News & Events

The latest climate change news from Cornell and beyond.


Students study responses to flooding in new course

Cornell Chronicle article [2014-04-07]

Students learn firsthand about social dimensions of water resource management in Thailand during a January trip to Bangkok. (Photo: Jarinee Iochawna)

Students learn firsthand about social dimensions of water resource management in Thailand during a January trip to Bangkok. (Photo: Jarinee Iochawna)

In September 2011, remnants of a tropical storm dropped 12 inches of rain in one day on New York’s Southern Tier, flooding the cities of Owego, Binghamton and surrounding areas, to the toll of an estimated $500 million in property damage. On the other side of the world, Thailand was in the midst of one of the worst monsoon seasons in recorded history, which resulted in 815 deaths and $45 billion in damage.

Shorna Allred, associate professor of natural resources in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS), wondered what lessons could be learned from the responses to these two natural disasters. She studies the social dimensions of natural resource management, and much of her research focuses on flooding.

“Flooding is obviously a biophysical phenomenon – some areas are flood-prone – but it can be exacerbated, and alleviated, by things we do as humans,” Allred said. “Is there something we in New York could learn from Thailand’s experience, and is there anything in our experience that we could share with them?”

Read the whole article.

5 crops that will be harder to grow in a warmer world

David Wolfe

David Wolfe

From National Geographic Daily News [2014-04-05]:

“The reality of climate change has already hit farms, ranches, and orchards around the globe, according to the latest report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. While some crops will grow better in a warmer world, the report found that the negative impacts—including widespread crop damage, smaller harvests, and higher food costs—far outweigh any upsides.

“The report predicts that yields of major food crops like corn, wheat, and rice are likely to start decreasing by 2030 and will continue to decline by up to 2 percent a decade.

“No particular crops are likely to disappear any time soon, says David Wolfe, professor of horticulture at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and committee member of Cornell’s Institute for Climate Change and Agriculture. Still, he predicts that farmers of the near future will likely have to take increasingly drastic and expensive measures to cope with epic droughts, summer heat, rogue frosts, and ever-changing growing seasons. ‘If it was as simple as gradual warming, farmers could plant around it,’ he says. ‘But as this global experiment has been playing out, farmers are seeing things they’ve never seen before.’”

Read the whole article.

Sustainable farm energy virtual tours start April 4


A solar powered pumping system in Pultney, NY

Solar powered pumping system, Pultney, NY

From the Cornell Small Farms Program:

Are you looking to stabilize rising fuel and energy costs on your farm or homestead?  Are you seeking more sustainable sources of energy?  In this upcoming four-part webinar series, you’ll meet an organic vegetable farmer, grape grower & winemaker, sunflower & biodiesel producer, and pastured livestock farmer who will lead you through a virtual tour of their sustainable farm energy systems and ecological production techniques.

  • April 4: Organic Vegetable Farm Cools with the Earth: Warms with the Sun
    Noon – 1:00pm with Jay Armour of Four Winds Farm, Gardiner, NY
  • April 11: Family Vineyard Shrinks Carbon Footprint by 40%
    Noon – 1:00pm with Art Hunt of Hunt Country Vineyards, Branchport, NY
  • April 18: Sunflowers & Canola to Fuel: Dairy Becomes Biodiesel Production Facility
    Noon – 1:00pm with Roger Rainville of Borderview Farm, Alburgh, Vermont
  • April 25: Thirsty Livestock? Use Sun or Wind to Power a Remote Watering System
    Noon – 1:00pm with Jonathan Barter of Barter Farm, Branchport NY

Preregistration required. More information, registration links.

Upcoming seminars

Seminars of interest on the Cornell campus:

See also the Atkinson Center Sustainability Events Calendar.

ABM Installing 2 MW Solar Plant at Cornell University

Solar Array Expected to Save Over 730 metric tons of CO2 Annually

An artistic rendering on how the solar panel array might look. (Graphic: Distributed Sun)

An artistic rendering on how the solar panel array might look. (Graphic: Distributed Sun)

From news release in Wall Street Journal published online 2014-03-19:

ABM (NYSE:ABM), a leading provider of facility solutions, announced today that ABM’s energy business started construction on a 2 MW solar array to be implemented on Cornell University’s campus in Ithaca, NY, representing the Ivy League university’s first large solar endeavor. ABM will provide Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) and Operations & Maintenance (O&M) services. ABM joint venture partner Building Energy will finance and own the solar power plant in partnership with Distributed Sun, LLC, who developed the project for Cornell.

The 6,500+ panel ‘Lansing’ solar array will provide Cornell University with fixed, low-cost energy rates over the life of the 30-year agreement, allowing Cornell to save money as utility costs are expected to rise in the coming years.

“We are pleased to partner with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), Distributed Sun, LLC, and ABM to launch Cornell’s first large solar project,” said Cornell Vice President for Facilities Services Kyujung Whang. “This facility represents a significant step to advance Cornell’s clean energy portfolio. The Lansing solar facility aligns with carbon reduction goals of Cornell, Tompkins County and New York State.”

The system is expected to generate just over 2.2 million kilowatt hours (kWh) per year on average. Additionally, a section of the plant will be designated for academic use, which allows students physical access to manipulate 10 solar panels and access to the Web-based dashboard of the solar array state-of-the-art monitoring software. It is planned that energy and real-time energy use data will be publicly available on the Web.

Read the whole news release.

See also: Proposed solar array offers a bright energy future [Cornell Chronicle 2013-07-13]

White House website could undermine climate change motivation

Jonathon Schuldt

Jonathon Schuldt

From Cornell Media Relations Office tip sheet [2014-03-19]:

Jonathon Schuldt, professor of communication in Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and an expert on effectively communicating environmental issues, says while the new White House website provides accurate data, it could give people a false sense of security and undermine motivation to stop climate change.

Schuldt says:

“A real barrier to effective climate change communication is that the public tends to think about climate consequences as a very distant thing — something that threatens faraway countries or the North Pole.

“The new government website may be an attempt to shrink this distance, to psychologically put climate change in Americans’ backyards, so that we are more motivated to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and take other climate-mitigating actions.

“Although there’s good reason to expect this could be an effective strategy for promoting more progressive climate policy, it might not be a magic bullet. For example, the website might make some citizens and businesses realize that while their neighbors will be negatively affected, they will fare relatively well, which could give them a false sense of security and undermine their motivation to stop climate change.”

For interviews contact:
Melissa Osgood
office: 607-255-2059
cell: 716-860-0587

Upcoming seminars

Seminars of interest on the Cornell campus:

Dry future climate could reduce orchid bee habitat

Margarita López-Uribe

Margarita López-Uribe

During Pleistocene era climate changes, neotropical orchid bees that relied on year-round warm, wet weather found their habitats reduced by 30 to 50 percent, according to a Cornell study that used computer models and genetic data to understand bee distributions during past climate changes.

In previous studies, researchers have tracked male and female orchid bees and found that while females stay near their nests, male orchid bees travel, with one study concluding they roam as far as 7 kilometers per day. These past findings, corroborated by genetic data in the current study, reveal that males are more mobile than females.

The study, published March 14 online in the journal Molecular Ecology, has important implications for future climate changes.

“The dataset tells us that if the tendency [in the future] is to have lower precipitation, in combination with deforestation, the suitable habitat for the bees is going to be reduced,” said Margarita López-Uribe, the paper’s first author and a graduate student in the lab of Bryan Danforth, Cornell professor of entomology and co-author of the study.

Read the whole article. [Cornell Chronicle 2014-03-14]

Cornell earns third consecutive sustainability ‘gold star’

One of many components to make up the university's recent STARS score, composting discarded food scraps at the Cornell Composting Facility. (Robert Barker/University Photography)

One of many components to make up the university’s recent STARS score, composting discarded food scraps at the Cornell Composting Facility. (Robert Barker/University Photography)

In the continuing effort to save energy, enhance environmental operations and increase sustainability research and education, Cornell earned its third consecutive gold STARS rating from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.

STARS – the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System – is a self-reporting tool that colleges and universities can use to measure progress and compare their rankings. Cornell moved up a notch – at 73.34 – to become one of 58 schools earning gold status out of 308 rated schools for 2013.

One of the key changes in STARS scoring came through the campus dining subcategory, as the score moved from a 5.0 last year to 7.4. About 45 percent of Cornell’s food expenditures meet one or more of the STARS criteria: Cornell earned points for obtaining dining hall food grown and processed from within a 250-mile radius; using USDA certified organic food; using Marine Stewardship Council certified seafood; and for using fair trade foods.

For the Cornell dining halls, the university grows its own fresh potatoes, winter squash and corn in season; purchases about 27 percent of its fresh produce locally and regionally; and makes its own dairy products.

The university received innovation credits for participating in the national Healthy Gardens, Healthy Youth project; “Sustainability in Skills for Success,” a human resources program that encourages staff to reduce their environmental impact; the Statler Hotel’s EarthView Sustainable Hospitality program; and the new Cornell Institute for Climate Change and Agriculture program, which helps to identify new crops to grow in a climate-changing world.

Read the whole article [Cornell Chronicle 2014-03-13]

How We Drilled the Deepest Ice Core in West Antarctica, and Why

Up next in the Paleontological Research Institution’s Glacier Lecture Series

Two Miles of Climate History:  How We Drilled the Deepest Ice Core in West Antarctica, and Why 

John Fegyveresi
Pennsylvania State University
Sunday, March 16, 2:00 – 3:00 pm
Cayuga Nature Center

Learn about ice-coring science and the effort involved in drilling operations and science logging in a field campaign in West Antarctica. John will discuss the climate science we’re learning from the ice core, and what we know about the stability of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet.

John Fegyveresi is a Ph.D. candidate in Geoscience at Penn State University, working with Dr. Richard Alley. He has been to Antarctica five times.