News & Events

The latest climate change news from Cornell and beyond.

 

Climate change caused empire’s fall, tree rings reveal

A view of the coffin when originally sampled in 1938.

A view of the coffin when originally sampled in 1938.

A handful of tree ring samples stored in an old cigar box have shed unexpected light on the ancient world, thanks to research by Cornell archaeologist Sturt Manning and collaborators at Cornell, Arizona, Chicago, Oxford and Vienna, forthcoming in the June issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science.

The samples were taken from an Egyptian coffin; Manning also examined wood from funeral boats buried near the pyramid of Sesostris III. He used a technique called “dendro radiocarbon wiggle matching,” which calibrates radiocarbon isotopes found in the sample tree rings with patterns known from other places in the world that have already identified chronologies, such as the long European oak chronology or the bristle cone pine trees of North America. …

The samples showed a small, unusual anomaly following the year 2200 B.C. Paleoclimate research has suggested a major short-term arid event about this time. …

“This radiocarbon anomaly would be explained by a change in growing season, i.e., climate, dating to exactly this arid period of time,” says Manning. “We’re showing that radiocarbon and these archaeological objects can confirm and in some ways better date a key climate episode.”

That climate episode, says Manning, had major political implications. There was just enough change in the climate to upset food resources and other infrastructure, which is likely what led to the collapse of the Akkadian Empire and affected the Old Kingdom of Egypt and a number of other civilizations, he says.

“The tree rings show the kind of rapid climate change that we and policymakers fear,” says Manning.

Read the whole article. [Cornell Chronicle 2014-05-14]


Control methane now, greenhouse gas expert warns

Robert Howarth (Robert Barker/University Photography)

Robert Howarth (Robert Barker/University Photography)

As the shale gas boom continues, the atmosphere receives more methane, adding to Earth’s greenhouse gas problem. A Cornell ecology professor fears that we may not be many years away from an environmental tipping point – and disaster.

“We have to control methane immediately, and natural gas is the largest methane pollution source in the United States,” said Robert Howarth, the David R. Atkinson Professor of Ecology and Environmental Biology, who explains in an upcoming journal article that Earth may reach the point of no return if average global temperatures rise by 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius in future decades. “If we hit a climate-system tipping point because of methane, our carbon dioxide problem is immaterial. We have to get a handle on methane, or increasingly risk global catastrophe.”

Howarth’s study, “A Bridge to Nowhere: Methane Emissions and the Greenhouse Gas Footprint of Natural Gas,” will be published May 20 in the journal Energy Science and Engineering.

Read the whole article. [Cornell Chronicle 2014-05-13]


Johnson’s green fund to help combat climate change

The Cornell Energy Corps recently launched a campaign on the Indiegogo online fundraising platform to support energy auditing training, purchase auditing equipment and send team members to an energy efficiency conference.

The Cornell Energy Corps recently launched a campaign on the Indiegogo online fundraising platform to support energy auditing training, purchase auditing equipment and send team members to an energy efficiency conference.

The Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management’s Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise at Cornell announced the launch of a green revolving fund (GRF) to enhance energy conservation efforts in campus buildings. The GRF becomes part of a program that will help students gain experience leveraging technology and investment to combat climate change.

The launch of GRF stems from work by Energy Corps, a campuswide student organization established in 2012 dedicated to improving energy efficiency at Cornell. The fund will provide low-interest loans to colleges and departments across campus for investments in energy efficiency technology upgrades that yield significant financial returns.

“Energy Corps has done an amazing job catalyzing support for a GRF here at Cornell,” said Mark Milstein, director of the center and Johnson clinical professor of management. “By launching this program, we have the opportunity to provide students a unique educational opportunity that will have tremendous impact on campus and around the world.”

To date, Energy Corps has completed numerous projects across campus with estimated savings of more than $200,000 over the next seven years.

Read the whole article.[Cornell Chronicle 2014-05-13]


Thinkers tackle atomic war, climate change in diacritics

diacritics-coverFrom the Cornell Chronicle [2014-05-08]:

The struggle to understand how to read literature and write under nuclear threat inspired a special issue of diacritics, the review of contemporary criticism published since 1971 by Cornell’s Department of Romance Studies. Richard Klein, professor emeritus of French, edited that issue and – 30 years later – has contributed an essay to the new issue on the subject of climate change.

Contributors to the new issue examine how we think about literature differently today from when we more directly experienced the fear of the mushroom cloud, says Karen Pinkus ’84, professor of Italian and comparative literature in the College of Arts and Sciences, who edited the special issue. “The nuclear threat hasn’t gone away, but it’s been pushed to the margins. Most people don’t have moments of panic anticipating a nuclear bomb.”

Klein’s new essay is titled “Climate Change Through the Lens of Nuclear Criticism.” He writes: “It was in 1945, at the start of the nuclear era, that humans for the first time created the capacity to destroy civilization. Since then, we have arrived at new means to accomplish the same end.”

“Confronting climate change requires us to muster all the resources to deal with it, and that includes philosophical thinking about the nature of what we’re confronting,” adds Pinkus. “That broader perspective is essential, as it offers another way of thinking – perhaps an impractical way, but one that it is more attuned to the enormity of the challenges – that the more local technical and scientific solutions can’t.”

Read the whole article.


National Climate Assessment released

David Wolfe

David Wolfe

From Climate Change Is Already Here, Says Massive Government Report, Huff Post Politics, May 6, 2014

“Climate change is no longer a distant threat, but a real and present danger in the United States, according to a government report issued Tuesday.

“The report is the latest update from the U.S. Global Change Research Program, and details ways that climate change — caused predominantly by the emission of heat-trapping greenhouse gases — is already being felt across the country.

“‘Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present,’ the report says in its introduction. …

“The report notes that American society and its infrastructure were built for the past climate — not the future. It highlights examples of the kinds of changes that state and local governments can make to become more resilient. One of the main takeaways, said David Wolfe, a professor of plant and soil ecology at Cornell University and a coauthor of the chapter on the Northeast, is that ‘you don’t want to look at the weather records of yesteryear to determine how to set up your infrastructure.’

“This report, said Wolfe, signals that the country is ‘beginning to move beyond the debate about whether climate change is real or not, and really getting down to rolling up our sleeves’ and addressing it.”

Read the whole article.

See also: Cornell Media Relations Office tip sheet.


Study to focus on rice genes, yield and climate

Susan McCouch

Susan McCouch

Cornell researchers received a $600,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to study relationships among rice genetics, crop yields and climate.

The USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture awarded 10 universities, including Cornell, a total of $6 million April 22 to research the effects of changing climate on agriculture production and to develop strategies and solutions for farmers and ranchers to supply the nation’s food.

At Cornell, researchers in the lab of principal investigator Susan McCouch, professor of plant breeding and genetics and of plant biology, and colleagues from climate science, agricultural economics and crop physiology, will use an interdisciplinary approach to address fundamental questions to improve rice production and breeding under climate variability.

The researchers will incorporate data into a new computer model developed by Joshua Woodard, assistant professor of applied economics and management at Cornell and project co-principal investigator, to determine associations between rice genome regions related to yield, real market data and different weather parameters.

Read the whole article. [Cornell Chronicle 2014-04-30]


Expert cautions: ‘Nature never forgets nor forgives’

Land-restoration expert Luc Gnacadja warned that the worldwide problem of soil erosion contributes to poverty and hunger and threatens security and freedom. (Robert Barker/University Photography)

Land-restoration expert Luc Gnacadja warned that the worldwide problem of soil erosion contributes to poverty and hunger and threatens security and freedom. (Robert Barker/University Photography)

In the 1930s the Dust Bowl ravaged the Great Plains, sending clouds of black dust into the sky and displacing tens of thousands of families. This disaster was due in part from the failure to use farming methods that would have prevented catastrophic erosion, said a renowned international voice for sustainable land development.

“One of my favorite quotes about soil is that of President F.D. Roosevelt, that ‘a nation that destroys its soil, destroys itself,” said Luc Gnacadja, delivering “Grounding Human Security: Land and Soil in the Global Sustainability Agenda,” the Jill and Ken Iscol Distinguished Environmental Lecture, at Cornell April 22.

Gnacadja, former executive secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, said he hopes we won’t forget the lessons learned from the ’30s. Yet careless plowing of soil and other unsustainable practices currently cause severe land degradation. An estimated 30 percent of global forest cover has been entirely cleared and a further 20 percent degraded, he said. Increasingly, inferior land combined with population growth means the world will need additional cropland the size of Brazil, the largest country in the Southern Hemisphere, by 2050, Gnacadja estimated.

This event was hosted by the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future.

Read the whole article. [Cornell Chronicle 2014-04-23]


Earth Day Thoughts from President Skorton

By David J. Skorton, Cornell University President 

President David Skorton using the water bottle-filling station on the third floor of Day Hall. (sustainablecampus.cornell.edu)

President David Skorton using the water bottle-filling station on the third floor of Day Hall. (sustainablecampus.cornell.edu)

April 22 is Earth Day, the 44th anniversary of what many consider to be the birth of the environmental movement and an opportunity for all of us to consider the health and prospects of our shared planet and what we can do as individuals and as a university community to live more sustainably and effect positive change.

As someone who on the first Earth Day was driving a bright red “muscle car” with a V8 engine and a hefty appetite for leaded gasoline, I am encouraged by the collective progress we have made since 1970, but also increasingly aware that there is much more to do — and that all of us must help find solutions to safeguard our environment and live in a sustainable way.

Cornell is home to the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, one of the world’s premier centers for research on sustainability and, among many other initiatives, the organizer of the annual Jill and Ken Iscol Distinguished Environmental Lecture. I hope you’ll join me for tomorrow’s Iscol Lecture, featuring Luc Gnacadja, former executive secretary of the U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification, and our first Iscol Lecturer from the global south. Mr. Gnacadja will also be participating in several classes and other events during his visit to Cornell.

Read the whole message [Cornell Daily Sun 2014-04-21]


Atkinson Center launches postdoc fellowships

atkinson logoTo help solve the world’s significant environmental problems, Cornell’s David R. Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future announces new Atkinson Postdoctoral Fellowships.

Transcending traditional disciplines, challenges related to energy and environment and economic development have become interdependent and interconnected. “This program is designed to attract the most creative and passionate young minds into solving critical challenges facing the planet and humanity,” says Frank DiSalvo, director of the center and the John A. Newman Professor of Physical Science.

For the two-year commitment, each fellow will have two advisers, a lead faculty member from Cornell and one from an external organization. The focus subject areas include sustainable agriculture and food systems, energy, health, sustainable communities, new materials and computational sustainability.

Says DiSalvo: “We are particularly excited by this program because it will link Cornell postdocs to an external, nonacademic partner, which will help translate research to make a real and lasting difference.”

Read the whole article [Cornell Chronicle 2014-04-16]


Celebrate Earth Day by Reconnecting with Planet Earth

Laura Faye Tenenbaum

Laura Faye Tenenbaum

From Ingrid H. H. Zabel, Ph.D., Climate Change Education Manager, Paleontological Research Institution | Museum of the Earth | Cayuga Nature Center:

Please join us this Friday evening for the final talk in our Glacier Lecture Series. These talks are aimed at a general audience, so feel free to bring your family and friends!

Celebrate Earth Day by Reconnecting with Planet Earth
Laura Faye Tenenbaum
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Friday , April 18, 6:30 pm
Museum of the Earth

Celebrate Earth Day by learning about NASA’s role in understanding Earth, ocean, and climate science, and about constructive suggestions for dealing with the complex challenges of climate change for both scientists and non-scientists.

Laura Faye Tenenbaum is an Innovator in Science Communication and a member of the Earth Science Communications Team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where she is responsible for creating content for the climate website “Global Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet” and the “Earth Right Now” blog (climate.nasa.gov). Her team won two Webby Awards, the Internet industry’s highest honor, for Best Science Website. Her goal is to bring science, multimedia, and education together to attract a highly motivated and enthusiastic new generation that will be ready to take on the environmental challenges we face.
$10 fee; light refreshments will be served.

More information.