Friday, October 4, 2013

Visit with Dr. Aimée K. Thomas, Environmental Expert

Our previous post by Rodolfo Marques describes the work of our Advanced Reading class at the Loyola Intensive English Program (LIEP) with global warming and climate change, through reading Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth by Mark Hertsgaard and viewing the film An Inconvenient Truth by Al Gore. Hertsgaard and Gore both highlight the climate changes that we can expect to unfold over the next fifty to one hundred years, and possibly beyond, as a result of global warming caused by human industry.

Dr. Aimée K. Thomas
While reading about global warming and climate change, the Advanced Reading class also experienced a special treat. On Monday, September 23, the class met in Loyola's Library Living Room to visit with Dr. Aimée K. Thomas, a professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Loyola University New Orleans. Dr. Thomas helped us understand how the global climate changes we have been reading about may affect our own specific area of the world - southeast Louisiana. Below are some highlights from our conversation with Dr. Thomas.

WHAT WE KNOW AND WHAT WE DON'T. Dr. Thomas emphasized that climate change includes fluctuations in weather and temperature patterns, but not necessarily warming in all locations. While the scientific community agrees that climate change is occurring, no one is sure about the rate or extent of the changes at all places of the globe.

THE ATTRACTION AND VULNERABILITY OF THE COAST. Dr. Thomas explained that a coast is a very vulnerable area because so many people live there to enjoy the opportunities available near a port, the view of the beach and the water, and the pleasure of fresh seafood. The location of New Orleans, in fact, was chosen because of its proximity both to the Gulf of Mexico and to the Mississippi River. However, eventual sea-level rise caused by global warming may put coastal communities under water.

LEVEES, SINKING LAND, AND SEA-LEVEL RISE. Dr. Thomas outlined how rivers, like the Mississippi River, build natural levees and also replenish the land with deposits of sediment. When humans build up levees beyond the river's natural levee-making process, sediment can no longer replenish the land, and the land begins to sink. This has been happening in New Orleans. Sinking land, coupled with sea-level rise caused by global warming, could mean that large areas of land where people are now living would be under water. Dr. Thomas emphasized that we know that global warming is causing and will continue to cause sea-level rise, but how quickly this will happen and how high the water will eventually rise are not known.

COASTAL RESTORATION PROJECTS. Dr. Thomas ended on a hopeful note as she described several coastal restoration projects taking place now in Louisiana. These projects include the planting of vegetation to restore the marshes (watery grass-lands) and swamps (watery wood-lands) of southeast Louisiana. The Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority website gives information on many of these.



Our visit with Dr. Aimée K. Thomas helped us to apply what we have been learning in our reading of Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth by Mark Hertsgaard to our particular location in southeast Louisiana. Thank you, Dr. Thomas, for sharing your environmental expertise with us!

Members of the LIEP Advanced Reading class with Dr. Aimée K. Thomas (seated, 2nd from right)

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