Elizabeth McCarthy and Monika Wnuk/MEDILL

The Comer Abrupt Climate Change Conference drew top scientists from across the U.S. to southwestern Wisconsin, where they pieced together the mysteries of past climate change to predict what the future holds as fossil fuel emissions continue to escalate global warming.


Millions of years of climate clues build mosaic of global warming impacts

by Elizabeth McCarthyand Monika Wnuk
Oct 27, 2013

nicolas young

Nicolas Young

Stranded icebergs dot the Tininnilik lake basin, West Greenland.  

Top climate scientists assessed the impact of melting glaciers, rising sea levels and lakes turning into deserts at this year's Comer Abrupt Climate Change Conference in Wisconsin. Rising fossil fuel emissions in our era are escalating global warming, scientists said.

"The big picture, I think, was the strength of the community, the strength of the scientists doing [research], the strength of the young people doing it, and the fact that they really are now getting answers that we can rely on," said geoscientist Richard Alley of Pennsylvania State University.  

Research presentatons looked at ancient climate shifts, from rapid warming potentially linked to a comet striking the Earth some 55 million years ago to the Little Ice Age cold spell that set in about 800 years ago, spurring the Mongol invasion of Eurasia. Scientists gathering clues to climate systems from the past provide ever more detailed data to better assess the impacts of human-forced global warming in our own times. 

Peering back 55 millions years, "something happened in less than a year and possibly as fast as a few seconds" that triggered rapid escalation of carbon dioxide levels and global temperature increases of 5 degrees Celcius (9 degrees Fahrenheit), said James Wright, of Rutgers University. "Given all the the ideas, hypotheses out there, comet is the only one that can trigger a large carbon isotopic and a large carbon event as fast as - well, in less than a year."
 
Lively discussions and analysis spilled over to the social hours, breakfasts, lunches and dinners held in the hilltop tent at the Comer conference retreat in Wisconsin. The late Gary Comer, the philanthropist and entrepreneurpost who founded Lands' End, supported widespread climate research that continues to bring new findings to the conference. The Comer research legacy is ccontinued by Guy and Stephanie Comer, Gary Comer's children, through the Comer Science and Education Foundation.

The Comer Foundation hosts the annual conference organized by Alley and veteran veteran climate scientists Wallace Broecker of Columbia University and George Denton of the Univeristy of Maine.