Past & 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.
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.
- Arctic glacial lakes, catchment and climate linkages
- Southern Alaska lakes
- North American climate over the past two millennia: Synthesizing paleoclimate records from diverse archives
- Multi-scale Synthesis and Terrestrial Model Intercomparison Project (MsTMIP)
- Mega-droughts, Climate Change and the Southwest: Stoneman Lake, Arizona, Paleoenvironments Drilling Project
Who we are
Faculty and research staff Accordion Open
- Anderson, R. Scott; Professor (Paleoecology, Forest History)
- Erb, Michael; Postdoctoral Researcher (Paleoclimatology, Climate modeling, Data assimilation)
- Huntzinger, Deborah; Associate Professor (Land-atmosphere Carbon Dynamics, Carbon Capture and Storage)
- Kaufman, Darrell; Regents’ Professor (Paleoclimate, Quaternary Geochronology)
- McKay, Nicholas; Assistant Professor (Climate Dynamics, Paleoclimate)
- Routson, Cody; Assistant Research Professor (Extreme Hydroclimate Events)
- Schwalm, Christopher; Assistant Research Professor (Land-atmosphere Interactions)
- Wade, Jennifer; Assistant Research Professor (Carbon Capture and Storage)
- Whitacre, Katherine; Laboratory Manager
Research laboratories Accordion Closed
Collaborators Accordion Closed
Center for Ecosystem Science and Society
Colorado Plateau Stable Isotope Lab
ITEP Tribal Climate Change Program
USGS-NAU Macrobotanical Lab
Keck Carbon Cycle AMS Laboratory
LacCore National Lacustrine Core Facility
Past Global Changes (PAGES)
North American Carbon Program (NACP)
Anna Michalak Lab at Carnegie Institution for Sciences
Oak Ridge National Laboratory Distributed Active Archive Center (DAAC) for Biogeochemical Dynamics
National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC)
Degree programs Accordion Open
- Bachelor’s of Science (BS) degrees in either Environmental Sciences or Geology
- Traditional research- and thesis-based Environmental Sciences and Policy (including the Paleoenvironments emphasis), and Geology Master’s of Science (MS) degrees.
- Professional Science Master’s in Climate Science & Solutions: a course- and internship-based program emphasizing career skills and an interdisciplinary approach to addressing issues related to climate change.
- The Climate & Environmental Change emphasis of the PhD in Earth Sciences & Environmental Sustainability is an innovative and flexible interdisciplinary program that integrates an understanding of the Earth system with predictive models to support sustainable management in the face of climate change.
Opportunities Accordion Closed
Our research laboratories 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.
Arctic glacial 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 Model Intercomparison Project (MsTMIP). 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. Students interested in this project will work on analyzing the response (and sensitivity) of models to past and future climatic conditions. The goal is to identify the model refinements needed to improve carbon cycle simulation and to quantify potential biases in predictive/future model simulations. Students will also have the opportunity to engage with the broader terrestrial biosphere modeling community in a large, collaborative, multi-institutional effort. Funding support through Teaching Assistantships (when available).
Graduate-level courses Accordion Closed
- 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