How severe is global warming?

Jason P. Briner, PhD, is looking for answers below the surface of lakes in the frigid Canadian Arctic.

Every spring, the assistant professor of geology at the University at Buffalo (with his team, right), travels to the region to sample lake sediments and glaciers, analyzing them to reconstruct past climates.

“If we look at the temperature graphs that we’ve generated for the past 1,000 years for this region, the temperatures wiggle back and forth, so there is a little variability in there,” Dr. Briner says. “However, in the past 100 years, both the magnitude and the rate of temperature increase exceed all the variations of the past 1,000 years.

“The beauty of lake sediments is that they’re being deposited continuously right up until yesterday,” he adds. “By looking at them, we get clues into past climates, which we can then overlap with records from weather stations, which only cover the past 50 to 75 years. Generally, the more organic matter in sediments, the warmer the climate.”

As Dr. Briner and his team review their data, they can develop a more precise view of how past changes in climate have affected the planet. Their research can then be used, he notes, to “predict the future.”

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Photo courtesy of the University at Buffalo