News & Events

The latest climate change news from Cornell and beyond.


Seminar April 11: Water Sustainability and Climate Change

Jerry Schnoor

Jerry Schnoor

Ezra’s Round Table/Systems Seminar presents a member of the National Academy of Engineering Jerald L. Schnoor on the topic of Water Sustainability and Climate Change, Friday, April 11, 2014 at 12:00 noon in 253 Frank H. T. Rhodes Hall.

Water is a vital renewable resource for society which is increasingly stressed by multiple demands for people and industry, and by water quality impairments. Changes in water supply and demands for water are driven by population growth and climate change. In this talk, we discuss the effect of climate change on water supplies including: groundwater depletion, water quality impairment, and water reuse while proposing a more holistic management approach to the entire water cycle. Mitigation and adaptation to climate change are grand challenges of the 21st century which must be addressed to make real progress on water sustainability.

Jerry Schnoor is a member of the National Academy of Engineering (elected in 1999) for his pioneering work using mathematical models in science policy decisions. He testified many times before Congress on environmental protection including the importance of passing the 1990 Clean Air Act. Since 2003, he has served as the Editor-in-Chief ofEnvironmental Science and Technology, a leading journal in environmental science and engineering. He chaired the Board of Scientific Counselors for the Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Research and Development from 2000-2004; and recently served on the EPA Science Advisory Board and the National Advisory Environmental Health Sciences Council for NIEHS (2007-2011). In 2010, Schnoor received the Simon W. Freese Award from the American Society of Civil Engineers and the Athalie Richardson Irvine Clarke Prize for his research and international leadership on water sustainability. In 2013, he was honored as an Einstein Professor by the Chinese Academy of Sciences and lectured throughout China. Jerry’s research interests include water quality modeling, sustainability, phytoremediation, and climate change.

More information.

Warming temperatures push chickadees northward

The zone of overlap between two popular, closely related backyard birds is moving northward at a rate that matches warming winter temperatures, according to a study by researchers from Cornell and Villanova universities. The research will be published online in Current Biology March 6.

In a narrow strip – called a hybrid zone – that runs across the eastern U.S., Carolina chickadees from the south meet and interbreed with black-capped chickadees from the north. The new study finds that this hybrid zone, a convenient reference point for scientists tracking environmental changes, has moved northward at a rate of 0.7 mile per year over the last decade. That’s fast enough that the researchers added an extra study site partway through their project.

“A lot of the time climate change doesn’t really seem tangible,” said lead author Scott Taylor, a postdoctoral researcher at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “But here are these common little backyard birds we all grew up with, and we’re seeing them moving northward on relatively short time scales.”

Read the whole article [Cornell Chronicle 2012-03-06]

Skorton responds on divestment

David Skorton

David Skorton

The following is a response to the Faculty Senate resolution on Cornell investment and divestment strategies for a sustainable future from President David Skorton on Feb. 11:

The Faculty Senate Resolution on Cornell Investment and Divestment Strategies for a Sustainable Future, passed in December 2013, as well as the Student Assembly Resolution 32, “Toward a Responsible Endowment” to which I responded last spring, have generated considerable discussion on our campus and a broad spectrum of opinion on the issues raised. In this response to the Faculty Senate’s resolution, I offer some general comments on the role of the university in environmental sustainability, address the specifics of the Faculty Senate’s resolution, and offer a way forward.

As I said at the President’s Sustainable Campus Committee Summit last November, I believe the two biggest challenges facing our world are inequality and environmental sustainability. Therefore, I welcome the faculty’s passion on this issue and agree with the Faculty Senate resolution on the need to accelerate the pace of our efforts to achieve carbon neutrality. I accept and endorse the Faculty Senate’s recommendation that we seek a more aggressive reduction in the use of fossil fuels that could bring us to carbon neutrality by 2035. I say “could” because it will require a set of decisions and changes in behavior and priorities throughout the campus to achieve this more aggressive goal.

Read the whole statement [Cornell Chronicle 2014-02-26]

Hope in a Climate of Denial

dave and lauren soup and hopeDave Wolfe, professor in the Department of Horticulture has been warning the world about climate change and it’s impacts on agriculture and ecosystems for almost three decades. Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future communications director Lauren Chambliss explores ways to talk to people about something they don’t want to hear.

How do they maintain hope for the future, when the science is so alarming?

Find out at this week’s Soup and Hope, Thursday, February 27, 2014 at noon in Sage Chapel.

About Soup & Hope:

The 7th Annual winter series features stories to nourish a spirit of hope. Fill your bowl with soup. Add some bread. We’ll serve up six delicious speakers to share personal stories of hope. Open to all members of the Cornell community.

Co-sponsored by: Cornell Dining, Cornell United Religious Work (CURW) and Gannett Health Services, With additional support from: Engaged Learning + Research, Department of Horticulture, Employee Assembly, Residential Programs, and the Wellness Program.

Statler Earns Award as Greenest Hotel in New York State

Check in to conservation and check out sustainability: Cornell’s Statler Hotel will receive the 2014 Good Earthkeeping Award, the greenest award bestowed by the New York State Hospitality and Tourism Association.

The award recognizes the Statler, which has developed a culture of integrating superior environmental management practices. The honor will be given March 3 in Albany, N.Y., at the association’s 2014 Stars of the IndustryGala and Awards Banquet.

“This is a very prestigious award, and all of our staff and our student-employees are very proud to have earned it. Our initiatives align with the university goals established by President David Skorton. We are very serious about protecting the environment,” says Rick Adie ’75, the general manager of the Statler. “Here at the Cornell School of Hotel Administration, we teach our students state-of-the-art, exemplary business practices, and in doing so, we’re keeping the Earth.”

Read the whole article [Cornell Chronicle 2014-03-20]

Hi-tech fixes for climate change, fish tracking

Launching the Wave Glider from a small boat in rough seas off Hawaii. Photo: Katherine Kirk

Launching the Wave Glider from a small boat in rough seas off Hawaii. Photo: Katherine Kirk

Growing marine algae to solve society’s food, energy and climate change problems and a revolutionary tool to track marine fish populations are two topics Cornell oceanographer Charles Greene will discuss during presentations at the Ocean Sciences Meeting, Feb. 23-28 at the Hawaii Convention Center, Honolulu.

The first presentation is a tutorial talk about the challenges facing society due to man-made climate change and ocean acidification, both fed by the accumulation of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels.

Greene will also present his research using the Wave Glider, a self-propelled, solar-powered, remotely controlled autonomous vehicle for ocean observing. By harnessing wave power for propulsion, these vehicles can cover 12 miles a day and be used to collect data to analyze real-time changes and predict future impacts on marine fish populations and ecosystems.

Read the whole article. [Cornell Chronicle 2014-02-21]

Climate change pushing tropical birds up — and off — mountains

Tropical forests on the mountains of Karkar Island. Photo by styko (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Tropical forests on the mountains of Karkar Island. Photo by styko (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Many tropical mountain birds are shifting their ranges upslope to escape warming temperatures that disrupt their way of life, according to research by a husband-and-wife team from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology that retraced scientist Jared Diamond’s landmark New Guinea expedition in the 1960s. The study is published in the current issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

But there’s only so much room on these mountains. Climate change predictions suggest that before the end of this century, global warming will push at least four of these species into localized extinctions, says Benjamin Freeman, the study’s lead author and a Ph.D. student at Cornell University. Freeman conducted this research with his wife, Alexandra Class Freeman, a Ph.D. who works at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

“Our research demonstrates that no matter where you are on Earth, even a tropical wilderness island in the South Pacific, climate change is happening and having tangible impacts,” says Class Freeman. “In this case, the activities of industrialized nations causing climate change are impacting birds in remote New Guinea, deep in tropical mountain forests, causing them to move up the slopes to find their preferred habitat.”

The research was conducted on two remote forested mountains in Papua New Guinea, one (Karkar Island) hosting an active volcano and the other (Mt. Karimui) a dormant one. The Freemans followed up on Diamond’s pioneering bird surveys of these mountains 50 years ago, which offered a baseline for measuring change. The annual mean temperature on these islands has risen about 0.7 degree Fahrenheit in the past five decades. The birds’ movement up the mountains closely matched the temperature increase. On Mt. Karimui, 87 bird species (or 70 percent of all species in the survey) responded by shifting their ranges up the mountain by an average of 370 feet. On Karkar Island, which is a smaller oceanic island with fewer birds and less diversity, a greater proportion of birds (17 species, or 77 percent of all species in the survey) moved upslope by an even greater amount – an average of 500 feet. The mountains in the research are about 8,000 feet tall.

Read the whole article.

Cornell Media Relations Office news release [2014-02-17]

Also: Cornell Chronicle [2014-02-18]

Algae Promise Greener Energy

20140210-Greene-600x298Multidisciplinary Cornell research teams have greatly increased the commercial attractiveness of algal biofuel, overcoming significant hurdles that have delayed private-sector uptake of this promising green fuel.

Charles Greene (EAS) and his research team parlayed a 2011 Rapid Response Fund award into an international algal biofuel partnership, now funded by a $9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. Working with industrial partner Cellana, the consortium has grown algae at the highest productivity values demonstrated at pilot scale in the world. Algae can produce far more biomass and oil per acre annually than even the most productive terrestrial energy crops.

Working with the Sahara Forest Project (SFP, pictured above) in Qatar, Cornell researchers helped build a facility highlighting new energy and food technologies that attracted international attention at the December 2012 COP18 UN Climate Change Conference in Doha. The demonstration facility was visited by several heads of state.

Back in Ithaca, Ruth Richardson (CEE), Beth Ahner (BEE), Lars Angenent (BEE), David Erickson (MAE), Jeff Tester (CHEME), Roseanna Zia (CBE), and other scientists work on strategies to improve different steps in the extraction process—as well as totally reenvisioning reactor systems. Current methods require too much energy, preventing algal biofuels from achieving their full commercial or environmental potential.

Another promising path is to develop high-value coproducts at the same time as fuel. Animal scientist Xingen Lei (ANSCI) is doing just that. With a new $5.5 million USDA grant to further research launched by ACSF seed funding, he is producing a nutritious animal feed for broiler chickens, laying hens, and weanling pigs from algae.

Atkinson Center Blog [2014-02-11]

Atkinson Center requests proposals for 2014 grants

Make our small, pale blue planet a greener place: Cornell’s Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future (ACSF) announces the 2014 cycle for its Academic Venture Fund.

Internal to Cornell, this program stimulates new, original, multidisciplinary research in sustainability, emphasizing work that has the potential to involve external partners such as industry, government, foundations and other nongovernmental organizations. Since 2008 more than 200 researchers from 49 Cornell departments have received about $4.5 million in grants funding 54 projects.

ACSF seeks proposals from all of Cornell’s colleges and schools that encompass disciplines contributing to sustainability. Letters of intent must be filed by Feb. 24 with full proposals due March 24.

Potential applicants can attend a question-and-answer session Wednesday, March 12, at 3:30 p.m. in 300 Rice Hall. Contact Paula Euvrard to register. Applicants are urged to contact an ACSF faculty director to discuss potential submissions.

Cornell Chronicle [2014-02-12]

USDA announces regional ‘Climate Hubs’

USDA regional 'Climate Hubs'

USDA regional ‘Climate Hubs’

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced February 5 the creation of the first ever Regional Hubs for Risk Adaptation and Mitigation to Climate Change at seven locations around the country. The “Climate Hubs” will address increasing risks such as fires, invasive pests, devastating floods, and crippling droughts on a regional basis, aiming to translate science and research into information to farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners on ways to adapt and adjust their resource management.

“For generations, America’s farmers, ranchers and forest landowners have innovated and adapted to challenges. Today, they face a new and more complex threat in the form of a changing and shifting climate, which impacts both our nation’s forests and our farmers’ bottom lines,” said Vilsack. “USDA’s Climate Hubs are part of our broad commitment to developing the next generation of climate solutions, so that our agricultural leaders have the modern technologies and tools they need to adapt and succeed in the face of a changing climate.”

The Northeast hub is located at the Forest Service’s Northern Research Station, Durham, N.H. Cornell is a partner in the Northeast hub.

More information:

USDA video: