News & Events

The latest climate change news from Cornell and beyond.


Atmospheric warming heats bottom of ice sheets, as well as the top

Mike Willis installing a Continuous GPS station at the Lynaes Peninsula in Eastern Greenland. The GPS is part of network designed to continuously weight the Greenland Ice Sheet. Photo by Thomas Nylen, NSF, 2007.

Mike Willis installing a Continuous GPS station at the Lynaes Peninsula in Eastern Greenland. The GPS is part of network designed to continuously weight the Greenland Ice Sheet. Photo by Thomas Nylen, NSF, 2007.

Cornell Media Relations Office [2015-01-21]:

A team of scientists led by Cornell University Earth and Atmospheric Sciences researcher Michael Willis, has published a new paper showing for the first time that meltwater from the surface of an ice cap in northeastern Greenland can make its way beneath the ice and become trapped, refilling a subglacial lake. This meltwater provides heat to the bottom of the ice sheet.

These groundbreaking findings provide new information about atmospheric warming and its affect on the critical zone at the base of the ice. The warmth provided by the water could make the ice sheet move faster and alter how it responds to the changing climate.

The research is detailed in a new paper published online by the journal Nature on Jan. 21. The paper was written by Willis, who is also an adjunct faculty member in the geological sciences department at UNC-Chapel Hill’s College of Arts and Sciences, along with co-authors Bradley Herried, Polar Geospatial Center, University of Minnesota; Michael Bevis, School of Earth Sciences at Ohio State University and Robin Bell, Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University.

Read the whole article.

View Mike Hoffmann’s TEDx talk online

On November 8, Mike Hoffmann, associate dean in College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, offered a TEDx talk, “Climate change: It’s Time to Raise Our Voices,” at the annual TEDx ChemungRiver 2014, held at the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York.

Hoffmann encourages us to become aware, accept the reality, and then act by raising our voices to address this grand challenge facing our generation … and those that follow.

Hoffman’s talk is now available online.

Students form nucleus for sustainability alliance


sustainability alliance meeting

Courtney Koelbel ’15, representing Cornell University Sustainable Design, reads suggestions Dec. 6 on possible governance procedures in the developing sustainability alliance.

Cornell Chronicle [2014-12-16]:

Passionate about strengthening sustainability, battling climate change and improving a polluted world, Cornell students packed a large Warren Hall meeting room Dec. 6 to begin forming an alliance of more than three dozen campus sustainability groups.

Over 100 students from across campus representing about 40 clubs congregated to contemplate strategy to link groups under one umbrella organization. “Our main purpose is uniting the [large variety of sustainability] clubs … We have already a huge presence on campus, so there’s something to be said about collective organizing,” said Emma Johnston ’16, co-president of Cornell Sustainability Hub.

Organizers of the new sustainability alliance discussed governance, the resources it may provide, how the group will help engage with nonmember students and a framework for communications. As individual clubs focus on various projects, the umbrella group – similar in scope to a sustainability congress, with representatives from each club – intends to organize itself by holding meetings and communicating with each other via social media.

Read the whole article.

Carbon-trapping ‘sponges’ can cut greenhouse gases

A scanning electron microscopy image of the amine sorbent.(Genggeng Qi)

A scanning electron microscopy image of the amine sorbent.(Genggeng Qi)

Cornell Chronicle [2014-12-15]:

In the fight against global warming, carbon capture – chemically trapping carbon dioxide before it releases into the atmosphere – is gaining momentum, but standard methods are plagued by toxicity, corrosiveness and inefficiency. Using a bag of chemistry tricks, Cornell materials scientists have invented low-toxicity, highly effective carbon-trapping “sponges” that could lead to increased use of the technology.

A research team led by Emmanuel Giannelis, the Walter R. Read Professor of Engineering in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, has invented a powder that performs as well or better than industry benchmarks for carbon capture. A paper with their results, co-authored by postdoctoral associates Genggeng Qi and Liling Fu, appeared Dec. 12 in Nature Communications.

Used in natural gas and coal-burning plants, the most common carbon capture method today is called amine scrubbing, in which post-combustion, carbon dioxide-containing flue gas passes through liquid vats of amino compounds, or amines, which absorb most of the carbon dioxide. The carbon-rich gas is then pumped away – sequestered – or reused. The amine solution is extremely corrosive and requires capital-intensive containment.

Read the whole article.

Researcher calls for new ‘science of climate diversity’

Jonathon Schuldt

Jonathon Schuldt

Cornell Chronicle [2014-12-09]:

There is cloud hanging over climate science, but one Cornell expert on communication and environmental issues says he knows how to help clear the air.

In the December issue of Nature Climate Change, Jonathon Schuldt ’04, assistant professor of communication, joins co-author Adam Pearson ’03, assistant professor of psychology at Pomona College, to argue that only by creating a “science of climate diversity” that helps guide researchers and public leaders can climate science and the larger climate-change movement overcome a crippling lack of ethnic and racial diversity.

“There is an invisible but very real barrier to climate engagement,” Schuldt said. “We need to engage with all kinds of diverse folks if we’re going to face this challenge. It will be a problem if the perception, and the reality, is that it’s a bunch of white male scientists at the table.”

Read the whole article.

Mitigating climate change with soil conservation practices

Cornell soil scientist Johannes Lehmann speaks about climate change mitigation strategies for the UN COP 20 Climate Change Conference held Dec. 2014 in Lima, Peru. Lehmann addresses the potential of biochar as an important and immediate option for sequestering carbon and improving soil health.

News roundup

Recent articles from the Cornell Chronicle:

Expert offers feasible, statewide green energy plan [2014-11-20] - With humanity facing the inevitable rise in the average global surface temperature, Tony Ingraffea said green energy solutions – where New York state plays a leading role – could kindle a larger effort. “We’re in for some tough times with climate change,” said Ingraffea, the Dwight C. Baum Professor Emeritus in Engineering, in his keynote address at the fourth Cornell President’s Sustainable Campus Committee annual summit Nov. 18. Read more.

Land use looms as large factor in global warming [2014-12-03] - For the world’s deteriorating environment, don’t blame burning fossil fuels exclusively. Land use and land cover changes contribute about 40 percent to “radiative forcing,” a key underlying factor in global warming, according to Cornell environmental scientists writing in the latest Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics (Dec. 3).

Cornell to buy all of proposed Black Oak Wind Farm’s energy [2014-12-08] - Making a stride toward reducing carbon emission, Cornell University has agreed to purchase all electricity generated by the proposed Black Oak Wind Farm in Enfield, New York, which is pending municipal approvals. This purchase represents 20 percent of the university’s total annual electricity use – enough energy to power approximately 5,000 homes.

White Thanksgiving dreams die with warming reality

Cornell Chronicle 2014-11-12:

White Thanksgiving table from NRCCIf you’re dreaming of a white Thanksgiving, dream on.

For winter-hardened places like Chicago, Indianapolis, Detroit and Beckley, West Virginia, the chance of measureable snow on the ground for Nov. 27 – this year’s date for Thanksgiving – is practically nil.

In Anchorage, Alaska, the chance of measureable snow on Nov. 27 fell dramatically between 1950-79 and 1980-2013, according to data examined by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Northeast Regional Climate Center at Cornell. On the date of Nov. 27, from 1950 to 1979, there was snow on the ground in all but two of the years in which climate data were recorded. For the latter three decades, the probability of at least an inch of snow dropped to 79 percent.

Des Moines, Iowa, which once held an ample chance for the white stuff on Nov. 27 at 23 percent, holds a 9 percent probability in this most-recent three-decade period. Snowy Burlington, Vermont, dropped from 37 to 24 percent; Madison, Wisconsin, went from 33 to 21 percent; and Sioux Falls, South Dakota, fell from 37 to 26 percent.

Chances are in this new period that precipitation that once fell as snow, falls as rain. While Thanksgiving occurs late in autumn, these statistics support the idea of a warming globe, says Arthur T. DeGaetano, Cornell professor of earth and atmospheric sciences and director of the Northeast Regional Climate Center.

For Ithaca, New York, home to the climate center, the chances of a white Thanksgiving have dropped from 27 to 18 percent.

Read the whole article.

Iceland president: Green energy forges good business


Grímsson enjoys a visit to Cornell’s Icelandic horse herd, a unique herd of full-sibling horses used by the Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine to study their immune systems. (Jason Koski/University Photography)

Grímsson enjoys a visit to Cornell’s Icelandic horse herd, a unique herd of full-sibling horses used by the Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine to study their immune systems. (Jason Koski/University Photography)

Cornell Chronicle [2014-11-24]:

Explaining how Iceland tapped into the Earth for geothermal energy and captured water resources to develop renewable electricity, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, president of Iceland, told a Cornell audience how his country remade itself from one of Europe’s poorest into a nation that is financially and environmentally secure.

“It’s not really about energy, it’s about the economy,” said Grímsson. “It’s about the economic transformation of the country to realize that the move from fossil fuel over to clean energy is fundamentally good business – it’s fundamentally the road to prosperity and economic achievement.” …

Market forces drove out fossil fuel and coal, and geothermal and hydro energy replaced it. “This was done not on the basis of a grand plan; not on the basis of a visionary government policy from 30 or 40 years ago,” Grímsson said. “It has been done through localized, profit-driven initiatives and actions taken by small towns, communities, different sectors, companies and so on. The end result is an extraordinary transformation.”

Read the whole article.

Nov. 8: Mike Hoffmann TEDx talks climate change

Update [2014-12-18]: View Mike Hoffmann’s talk.

Mike Hoffmann

Mike Hoffmann

Via Cornell Chronicle Essentials blog [2014-11-04]:

In this warming world of rising oceans, increased drought, melting ice caps, stronger storms, stranger weather and impending food problems, Mike Hoffmann, associate dean in College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, offers a TEDx talk, “Climate change: It’s Time to Raise Our Voices,” at the annual TEDx ChemungRiver 2014, held at the Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York, Saturday, Nov. 8.

While the program is officially sold out, Cornellians and others can catch the live stream here. Hoffmann will be the fourth speaker in the 11 a.m. time slot.

In personal terms, Hoffmann, a faculty fellow at Cornell’s Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, will explain why we must pay attention to climate change and what actions we must take.