News & Events

The latest climate change news from Cornell and beyond.


Climate change news


Sarah Brylinsky, Cornell's sustainability communications and integration manager, left, speaks Oct. 31 at a panel discussion on how the campus could achieve carbon neutrality by 2035, as KyuJung Whang, vice president for infrastructure, properties and planning, looks on. (Photo: Robert Barker/Cornell Marketing Group)

Panel outlines action for campus carbon neutrality by 2035  [Cornell Chronicle 2016-11-2]  -  With a plan to harness the wind, sun, water and the Earth’s heat, a panel from the Senior Leaders Climate Action Group (SLCAG) explained to the Cornell community Oct. 31 how the campus could become carbon neutral by 2035. They stepped through the financial analysis and feasibility report that was released in October. “We need to heat and power a ‘Research I’ institution, and we are power hungry,” said Lance Collins, the Joseph Silbert Dean of Cornell Engineering and co-chair of SLCAG. He outlined Cornell’s carbon footprint challenges, which include designing a campus heating system that can accommodate Ithaca’s extreme weather conditions. The current low cost of fossil fuel makes it difficult to justify future renewable energy projects, Collins said, but the university aims to reduce campus energy demand and increase the number of high-performance buildings. As for fossil fuel energy sources, he explained, “The goal is to drive this to zero.” Read more.

New model suggests scrubbing CO2 from the atmosphere [Cornell Chronicle 2016-10-26] - New Cornell research suggests an economically viable model to scrub carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to thwart runaway, point-of-no-return global warming. The researchers propose using a “bioenergy-biochar system” that removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in an environmental pinch, until other removal methods become economically feasible and in regions where other methods are impractical. Their work appeared in the Oct. 21 edition of Nature Communications. Read more.

Colorado River’s dead clams tell tales of carbon emission  [Cornell Chronicle 2016-10-27] - Scientists have begun to account for the topsy-turvy carbon cycle of the Colorado River delta – once a massive green estuary of grassland, marshes and cottonwood, now desiccated dead land. “We’ve done a lot in the United States to alter water systems, to dam them. The river irrigates our crops and makes energy. What we really don’t understand is how our poor water management is affecting other natural systems – in this case, carbon cycling,” said Cornell’s Jansen Smith, a doctoral candidate in earth and atmospheric sciences. Smith is lead author of “Fossil Clam Shells Reveal Unintended Carbon Cycling Consequences of Colorado River Management,” published in the journal Royal Society Open Science, Sept. 28.  Read more.

New video highlights Cornell’s multi-faceted approach to sustainability - From creating to implementing real-world solutions, Cornell University is leading the way toward a more sustainable future.

Nov. 14: Tompkins County energy roadmap program

Click image for poster

Click image for poster

Roads to Our Energy Future
The Tompkins County Energy roadmap and how do we get there

Monday, November 14, 7 p.m.
Tompkins County Public Library


  • Katis Borgella, TC Planning Department
  • Jonathan Comstock, Heat Smart Tompkins



In the news

Recent climate change-related articles from the Cornell Chronicle:

Swimming anemone (Stomphia coccinea) alive, left, and in glass by Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka.

Swimming anemone (Stomphia coccinea) alive, left, and in glass by Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka. A three-part exhibition examining the art and legacy of the Blaschka glass marine animal collection will open Oct. 27 at Mann Library,

Howarth outlines carbon neutrality report options at UA [2016-10-20] - Professor Robert Howarth spoke to the University Assembly Oct. 18 about the recently released Senior Leaders Climate Action Group report on options and associated costs for achieving a carbon-neutral campus by 2035.

Exhibition, talk, film explore a sea of glass [2016-10-20]  - A three-part exhibition examining the art and legacy of the Blaschka glass marine animal collection will open Oct. 27 at Mann Library, launched with a talk at 4 p.m. by Drew Harvell, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, on her new book, “Sea of Glass.” Working from drawings made during 19th-century ocean-faring expeditions, father and son glassblowers Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka created more than 10,000 intricate, life-size sculptures of marine life as it was found in oceans not yet touched by climate change or large-scale human activity.

Study: Decline in forest diversity could cost billions per year [2016-10-13]  - A new study of all major forest ecosystems on Earth finds that conserving these diverse forests not only retains a species-rich environment, but also maintains the forests’ output and services for future generations. After analyzing the data, researchers determined that loss of tree species richness – through deforestation, forest degradation and climate change – would accelerate the decline in forest productivity worldwide.

Report offers options for achieving carbon neutrality by 2035 [2016-10-04]  - Last spring, Provost Michael Kotlikoff called on the Senior Leaders Climate Action Group to explore options for the Ithaca campus to achieve climate neutrality by 2035, including a detailed financial analysis and feasibility study that would allow the university to make decisions based on costs and benefits in the context of its academic mission and role as a global thought leader. On October 4, the group released its report, which recommends a variety of measures, including increasing conservation efforts to further reduce campus energy demands, and outlining options to replace natural gas for campus heating with renewable energy sources.

Roundtable to explore potential of geothermal energy [2016-10-04]  - An Oct. 17 roundtable discussion drilled deep into the promise of geothermal energy at a time when Cornell is considering a groundbreaking project of its own. It is the latest event organized by the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies on the future of renewable energy.


Climate, energy and national security seminar series starts Oct. 26

Climate, Energy and National Security in your Lifetime
Bailey Auditorium
11:15 .m. to 12:05 p.m.
Open to the greater Cornell and Ithaca communities

Warming oceans imperil iconic marine species

Cornell Chronicle [2016-09-09]:

With a warming ocean along the East and West Coasts of the United States, many well-known marine species – important culturally and economically – face a dicey future, according to a new Cornell study in Oceanography magazine.

“Climate warming has been wreaking havoc with North America’s marine ecosystems,” said Charles H. Greene, Cornell professor of oceanography in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. “The resulting demise of many of North America’s most iconic marine species provides yet another warning to society that a changing climate will leave future generations with an ocean much different than the one we grew up with.”

Although lobsters now thrive in the Gulf of Maine, continued rising temperatures, could soon lead to a disease outbreak that will decimate the Gulf’s lobster population. Greene points out that bacterial Epizootic Shell Disease, which thrives in warmer waters, has been steadily shifting northeastward along the New England coast and now has lobsters in the Gulf of Maine in its crosshairs.

With water temperatures rising, certain fish stocks are also increasingly stressed. “Cod stocks … like those in the Gulf of Maine, fare poorly under warming conditions, exhibiting … greater susceptibility to overfishing,” he said. …

Greene and Drew Harvell, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, will be at the U.S. State Department’s Our Ocean conference Sept. 14-15 in Washington, D.C. The national conference focuses on the key ocean issues – marine protected areas, sustainable fisheries, marine pollution and climate impacts on the ocean. Harvell will present the film Fragile Legacy, about her biodiversity research and its relationship to Cornell’s Blachkas Glass Invertebrate Collection. Greene will run an exhibit displaying Wave Gliders – a robotic way to measure the health of the ocean – in the lobby of the State Department.

Read the whole article.

Geothermal project could warm campus, expand energy study

Cornell Chronicle [2016-09-06]

Cornell is pursuing a project that has the potential to eliminate an estimated 82,000 metric tons of carbon from its annual footprint and establish one of the country’s most advanced geothermal systems to heat the 745-acre Ithaca campus – an effort that could demonstrate a new scalable model for using this sustainable energy source throughout the U.S. and almost anywhere in the world.

Cornell is calling the project “Earth Source Heat.” This effort to explore the potential of enhanced-geothermal energy will combine Cornell’s world-leading energy and sustainability researchers with the living laboratory of Cornell’s facilities over the next two decades. Its first step will be a planned small-scale demonstration installation within about five years of a well pair that will reach into the basement rock more than two miles below the surface to tap the Earth’s vast heat reservoir. Water will be circulated in a closed loop through the rock and return to the surface to supply heat to the campus.

Read the whole article.

Earth Source Heating illustration: Cornell Marketing Group

Earth Source Heating illustration: Cornell Marketing Group

Early-onset spring models may indicate ‘nightmare’ for ag

Toby Ault

Toby Ault

Cornell Chronicle [2016-08-31]:

Warm springs in the Great Lakes and Northeast regions – which create havoc for agriculture – may start earlier by mid-century if greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced, according to a new Cornell study published in Climate Dynamics.

Very warm springs have been anomalies, but this new analysis of climate model data shows an increased frequency to nearly one in every three years by the end of this century.

“The spring of 2012, with its summerlike warmth, brought plants out of dormancy and then had a lengthy freeze. This was a nightmare scenario for many growers, and it showed us a snapshot of what global warming might look like in this region,” said Toby Ault, assistant professor in earth and atmospheric sciences, an author on the study.

Unusually warm temperatures early in spring 2012 led to the warmest March, breaking records in more than 15,000 U.S. sites.

Modeling shows that frequency and magnitude of early springs could occur more than a month earlier, for example, throughout the Great Lakes region by 2080.

“The time to act on curbing greenhouse gas emissions is now. If we don’t, years like 2012 – ruinous to farmers and producers – in the U.S. could become normal by 30 to 40 years from now in addition to a host of other impacts,” said Ault.

Read the whole article.

USDA Designates 15 NY Counties as Primary Natural Disaster Areas

usda logoUSDA-FSA release [2016-08-29]

WASHINGTON, Aug. 29, 2016 — The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has designated 15 counties in New York as primary natural disaster areas due to losses caused by a recent drought. Those counties are:

  • Cayuga
  • Chemung 
  • Erie
  • Genesee
  • Livingston
  • Monroe
  • Niagara
  • Ontario
  • Schuyler
  • Seneca
  • Steuben
  • Tioga
  • Tompkins
  • Wyoming
  • Yates

“Our hearts go out to those New York farmers and ranchers affected by recent natural disasters,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “President Obama and I are committed to ensuring that agriculture remains a bright spot in our nation’s economy by sustaining the successes of America’s farmers, ranchers, and rural communities through these difficult times. We’re also telling New York producers that USDA stands with you and your communities when severe weather and natural disasters threaten to disrupt your livelihood.”

Read the full release.

Greenhouse Simulates A Warmer Future


Plantations greenhouse Photo: Sonja Skelly

Photo: Sonja Skelly

Via [2016-0811]:

Have you ever wondered how climate change would feel, or what it would look like in the year 2050? Rest assured, you’re not alone. University faculty are conducting cross-departmental research at Cornell Plantations, the university’s botanical garden, to develop a model demonstration garden that will illustrate climate changes predicted for the year 2050. The goal is to develop a replicable garden of food crops and nectar plants for other botanical gardens and museums around the world to use as a teaching tool for the visiting public.

Synchronistic curiosity about how to physically demonstrate climate change brought the three primary team members together: Chris Wien, an emeritus horticulture faculty member, wanted to build a ‘high tunnel” (unheated greenhouse) to demonstrate climate change. Josh Cerre, assistant professor of landscape architecture, is a designer and an ecologist with research interests in climate adaptation and sustainable development. Sonja Skelly, director of education at Plantations, is coordinating the team’s interpretive education and developing visitor communication strategies.

Since its inception in 2013, additional staff, faculty and students have joined this unique garden-modeling project. For example, David Wolfe, a professor of horticulture who specializes in climate change adaptation and mitigation, has provided home gardening tips for an interpretive pamphlet available to garden visitors. Funding has been provided from the Toward Sustainability Foundation and Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future

Read the whole article.

Scientists propose novel carbon-capture electrochemical cell


Graphic: Clive Howard/Cornell Marketing Group

Graphic: Clive Howard/Cornell Marketing Group

Cornell Chronicle [2016-08-04]

While the human race will always leave its carbon footprint on the Earth, it must continue to find ways to lessen the impact of its fossil fuel consumption.

“Carbon capture” technologies – chemically trapping carbon dioxide before it is released into the atmosphere – is one approach. And in a report released last month, Cornell researchers disclose a novel method for capturing the greenhouse gas and converting it to a useful product – while producing electrical energy.

Lynden Archer, the James A. Friend Family Distinguished Professor of Engineering, and doctoral student Wajdi Al Sadat have developed an oxygen-assisted aluminum/carbon dioxide power cell that uses electrochemical reactions to both sequester the carbon dioxide and produce electricity.

Their paper, “The O2-assisted Al/CO2 electrochemical cell: A system for CO2 capture/conversion and electric power generation,” was published July 20 in Science Advances. Al Sadat – who worked for 12 years at the world’s largest oil company, Saudi Aramco, and had hands-on experience with classical carbon-capture technologies before coming to Cornell four years ago – authored the study.

The group’s proposed cell would use aluminum as the anode and mixed streams of carbon dioxide and oxygen as the active ingredients of the cathode. The electrochemical reactions between the anode and the cathode would sequester the carbon dioxide into carbon-rich compounds while also producing electricity and a valuable oxalate as a byproduct.

Read the whole article.