Purdue faculty addresses environmental issues during Green Week

September 27, 2010

Purdue Civil Engineering professor Steven Wereley, the first scientist to accurately calculate the daily flow from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, will be a featured speaker during Purdue Green Week 2010. (Purdue News Service file photo/Mark Simons)

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Purdue faculty will sponsor a series of workshops and symposiums during Green Week (Oct. 4-8) that address biodiversity, global climate change and energy safety.

A Discovery Lecture from 3-4:30 p.m. Thursday (Oct. 7) at Discovery Park's Burton D. Morgan Center for Entrepreneurship (Room 121) will feature more than a dozen speakers including Purdue mechanical engineering professor Steve Wereley. Wereley was the first scientist to accurately calculate the massive amount of oil flowing from BP's broken oil well. Wereley's calculations increased international pressure to find a solution to the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. NPR's Richard Harris, the first reporter to solicit and report Wereley's calculations, will also speak at the Lecture.

"This lecture will feature how the partnership between a journalist and scientists ended up affecting the government's approach to what we now recognize as a spill of historic proportions," said John Bickham, director of Discovery Park's Center for the Environment.

Wereley's contributions to solving the oil spill prompted an interdisciplinary coalition of Purdue professors to form the Gulf Oil Spill Community to examine how faculty expertise at Purdue can be used to prevent another similar accident in the future. The group's weekly brown bag seminars have been well-attended.

Civil engineering professor Chip Blatchley said Purdue faculty from a variety of fields have tools and research that could help the industry and federal agencies.

"If we can learn from this event so that we are in position to respond more effectively to the next disaster. that would represent an important contribution," said Blatchley.

Purdue's Global Sustainability Initiative has invited representatives from the oil industry, academia and federal agencies to speak throughout Green Week about biodiversity. Speakers from around the nation will address the discovery of new species and levels of diversity in the oceans and the human dimensions of environmental crisis.

Forestry and natural resources professor Barny Dunning said that conservation biologists worry that we may be witnessing a round of species extinctions similar to that which eliminated the dinosaurs in pre-history.

 "The impact of modern human activity may be part of a mass reduction in biodiversity because of the sheer degree of human impact on the environment, particularly the destruction of plant and animal habitats," Dunning said. "Scientific evidence indicates that human health worldwide will increasingly be impacted by the biodiversity crisis."

The Purdue Climate Change Research Center will stage a series of faculty talks covering a broad range of topics including climate, extreme weather and human dimensions; impacts on biodiversity, ecosystems and water cycle; and biogeochemical cycles.

Agricultural economics professor Otto Doering, the research center's interim director, said that climate change is the statistical distribution of weather over periods of time ranging from decades to millions of years.   He said the panel discussion offers an objective, non-partisan look at how we might reduce the negative impacts of climate change and take advantage of new opportunities. 

"This exciting group of Purdue scholars is at the forefront of research in resilience and adaptation," said Doering. "Their work highlights the need to start thinking in new ways about how we manage and protect our resources, infrastructure, and people, and adjust our decisions and activities because of observed or expected changes in climate."

The Engineers for a Sustainable World national conference being held at Purdue during Green Week features events open to the public including a showing of the documentary "Carbon Nation" at 7:30 p.m. Thursday (Oct. 7) at Stewart Center's Fowler Hall.

"This is a compelling and relevant film that shows how understanding and managing climate change and its potential impact also addresses other social, economic and national security issues," said Dan Hirleman, former head of Purdue mechanical engineering and chair of ESW. "Carbon Nation’s optimism and pragmatism should be appealing across the spectrum of opinions."

 The U.S. Department of Energy's Arun Majumdar, director of the Advanced Research Projects Agency, will deliver the conference's keynote lecture at 8:30 a.m. Friday (Oct. 8) at Fowler Hall. Majumdar's lecture will focus on the agency's investment in high-risk, high-impact research to develop technologies to mitigate the emerging U.S. energy crisis. He will also discuss how an economy based on the mix of fossil fuels currently in use is not indefinitely sustainable and negatively impacts the security of many people.

Purdue will also display green technology developed or employed at the university, including various advances in renewable energy including biofuels.

The College of Liberal Arts and The Center for Environment at Discovery Park will sponsor a seminar, "Historical, Social and Cultural Approaches to the Environment: Meaning, Politics, Resilience" at 1:30- 3 p.m. on Oct. 7 in Stewart Center, Room 314.

For more information about Green Week events, including visit http://www.purdue.edu/greenweek/

Writer: Jim Schenke, 765-494-6262, jschenke@purdue.edu

Sources: Chip Blatchley, 765-494-0316, blatch@purdue.edu

                  Barny Dunning, 765-494-3565, jdunning@purdue.edu

                  Otto Doering, 765-494-4226, doering@purdue.edu

                  John Bickham, 765-494-5146, bickham@purdue.edu