Climate and Environmental Change

Current Research

Environmental Change: Faculty and research staff

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Brett Dickson Associate Research Professor and co-Director, Lab of Landscape Ecology and Conservation Biology
Nancy Johnson PhD, Professor of Ecology and Director of Undergraduate Research Mentoring
Taylor Joyal PhD, Lecturer, Fluvial Geomorphology and Watershed Hydrology, Earth and Environmental Science Education
Roderic Parnell PhD, Professor, Hydrogeochemistry, Biogeochemistry
Robert "Buck" Sanford, Jr. PhD, Professor Biogeochemistry
Temuulen "Teki" Sankey PhD, Assistant Professor, Remote sensing:  multispectral and lidar data; GIS, geospacial analysis, geostatistics: Land cover change
Thomas Sisk PhD, Ecology, Conservation Biology, Olajos-Goslow Endowed Chair of Environmental Science and Policy for the Southwest
Abraham Springer PhD, Professor, Hydrogeology
 

Past and Present Climate Change: Faculty and research staff

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  • Anderson, R. Scott, Professor (Paleoecology, Forest history) 
  • Huntzinger, Deborah, Assistant Professor (Land-atmosphere carbon dynamics, carbon capture and storage) 
  • Kaufman, Darrell, Regents’ Professor (Paleoclimate, Quaternary geochronology)  
  • McKay, Nicholas, Assistant Professor (Climate dynamics, paleoclimate) 
  • Schwalm, Christopher, Assistant Research Professor (Land-atmosphere interactions) 
  • Wade, Jennifer, Assistant Research Professor (Carbon capture and storage) 
  • Fortin, David, Postdoctoral Researcher (Arctic lakes and catchments)
  • Routson, Cody, Postdoctoral Researcher (Extreme hydroclimate events)
  • Whitacre, Katherine, Laboratory Manager

Past and Present Climate Change

Why Study Past and Present Climate Change?


The climate system is always changing. The atmosphere, oceans, biosphere and frozen Earth are interlinked in feedback loops that both amplify and diminish global change. By studying climate changes, we learn how these feedbacks operate, allowing us to investigate the response of the climate system to factors that cause it to change. By studying climate changes of the past, we can take advantage of the natural experiments that the Earth has already conducted to investigate how ecosystems change with climate. By studying past and recent changes in the carbon reservoirs, we can better identify important carbon-cycle feedbacks and how they might affect future climate. This understanding can be used to test and improve our predictive models. Models that include both natural and human factors will no doubt give more accurate projections.

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Our research into Past and Present Climate Change addresses scientific questions including:

  • How does the climate system change on decadal to millennial time scales as it responds to natural and anthropogenic forcings?
  • How can we improve earth-system models, especially models used to foresee the effects of climate change, by using real-world data?
  • How will the terrestrial biosphere respond to (and influence) future climate and changes in atmospheric CO2 concentrations?

 We are developing leading-edge approaches to:

  • Developing and analyzing major databases of long-term climate to better characterize past changes and to compare with the output of Earth system models to investigate climate-system variability and change.
  • Creating the next generation reconstructions of long-term climate change from sedimentary records by exploiting new numerical models that encode a process-based understanding of earth-system interactions.
  • Quantifying the sensitivity of terrestrial biosphere to climate extremes, changing atmospheric CO2 concentrations, and other environmental drivers.
  • Evaluating models to identify which features are most important to improve for future carbon cycle and coupled carbon-climate projections.

News about our recent work

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Degree programs

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Opportunities for students

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  • Our research laboratories (see below) often have openings for undergraduate students to get involved in research related to Past and Present Climate Changes. The positions are usually paid with flexible working schedules. We encourage students to contact us to express your interest.
  • Arcticglacial lakes, catchment and climate: We invite applications for graduate students to join a new three-year NSF-funded project focusing on glacial-lacustrine sedimentation to investigate past and future climate change. Three assistantships are available at the MS and PhD levels. Students will develop complementary projects aimed at understanding the major processes that govern sedimentation in Arctic lakes in glaciated catchments. New glacier, hydrology, limnology, and sediment modern-process studies will provide the input data to calibrate and test process-based earth system models. Students will be involved in Arctic fieldwork, where they will gain a more comprehensive understanding of how glaciers, hydrology, and lakes relate to the Arctic system.
  • Carbon cycle science and biogeochemical modeling: We invite applicants for a graduate students to work on Phase II of the North American Carbon Program (NACP) Multi-scale synthesis and Terrestrial ModelIntercomparison Project (MsTMIP). One assistantship is available at the PhD level. The MsTMIP is focused on improving the diagnosis, attribution and prediction of carbon exchange at global scales using an ensemble of hindcast and forecast model simulations. The student will work on analyzing the response (and sensitivity) of models to past and future climatic conditions in the context of climate extremes (e.g., drought). The goal is to identify the model refinements needed to improve carbon cycle simulation and to quantify potential biases in predictive/future model simulations.  The student working on this project will have the opportunity to engage with the broader terrestrial biosphere modeling community in a large, collaborative, multi-institutional effort.

Research laboratories

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Current projects

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Some related groups at NAU

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Collaborative research groups and laboratories outside NAU

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Relevant graduate-level courses (in SESES)

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  • ENV 450/550 Historical Ecology
  • ENV 591 Science & Management of Greenhouse Gases
  • ENV 595 Global Climate Change
  • ENV 675 Topics in Environmental Discourse
  • EES 580 Climate Dynamics
  • EES 680 Earth & Environmental Data Analysis
  • EES 596 Quaternary Climate Change
  • GLG 537 Quaternary Geology
  • GLG 637 Quaternary Geochronology