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?
- How can the physical and chemical properties of ice be used to model past climates, and quantify ice-sheet history in polar regions?
- How has climate impacted pre-historic and pre-industrial human societies?
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.
- Southern Alaska lakes
- Multi-scale Synthesis and Terrestrial Model Intercomparison Project (MsTMIP)
- Mega-droughts, Climate Change and the Southwest: Stoneman Lake, Arizona, Paleoenvironments Drilling Project
- Quantifying Holocene climate variations through data assimilation using proxies and climate-model simulations
- Abrupt change in climate and ecosystems: Where are the tipping points?
- The drought-dust nexus in the Four Corners region and impacts on society
- The impact of climate on Viking-age societies in the North Atlantic
- IODP Expedition 379: Amundsen Sea West Antarctic Ice Sheet History
- South Pole Ice Core Paleo-records
- West Antarctic Ice Sheet Divide Ice Core Paleo-records
Who we are
Faculty and research staff Accordion Open
- Jordon Bright – geochronology, ostracods, stable isotopes
- Michael Erb – paleoclimatology, climate modeling, data assimilation
- John Fegyveresi – paleoclimatology, glaciology, ice-core science
- Deborah Huntzinger – land-atmosphere carbon dynamics, carbon capture and storage
- Darrell Kaufman – paleoclimate, quaternary geochronology
- Nicholas McKay – climate dynamics, paleoclimate
- Cody Routson – extreme hydroclimate events
- R. Scott Anderson – paleoecology, forest history (Emeritus)
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)
US Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory (CRREL)
National Science Foundation Ice Core Facility (NSF-ICF)
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.
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