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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 tweetsit 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 ….

Ahead of the curve

From Nobel Prize-winning findings about the planet’s rapidly changing atmosphere to innovative technologies and solutions, the campus is ahead of the curve on the most daunting challenges of our time.

UCI founding professor F. Sherwood Rowland won the Nobel Prize for predicting a potentially catastrophic hole in the ozone layer due to aerosol products. Fellow atmospheric chemist Donald Blake carries on his pioneering work combatting air pollution and climate in the Blake-Rowland laboratory.

Surging king tides and fiercer storms along the West Coast are being plotted on real-time three-dimensional maps by UCI engineers for Newport Beach and Tijuana, and social ecologists are helping those communities determine how to cope with the rising waters. Biogeochemists and hydrologists are predicting wildfire seasons and weather patterns in South America and the Middle East and exploring how to tackle increasing water shortages in Australia and the American Southwest. Read more …