As a results of climate change, most environmental systems are experiencing an increase in regional climate and weather extremes that have profound social-ecological implications. An example is the set of climate extremes between 2013-2016 that resulted in one of the longest droughts over California, record-breaking warm surface temperatures in the North Pacific that disrupted marine ecosystems and fisheries (e.g. the Pacific Warm Blob), some of the coldest ocean temperatures ever recorded in the western North Atlantic, and the 2015-16 El Niño – which is one, if not the, largest climate event of the century. Here we show that these extremes are not independent but rather connected to specific large-scale ocean-atmosphere decadal fluctuations that originate from the coupling between tropical and extra-tropical climate dynamics, which some earth-system models predict are intensifying in a warmer climate. Most concerning is the evidence that ecological-environmental systems may amplify the variance of these decadal fluctuations.

By combining an empirical stochastic model with long-term climate and ecosystems observations, we show how societally-relevant ecological systems that sustain ocean food production amplify the climate forcing. In the model, this climate amplification leads to the observed tendency for stronger synchrony across ecological systems with global-scale climate signals. This alignment of the ecological responses may lead to “ecosystem collapses” that increase the vulnerability of social-environmental systems that rely on ecosystem resources. These issues are particularly relevant in systems and communities wherein the human and natural dimensions strongly interact. To this end, we outline some novel approaches that rely on transdisciplinary research and multi-institutions partnerships to enable a wide-range of solutions to the growing climate threats.

About the Speaker

Dr. Emanuele Di Lorenzo is Professor and Director of the Program in Ocean Science and Engineering (http://www.ocean.gatech.edu) at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, USA. His research interests are in the field of multi-scale climate and ocean dynamics (large-scale, regional and coastal), climate impacts on marine ecosystems and social-ecological systems. 

In his research, Dr. Di Lorenzo attempts to explain the dominant (e.g. low order) dynamics of the ocean and marine ecosystem variability and change by combining available observations with a hierarchy of numerical models (e.g. dynamical and statistical) of ranging complexity. Dr. Di Lorenzo also serves as the Vice-Chair of Science Board for the North Pacific Marine Science Organization (PICES) and as Chair of their Physical Oceanography and Climate Committee (POC). He is also co-chair of the US CLIVAR Phenomena, Observations, and Synthesis Panel and a member of Future Earth Ocean Knowledge Network. Recently, he has led the new OceanVisions joint initiative between Georgia Tech, Stanford, Scripps and Smithsonian (www.oceanvisions.org).

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