News Feature

Blue Hill
Originally published in The Weekly Packet, June 20, 2019
Forum addresses science, youth and climate change

Addressing climate change

Blue Hill Consolidated School science teacher Nell Herrmann discusses how she teaches students about climate change at a June 12 forum at Blue Hill Public Library.

Photo by Anne Berleant Order prints of selected PBP photos.

by Anne Berleant

Climate change, its potential local effects, and how to teach the subject to students, brought 25 citizens to the Blue Hill Public Library June 12.

Sean Birkel, research scientist with the University of Maine Climate Change Institute, and Nell Herrmann, science teacher at Blue Hill Consolidated School, were guest speakers at the Community Issues Forum series, organized and facilitated by Dr. Gregory Bush.

“Climate change is real,” Birkel said, showing graphs and charts of the rise in mean temperatures and the decrease in Arctic ice.

If sea ice shrinks, Birkel said, the result will be more ocean water, which then traps more heat and then warms the ocean more and melts more ice.

Between 1904 and 1934, winters could bring inches of ice over areas of Penobscot Bay. In 1911, the ice was five inches thick from Brooksville to Belfast. Five major freezes occurred from Brooksville to Castine during that period. The last time the bay froze during winter was 1971.

“Things were different a century ago,” Birkel said.

To help track climate change, Birkel developed the Climate Reanalyzer, which presents climate data sets and models for research, students and the general public, available at

Based on computer modeling, the northeastern U.S. could warm 2-4° Fahrenheit by 2050 and up to 8°F by 2100 if CO2 emissions are not curtailed, Birkel said. For Maine, with its colder weather and plentiful water resources, this could lead to the migration of climate refugees, as people move to areas that better withstand the effects of climate change.

For Herrmann, the “most effective way to get kids interested in science is to do science.” With climate change, the challenge is teaching them the science “without terrifying them.”

Herrmann has been involved in several research expeditions in the Arctic and Greenland, where she Skyped with students and used those experiences in the classroom. Part of a team studying the effect of changing plant life cycles on migrating caribou in Greenland, who are unable to adapt to their food source now blooming before the caribou arrive, Herrmann had her students set up similar equipment to examine the effects of warmer temperatures on different plant life cycles. Students also learned about ocean acidification in Blue Hill Bay, examined ice changes on native Antarctic animals, and connected with scientists on the science of ice cores.

“These are just a few ways I’ve introduced some basic climate change concepts to kids,” Herrmann said.

Student involvement and response to Herrmann’s teaching varies, she said. “It depends a lot on where kids are coming from….There are socioeconomic issues in this community that make it hard for students to care because they’re concerned with getting their basic needs met.”