Raleigh picked as one of nation’s 7 climate change research hubs

jmurawski@newsobserver.comFebruary 5, 2014 

— The White House has selected Raleigh as one of seven regional research hubs to help the nation’s farmers adapt their operations and practices in an era of changing climate that could bring severe droughts, frequent floods and erratic weather patterns.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Wednesday that the Raleigh hub, to be located at N.C. State University’s Centennial Campus, will work with farmers, ranchers and timber growers in 11 Southeastern states and in Puerto Rico.

The Southeastern Regional Climate Hub will house a research library, train cooperative extension agents, coordinate climate research and organize educational programs for farmers. The Raleigh-based partnership involves federal and state agencies, universities and nonprofit organizations, such as The Nature Conservatory and RTI International.

In the Southeast, the primary weather-related concerns are reduced forage and tree mortality, Vilsack said on a phone call with reporters. Drought-induced crop losses force farmers to use corn for animal feed, driving up corn prices and causing farmers to sell off livestock.

Vilsack said the goal of the program is to supply farmers with practical advice on “how the changing climate will impact what can be grown, where it can be grown, when it can be grown, and the strategies for mitigating the impacts of intense weather patterns.”

Notwithstanding its high profile – President Barack Obama touted the climate research hubs in his State of the Union address last week – the practical implications may be negligible for the Triangle.

The climate hub at this time does not have its own budget or any full-time staff, but instead will draw on employees at federal agencies. Much of the scientific research is already being done through the U.S. Agriculture Department’s $100 million-plus annual research budget in climate change.

The program here will be overseen by Steven McNulty, a research ecologist at the U.S. Forest Service in Raleigh who said he’ll devote about 50 percent of his time to running the climate hub. McNulty is an ecosystem modeler and also a professor at N.C. State who specializes in studying climate impacts on Southern forests.

McNulty said climate research is accumulating rapidly, but “it’s not well-organized and it’s not easy to share the information.” The climate hub will serve as a clearinghouse and events coordinator.

“Their main objective is to take the good science that’s already been done, make sure it gets converted into usable land-management practices and get that information to the landowner,” McNulty said. “These hubs focus on the area we never focus on: making sure the science is useful, that it’s getting to the right people, and that we’re getting feedback from those people as to what future science should be done.”

The Raleigh hub is a consortium of more than two dozen participating agencies and organizations. The groups had to apply to be selected and laid out their strategy in an 89-page prospectus.

In the application document, the organizations said there is no long-term plan for maintaining databases, infrastructure and tools for much of the research that’s being conducted, and the hub would preserve and promote the science and learning for broader use.

They also said that government scientists are often rewarded for publishing research for fellow scientists, but they don’t have much incentive to convert their research into practical applications.

The consortium’s application said the field of “land management is myopic” and populated by “well trained, but narrowly focused resource specialists” who are focused on their own specific areas of interest, rather than on meeting the practical needs of farmers.

Murawski: 919-829-8932

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service