DURHAM, N.H. -- Have air pollution and other
effects of civilization changed the Earth's climate?
If so, how much? And how might human activity
change the climate in the future? A gift of $2.3
million to the University of New Hampshire's Climate
Change Research Center will help scientists answer
these and other questions about the Earth's climate.
The gift from Leslie S. Hubbard of Walpole, a 1927 graduate of the university, will create an endowment -- the Iola Hubbard Climate Change Endowment -- to support the internationally renowned center's work. It will also provide $500,000 in seed money for a new initiative to explore New England's changing climate and air quality. The endowment is in honor of Hubbard's late wife, Iola.
Founded by glaciologist and climatologist Paul Mayewski, the Climate Change Research Center, located within the Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans and Space, has been studying climate since 1979. Drilling deep beneath the surface of ice sheets and glaciers in Greenland, Antarctica and the Himalayas, the group has used ice -- frozen hundreds, thousands, and tens of thousands of years ago -- to retrieve trace chemical impurities containing information about ancient climates. The center, which is composed of 10 research scientists, attracts $1 million a year in funding from federal agencies such as the National Science Foundation, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The New England Climate Change Initiative funded by Hubbard will enable Mayewski and his colleagues to "bring home what we've learned in remote areas and apply it to New England," Mayewski says. The center will develop a kind of climate time machine -- a comprehensive climatic history of northern New England over the last 200 years -- and provide information as far back as 12,000 years.
Scientists will set up stations from Mount Washington to the coast of New Hampshire to monitor air chemistry and help predict the effect of changes on residents' health. They will explore questions such as how often storms hit the New England coast and whether El Nino is important to the region. Researchers will glean information about changes over hundreds and thousands of years from tree rings and lake sediments. Settlers' journals and letters, agricultural records, newspaper accounts, as well as weather records, will help researchers understand natural climate shifts and humankind's impact on the environment.
The center will involve New Hampshire students in its work, and researchers hope eventually to provide residents with daily forecasts of air quality. Interactive web pages could provide regional answers to climate questions and relay "real time" measurements from the summit of Mount Washington to the state's classrooms.
The New England initiative is a natural outgrowth of the center's work. In 1993, UNH scientists extracted an ice core in Greenland that provided a 110,00-year-long record of climate change, which is widely recognized as the most important information ever gathered in investigations of climate change.
Their work demonstrated that climate can change far more rapidly than researchers had previously thought -- within the space of a few years -- and that these changes can then last for decades to thousands of years. According to Mayewski, shifts like these have had dramatic effects on civilization over the last 4,000 years, precipitating events such as the collapse of the Mesopotamian empire in 2200 B.C. and the disappearance of the Norse colony in Greenland around 1400 A.D.
"Ice cores provide us with a series of cases and lessons on which we can construct and test our understanding of climate change," Mayewski explains. "Once we understand natural climate patterns, we can subtract what we know to be natural components from what we're seeing now and begin to predict the future."
Mayewski is chief scientist for the Greenland Ice Sheet Project 2, as well as several other major scientific programs; and has led more than 30 expeditions to Greenland, Antarctica, and Asia. A fellow of the Explorer's Club and winner of its Citation of Merit, his early research led to the naming of an Antarctic peak in his honor.
Currently, Mayewski and colleague Cameron Wake are researching climate change in the Himalayas, and in 1999 Mayewski and colleague Mark Twickler will lead the American arm of the International Transantarctic Scientific Expedition to create an environmental map of the western region of Antarctica.
"Having an endowment changes the whole sense of the center," Mayewski says. "It gives us flexibility and means we can accomplish things we could never do with federal money. Les Hubbard's gift is an honor. He's saying, 'I believe in what you're doing; this is an investment in our collective future.' The Climate Change Research Center is extremely proud to be a beneficiary of the Hubbard family's generous contributions to the region."
Editors, News Directors:
Paul Mayewski is available for a telephone interview at 868-6970 or by email:Paul.Mayewski@unh.edu.
By Maggie Paine