Robert Lund: Climate change by the numbers
By Julia Turner, Class of 2014
Office of Media Relations
Lately, strange weather is becoming the norm at Clemson, and all across America. Oddly enough, during the entire month of July we did not see a day without rain and our winter lows have been strangely warm; only to suddenly plummet to single digits. Some argue that our weather is changing because of our carbon footprint, while others question if it really is changing at all, but Robert Lund, Ph.D., a mathematical statistician at Clemson, takes a much more practical approach to the weather. He focuses his research on exactly what is going on with our weather — and his findings are fascinating.
“I like to think of myself as the last line between truth and fiction.” Lund said. “There is so much mudslinging and misinformation in the climate sciences, that I’m trying to dig my way through and tell people the actual truth about what is happening.” As a mathematical statistician, Lund looks at climate changes — usually gravitating towards controversies like global warming. He has been tasked with the difficult trial of actually finding and proving if there have been significant changes in the climate.
The statistician has come to find that there are actual tangible climate changes. While that is not a surprise to most as global warming has been a topic of hot discussion for years now, the changes he has found sometimes oppose popular beliefs.
“We researched the monthly highs and lows to search for trends, and what we found was that, in America, the highs are staying relatively constant. But the average lows are rising everywhere.” Lund said. He explains that this pattern is to be expected when there is an increase in greenhouse gasses and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Radiation from the sun cannot be released back out into space as effectively, creating warmer low temperatures, but maintaining a steady, if not slight decrease in high temperatures.
But what does this mean exactly? It means that Lund’s research is extremely important. He takes on arguments revolving around global warming as he looks for the statistical proof that the weather is, in fact, changing. However, what is so surprising about his research is that his findings are not always what is reported by the news. Lund shows that global warming is happening in general, but is not uniform in space or time. For example, winters are slowly becoming warmer as greenhouse gasses no longer allow heat to escape the atmosphere as quickly. But summers are hardly changing at all.
With such information, he helps everyday people be prepared. “Why should we care?” Lund asks. “Well, because if these temperatures don’t go down, that means that the South Carolina coast better watch out. Rising temperatures can cause an influx in severe storms, which could potentially plummet coast property prices. Those who have property would care that their investments are at risk, and the fact that safety of living on the coast could be compromised. That’s the same anywhere on the coast, especially places like Florida.”
Not only do higher temperatures mean more possible tropical storms, but it also means an increase in snowstorms as well. Most heavy snows occur around 32 degrees Fahrenheit. With lower temperatures rising, especially in places like the Dakotas, heavy and potentially dangerous increase in snowfall are a real threat. Just this last October, Rapid City, South Dakota reported 58 inches (three and a half feet) of snow.
Lund enjoys delving into climate controversies. He strives to play fair statistically, revealing just what is happening to our climate. And his achievements have not gone unnoticed; Lund shared in his short article, “My life in the Climate Sciences,” that he was honored to be one of ﬁve statisticians that participated in Climate Science Day 2013 on Capitol Hill. There, he talked to U.S. senators and representatives about what is legitimately known on climate change. He closed by confirming that, “whatever comes next, it will surely be exciting.”
Robert Lund received his Ph.D. in Statistics from the University of North Carolina, in 1993. He is currently a professor of mathematical sciences with research interests in Markov Chains, time series, and statistical climatology. His interest in weather, however, is far beyond just research. In his free time, Lund enjoys extreme weather adventures like glacier climbing. It is on these adventures Lund sees firsthand the staggering changes in climate year to year as these glaciers are slowly melting away.
As part of Climate Day 2014, Lund will again appear before U.S. senators on Capitol Hill to discuss climate change.