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The Lifelong Learning Institute at Virginia Tech (LLI) is a member-driven, volunteer organization that draws on the wealth of academic and community resources in the New River Valley and provides intellectual, cultural, and social experiences for curious adults 50 and older. The GCC partners with LLI by providing faculty speakers who participate in courses and events.


LLI offers a continuing series of classes on Global Change. Below are a sample of titles, abstracts, and GCC speakers from that series.


Applying Conservation Social Science to Understand Human Decisions and Address Habitat Loss

Ashley DayerAssistant Professor, Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation, Virginia Tech

Solutions to most of our global change challenges require humans taking action. In order to effectively engage people (from private landowners to policymakers to citizens) , it is critical that we understand human behavior and its drivers (e.g., social context, values, attitudes, motivations). Dr. Dayer will present us with background on how the social sciences are advancing the understanding of human dimensions of global change.  She will focus on examples of understanding human decisions related to habitat loss in the face of sea level rise in the East, drought in the West, and agricultural production in the Great Plains.

Wildlife, disease and climate change: lessons from amphibians

Lisa BeldenProfessor, Biological Sciences, Virginia Tech

Amphibian populations globally have declined dramatically in the last several decades.  We will discuss what is know about the causes of these amphibians declines and how complex global threats, including climate change and disease, can interact to impact wildlife.

How Sensitive is the Antarctic Ice Sheet to Climate Change and What Does it Mean for Sea Level Change? How Can Earth History Research Help Us Prepare for Future Climate Change?

Brian RomansAssociate Professor, Geosciences, Virginia Tech

The West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS), which holds the equivalent of 10 ft of sea-level rise, is melting at a faster rate than other ice sheets. Some pressing questions in climate science include: How quickly could the WAIS melt? How stable is the WAIS in response to warming?  Dr. Romans will share insights from his sea-going expedition in Jan-Feb 2018 that recovered Ross Sea sediment cores to study how the WAIS responded to climate change historically.  He will discuss the value of looking into Earth’s past to help us understand what is happening now and in the future.

Effects of climate and anthropogenic change on fish populations in Africa: Tilapia farming at the crossroads of food security and biodiversity conservation in Africa

Emmanuel FrimpongAssociate Professor, Fish and Wildlife Conservation, Virginia Tech

This presentation will present a conundrum involving the Genetically Improved Farm Tilapia (GIFT), aquaculture development, and biodiversity conservation in Africa.  The GIFT tilapia has literally become Africa’s gift to the world, driving global farmed fish production, especially in Asia. However African farmers are largely prevented from farming this tilapia strain due to concerns that farming the selectively bred tilapia on the continent will “pollute” native tilapia genetic diversity. The talk will examine who gains and who loses from this decision from the ethical, economic, and biological conservation perspectives.

Community-engaged research in an urban and rural community in the Deep South:  Extreme heat events and health outcomes

Julia Gohlke, Assoc. Prof., Population Health Sciences, Coll. Of Veterinary Medicine, Virginia Tech

This talk will define heatwave trends in the Southeast and the influence of urban and rural landscapes on neighborhood-level heat exposure.  We will also discuss heatwave-health outcome associations using spatial epidemiology methods. Results of community-engaged research on the socioeconomic and cultural contexts for prioritizing climate change and other environmental health issues in an urban versus a rural setting in Alabama will be presented and discussed in the context of developing climate change adaptation strategies

Valuing environmental services and amenities – an economic perspective (and, no, – “priceless” is not the correct answer, ever…)

Klaus MoeltnerProfessor, Agricultural Applied Economics, Virginia Tech

Non-market valuation is the economics field that estimates the dollar-valued benefits of environmental amenities and services, such as clean air and water, preservation of endangered species, averting/combatting invasive species, recreational opportunities, ecosystem health, lowering risk or impact of natural disasters, etc. – basically environmental outcomes that humans value and may pay for, but that are not bought or sold in established markets.  Dr. Moeltner will show how survey methods and housing market data can be used to determine these values, and how they are used in broader benefit-cost analyses. Case studies will include coastal flood risk, mountain pine beetle infestation, wetland ecosystem services, and power outages.

Sustainable Development in the Anthropocene

Bruce HullProfessor, Forest Research and Environmental Conservation, Virginia Tech

Humanity is on course to end poverty and welcome billions into the urban middle class. This
pivotal time will place enormous pressures on already stressed water, food, climate, urban, and
energy systems. These challenges are so complex, uncertain, dispersed, and interconnected as to require new ways of problem solving. This presentation will review these challenges and innovative responses by businesses and cities. We will drill down into how Arlington, Virginia, is addressing energy-driven climate challenges and how Cargill and The Nature Conservancy are addressing agriculturally-driven Amazon deforestation.


Watershed Management to Reduce Pathogen Risk under Extreme Weather Events

Leigh-Anne Krometis, Assistant Professor, Biological Systems Engineering, Virginia Tech

Over 1 million miles of rivers and streams and 18 million ponds, lakes, and reservoirs in the United
States have been designated as “impaired”: they do not meet state-designated uses such as swimming or shing. The most common cause of water body impairment and human health risk is elevated concentrations of fecal indicator organisms, such as E. coli. Given that storm water discharges of agricultural and urban pollution are the leading sources of microbial loadings to surface waters, more extreme rainfall patterns predicted with climate change are expected to increase risks to downstream users.


Managing the Impacts of Natural Hazards

Chris ZobelProfessor, Business Information Technology, Virginia Tech

As the earth’s population grows, so does the risk to communities, businesses, and critical infrastructure from natural hazards. Although we typically cannot prevent such hazards, we can try
to manage the resulting societal impacts by developing approaches to mitigate against, prepare for, respond to, and recover from them. These e orts can be di cult because of their inherent complexity and uncertainty; however, even small improvements in our ability to manage these impacts can save lives and preserve livelihoods. This presentation explores research e orts focused on managing impacts, and it discusses how an interdisciplinary approach to problem solving can enhance the e ectiveness of the solutions.


Ecology, Extinction and Conservation of Fish and Fisheries in Relation to Global Change: A Case Study of Arapaima in the Amazon

Leandro CastelloAssistant Professor, Fish and Wildlife Conservation, Virginia Tech

Arapaima are one of the largest and most historically and economically important shes of
the Amazon Basin. With escalating pressures and in ective management, their populations have become overexploited and even locally extinct. Fortunately, the air-breathing behavior of arapaima allows monitoring them with unparalleled accuracy. Arapaima also possess migratory and reproductive characteristics that are conducive to sustainable management. In places where local shers monitor arapaima populations and follow management rules, arapaima populations have been rebounding. The question remains as to whether increases in sustainably managed populations will compensate for losses from continued overexploitation and extinctions.

Balancing Public Health with Water Sustainability Goals in an Era of Global Change

Amy Pruden-Bagchi, Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Virginia Tech

The development of antibiotics and water infrastructure are two of the greatest achievements in human history. Both laid the foundation for a quality of life that our ancestors could
have never imagined. However, the rapidly changing world that we live in challenges this foundation: our infrastructure is aging, water availability and quality are diminishing, the climate is changing, and antibiotic resistance and the threat of emerging infectious disease is rising. Here we consider the example of antibiotic resistance in recycled water and how new technologies and new ways of thinking may serve to advance both water sustainability and public health.


Growing Population Demand for High-Quality Resources

Julie ShortridgeAssistant Professor and Extension Specialist, Biological Systems Engineering, Virginia Tech

Sustainable provision of water in the future is not only threatened by climate change, but also by increasing demand, land use evolution, and reductions in water quality. It is urgentthat water infrastructure be designed in a way that can accommodate these pressures, but predicting their long-term impacts remains a challenge. This talk will discuss key challenges and approaches for sustainable water provision under global change, and how these issues vary in di erent regions of the world.


The Hidden Cost of Clean Air

William HopkinsProfessor, Fish and Wildlife Conservation; Director, Global Change Center, Virginia Tech

History reminds us that some practices intended to solve one environmental issue can unintentionally contribute to creating undesirable side effects. For example, technologies designed to protect air quality from coal combustion emissions ultimately contributed to a solid waste stream that impairs surface and groundwater around the world. Several case studies will be used to illustrate these broader conservation and human health concerns resulting from unintended consequences of new technologies as we transition to alternative energy sources.


Genetics of Adaptive Tradeoffs by Plants

David HaakAssistant Professor, Plant Physiology, Pathology and Weed Science, Virginia Tech

Food security remains challenging for both developed and developing nations, particularly in light of a changing climate. Plant pathogens alone account for an estimated10–16% of global harvest losses, and the additional e ects of droughtstress and annual crop losses are estimated at hundreds of billions of dollars. Mitigating these effects via sustainably adapted crops relies on altered management practices and suitable genetic variation for novel resistance or tolerance. We will explore the use of natural genetic variation in developing resources that will allow the introduction of stable traits in high performing cultivars, with an aim toward meeting the grand challenge of providing sustainable, secure food for a predicted population of 9 billion by 2050.

Climate Change Alters the Phenology and Magnitude of Biogeochemical Cycles

Zach EastonAssociate Professor, Department of Biological Systems Engineering, Virginia Tech

Climate change is about more than just increased temperatures and
altered rainfall. It also a impacts ecosystem cycling and transport of critical nutrients and sediments, which can impact agricultural productivity, water quality, and air quality. These altered biogeochemical cycles can even increase global climate change via feedback loops. This discussion will focus on the principles of climate change as they relate to biogeochemical and sediment cycling at the land-air-water interface utilizing examples from the Chesapeake Bay watershed and estuary and the Blue Nile Basin of Ethiopia.


Terrestrial Systems and Water Dynamics

Stephen SchoenholtzDirector, Virginia Water Resources Research Center and Professor, Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation, Virginia Tech

Water demand is expected to increase by approximately 55% globally by 2050 and we could face a 40% global supply gap by 2030. Forest cover comprises 1/3 of landmass globally and forests play a crucial role by providing a range of ecosystem services including plentiful and clean water. However, declining forest cover is a well- documented component of global change. This presentation will describe vital relationships between forests and water and will illustrate global changes a ecting forests in relation to water resources, the human condition, and sustainability.


Invasive Species as a Driver of Global Change

Jacob BarneyAssociate Professor, Department of Plant Physiology, Pathology and Weed Science, Virginia Tech

Invasive species are widely considered one of the top five global threats to biodiversity. They cost the U.S. economy billions annually. These introduced organisms crowd out natives, change re cycles, and threaten agriculture. New invaders may be introduced unintentionally as exotic bioenergy crops that possess potentially invasive traits. This presentation will cover the history, epidemiology, and consequences of exotic species, focusing on plants.