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Climate Change

Andrew Jacobson studies climate change occurring on geological and human timescales. Over geological timescales (millions of years), the chemical weathering of silicate rocks controls atmospheric CO2 levels and regulates global temperatures via the greenhouse effect. Quantifying this mechanism and its primary controls is critical for understanding how Earth became and remains habitable. To understand the long-term carbon cycle, Jacobson and his students study the elemental and isotopic geochemistry of rivers draining diverse tectonic and climatic settings. The geochemistry of rivers also provides insight into carbon cycle phenomena occurring on shorter, human timescales (hundreds of years). Jacobson works in Alaska and Greenland to understand feedbacks between Arctic climate change and global warming. More recently, Jacobson installed a wavelength scanned cavity ring down spectrometer to quantify the levels and sources of CO2 in Chicago’s atmosphere.

Yarrow Axford's research examines past and present-day climate change in Arctic and alpine regions. Diverse analyses of lake sediments and other stratigraphic records can provide answers to questions like: What are recent temperature trends in remote regions, and how do recent decades compare with past centuries and millennia? How (and how rapidly) do ice sheets and smaller glaciers respond to warming, and what does that imply about future sea level rise? What do Arctic ecosystems look like in warmer or colder climate regimes? Much of the work in Axford's Quaternary Sediment Lab focuses on the late Quaternary, with special emphasis on methods for developing precise Holocene paleoenvironmental records that extend to present day.

Maggie Osburn’s Isotope Geobiology Lab combines temperature reconstructions produced in Yarrow Axford’s lab with analyses of the distribution and D/H of organic molecules from lake cores and plants to reconstruct paleoclimate of Greenland during the Holocene and beyond.

Daniel Horton studies the Earth’s atmosphere and its interaction with human and natural systems. Industrialized society is currently engaged in a real-time sensitivity experiment with planet Earth. While the steady addition of greenhouse gases to the Earth’s atmosphere is known to warm the planet, some climate system feedbacks and downstream impacts remain uncertain. Working with both observed and model-simulated data, Professor Horton's research group investigates a range of topics designed to inform society, including extreme weather events, hydrological change, and near-term meteorological, societal, and public health impacts of anthropogenic climate change. To address this diversity of topics, a wide-range of research tools are employed, including environmental observations, numerical models, statistical analyses, and machine learning techniques. 

Neal Blair’s Carbon Biogeochemistry Lab investigates the relationship between the C-cycle and climate. Current research involves understanding how C-losses from landscapes and subsequent downstream C-sequestration may be impacted by future climate change. The lab is trying to determine whether agricultural soil C-losses are actually a net source of CO2 to the atmosphere or a net sink. Other studies have involved using the preserved sedimentary organic record in lakes and ocean sediments to reconstruct past climate change.

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