made.

On Sunday evening, Mr. William Carey (Carnegie Corporation) presented a lecture entitled "Scientists and Sandboxes: Regions of the Mind". This was followed by the second General Assembly of Delegates. At that time, Mr. S. Udall, Ms. M. Press, and Ms. C. Russell were intiated as honorary members. After the main assembly, the delegates then attended a second Regional Assembly.

On Monday, 19 October, the third Regional Assembly of delegates was held. At that session, officers for the region were elected. The third General Assembly of Delegates was then convened to vote on the dues structure, proposed constitutional changes and motions that were previously made concerning the status of two chapters.

The meeting adjourned following that Assembly.

Respectfully submitted,



Kenneth M. Klemow, Ph.D
President, Wilkes College Sigma Xi Club
13 January 1988


This page posted and maintained by Kenneth M. Klemow, Ph.D., Biology Department, Wilkes University, Wilkes-Barre, PA 18766. (570) 408-4758, kklemow@wilkes.edu.