Climatologist recounts adventures
On Tuesday, March 27, Director of the Climate Change Institute at the University of Maine Dr. Paul Mayewski discussed the topic of climate change in an event sponsored by the College’s Environmental Studies Department. Mayewski, whom Olivia Kefauver ‘12 described as “an internationally acclaimed scientific explorer,” is known throughout the world for his work as a climatologist.
Mayewski began by cautioning that now “the rise in CO2 is 100 times faster than anything in the last million years” and that “greenhouse gases have exceeded anything over the last one million years.” Having led teams to Antarctica, the Himalayas and Greenland, Mayewski has firsthand knowledge of these changes.
In Antarctica, Mayewski and his teams drilled many ice cores through which they were able to observe a variety of environmental factors from biological and agricultural activity to temperature changes and the patterns of air masses. Through the examination of ice cores, Mayewski said, “we realized that there were things that were changing that we didn’t think changed.”
Feeling that the effects of climate change must be visible in other areas of the world, Mayewski said that he “spent many, many seasons working throughout the Himalayas.” Mayewski and the others accompanying him traveled high into the mountains and faced extreme temperatures, but with the help of 40 porters from the area, they were able to obtain the very first Himalayan ice core.
Soon after, Mayewski said, “I started leading traverses across Greenland,” which included, “25 different American institutions.” Before Greenland, Mayewski said, “We always thought that the climate system changed very, very slowly.” However, in the expedition, he discovered that climate changes can sometimes occur in a few years, rather than centuries, or millennia.
Intending to build on these findings, Mayewski decided to return to his research in Antarctica. In 1989, Mayewski organized 21 countries in an expedition called the International Transarctic Scientific Expedition. Through that endeavor, Mayewski said, “We’ve covered 15,000-20,000 kilometers over the surface of Antarctica.”
One of his goals in Antarctica has been to find the cleanest place on Earth. Mayewski said, “If you can find a place where the levels of lead, copper and mercury are the lowest on the planet, it gives you a baseline.” Through such a baseline, Mayewski and other climate scientists can compare their measurements to make judgments about the changing climate.
Switching his focus to tangible evidence of climate change, Mayewski described how the Acadian and Mayan Empires disappeared as a result of the impacts of climate change on their water sources. He added that no one is safe from these impacts. Mayewski said, “Every single one of us are all susceptible to some sort of change.”
He ended his discussion by warning skeptics that with regard to the climate, “what’s happening today already is dramatic” and that “the other thing to keep in mind is that climate changes differ throughout the world.”
However, Mayewski expressed belief in the potential to reverse or slow climate change. He said, “We can easily have a much better quality of life...there is a very bright future for people who are innovative and creative.” Mayewski believes in awareness of climate issues and dangers, but he sees a chance to combat these dangers in the years to come.