Sustainability: Climate change champions

Global reach

UCI is sustaining its outsized reputation for tracking and tackling environmental challenges

The sun and warming ocean waters melt icebergs in a West Greenland fjord, captured on a UCI Arctic research expedition led by glaciologists Eric Rignot and Isabella Velicogna. UCI is a world-leader in climate and environment research and solutions. Maria Stenzel / for UC Irvine

Each morning by 8 and again at night, UCI doctoral student Zachary Labe pushes a button, and the latest satellite data on Arctic sea ice unfurls on his computer screen. If it’s anomalous – that’s the scientific term for not normal – he plots it on a brightly colored custom graph and tweets it out to nearly 7,000 followers.

This winter has been full of anomalies: One week in November – when marine ice usually grows by leaps and bounds – saw a loss of 19,000 square miles, 10 times the size of the Grand Canyon. Days before Christmas, the North Pole neared the melting point, with temperatures 50 degrees above average. The deviations are part of disturbing long-term trends leaving polar bears stranded and sending warmer ocean waters lapping up against Greenland glaciers, ushering in sea level rise from Miami to California.

A sobering graph created by UCI Earth system science Ph.D. student Zachary Labe shows Arctic sea ice loss from 1914 to 2013.

Labe, 24, who’s become a Twitter phenomenon thanks to his easily understood visuals, is in UCI’s top-ranked Earth system science department – the first in the nation when it was founded to study the planet and its interlocking pieces on a human time scale.

“The way I see it, why should I do this science if I can’t better explain and share it with the public?” says Labe, who wrote his own algorithms for the data. “Climate change is already affecting everyone, even if they don’t realize it, and this is a perfect opportunity to communicate the science.” Read more ....