New Climate Change Research Spans Disciplines: Three Projects Under Way

Posted: September 23, 2009 at 12:01 am, Last Updated: September 22, 2009 at 3:41 pm

By Tara Laskowski

Mason faculty members Edward Maibach, Kathy Rowan and Xiaoquan Zhao, Communication; Barry Klinger, Atmospheric, Oceanic and Earth Sciences; James Witte, Sociology and Anthropology; and PhD student and broadcast meteorologist Joe Witte recently received a grant from the National Science Foundation that will allow for an in-depth look at how meteorologists can educate their viewers about climate change.

The researchers will conduct three studies: intensive interviews with several dozen TV weathercasters who are already educating their viewers about climate change; a national survey of TV weathercasters and their news directors; and a field test of 30-second, broadcast-quality educational segments that TV weathercasters can use in their daily broadcasts to educate viewers about the link between predicted (or current) extreme weather events in that media market and the changing global climate.

Ultimately, the team hopes to answer key research questions supporting efforts to activate TV meteorologists nationwide as an important source of informal science education about climate change.

“We’re very excited by this opportunity” says Maibach, principal investigator on the grant.  “Our prior research shows that the public looks to TV weathercasters as a credible source of information about global warming.  This project will allow us to identify how to help TV weathercasters fill that role.”

Xiaoquan Zhao, Communication, recently published a paper in Communication Research about the relationship between media use and global warming perceptions. He discovered that newspaper reading and web use contribute to people’s perceived knowledge about global warming; watching television, on the other hand, has no statistically significant impact on viewer knowledge.

He also found that individuals concerned about global warming are more likely to seek more information on this issue from a variety of media and nonmedia sources.

Politics also seemed to have an influence on people’s perceptions about the science of global warming. Republicans are more likely to believe that scientists are still debating about the existence and human causes of global warming, whereas Democrats are more likely to believe that a scientific consensus has already been achieved on these matters.

“This last finding echoes a lot of other research that finds political ideology to be a strong influence on people’s beliefs and attitudes about global warming,” says Zhao.

Zafer Boybeyi, Atmospheric, Oceanic and Earth Sciences, recently received a three-year grant from the Department of Energy to study the effects of aerosols on clouds in the Arctic region. His team will look at several major data sets to evaluate three different aerosol effects — direct, indirect and semi-direct — on that region.

Modeling of the weather and climate system in this region is a highly complex scientific problem and not well understood.  Because the Arctic region plays a significant role in the planet’s weather and climate system, understanding the effects of aerosols on this area will help predict future changes to the Earth’s climate system.

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