Late last week, the US Senate passed its version of a federal energy bill, which included crucial increases in the nation’s fuel-efficiency standards (although one wonders whether 10 miles per gallon over the next 10 years is really the fastest progress we can make).
Tucked into the bill is a $60 billion allocation for ‘abrupt climate change’ – and according to the Portland Press Herald, “the University of Maine…is involved in that research.”
We dug a little deeper to find out: a) what abrupt climate change is, and b) how UMaine is involved.
Turns out the Climate Change Institute, housed at the Orono campus, is involved in cutting-edge climate change research, studying glacial deposits and ice cores for what they can tell us about the atmosphere, weather patterns, and climate history.
What they’ve found, in Antarctica, New Zealand, Greenland, and the Arctic (among other locations), is a history of “abrupt climate change events…that coincide with major changes in civilization,” says Institute director Paul Andrew Mayewski, who studies ice cores.
What kinds of major changes? Oh, just the collapse of Mesopotamia, the Mayan Empire, and the Norse colonies.
“When they occur, they’re very dramatic and long lasting,” he says. And when they’ve happened, it’s because of a dramatic increase in one of the things that controls climate (i.e. the composition of the atmosphere). In other words, right now, as humankind increases the amount of greenhouse gases in the air, “we’re potentially setting ourselves up for abrupt climate change. Whether or not we can actually offset what’s happening, we still need to understand it.”
Several institutions will compete for their share of the $60 million. With their chunk, the Climate Change Institute researchers hope simply to reach as many places as they can -- after all, their specimens are melting, Mayewski points out. “There’s great immediacy in collecting records before they begin to disappear.”