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A Thousand Years of Weather

UAlbany Awarded $5 Million Grant to Study Climate Variations Over Last Millennium

Professor Mathias Vuille is leading a $5 million research project to investigate natural climate variations in North and South America over the past 1,000 years. (Photo by Mark Schmidt)

ALBANY, N.Y. (Sept. 12, 2017) – Mathias Vuille believes the key to our future is a better understanding of how and why Earth’s climate has varied naturally over the past thousand years – long before humans made a significant impact.

He’s leading a team of climate scientists on a $5 million project to investigate.

Vuille, a professor in the University at Albany’s Department of Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences, is the principal investigator on a $4.997 million PIRE (Partnerships for International Research and Education) grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study climate variations over the last millennium in North and South America.

The project is a multi-institutional, international collaboration involving six institutions and 18 investigators from the United States, Brazil and Argentina.

“I have collaborated with my colleagues in South America for the past 20 years. But we were never able to have a joint program and always needed to try to align our research. This PIRE format is absolutely ideal for us,” Vuille said. “We believe that a better understanding of past climate variability is the key to the future. That is, a better understanding of past climate variations over North and South America will allow us to better constrain future climate projections by placing them within a broader historical context.”

The team is using the PIRE funding to merge data from the two largest tree-ring and cave sediment archives in South America. This will allow them to produce reconstructions of historical extreme weather events (monsoons, El Niño, etc.) over the two continents, analyze societal responses and better predict future events based on past model-archive comparisons.

Their findings will be translated into easy-to-use visualization tools through the Albany Visualization and informatics Lab (AVAIL) at UAlbany.

In addition, the funding will allow students interested in STEM to be immersed in all research activities. This includes international online courses, campus presentations, semesters abroad, international summer schools, hands-on training and U.S.-based summer academies to broaden participation in STEM among minority and women students.

The team is also hosting two international forums, led by UAlbany’s Center for International Development (CID), to better inform scientists, government officials, legislators, ministry staff, and other key stakeholders of the risks of climate change over the next century.

The project will run for five years from September 2017 to August 2022.

“This prestigious, highly competitive NSF PIRE award marks yet another historic milestone for UAlbany’s Department of Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences,” said UAlbany President Havidán Rodríguez. “I want to extend my congratulations to Dr. Vuille for his scientific leadership and vision in making this award possible. Through this international research and education partnerships, Dr. Vuille and his team will better inform the scientific community and better prepare international stakeholders in reducing the worldwide risks associated with climate change over the next 100 years.”

“This highly prominent NSF PIRE award is just one more example of UAlbany’s internationally-recognized research strength in climate science,” said UAlbany Vice President for Research James Dias. “I congratulate Dr. Vuille – one of the world’s preeminent scholars on climate variability and predictability – for his leadership in bringing together this team of international researchers and thought leaders. Their work is poised to make significant gains in tackling one of the world’s most pressing scientific and societal challenges – climate change.”

“Our team certainly hopes to advance the understanding of past climate variability,” Vuille said. “We also want to contribute in training the next generation of motivated, globally competent, environmental scientists. Climate change is arguably the biggest challenge of our lifetime and we must train the next generation who can tackle the challenges that lie ahead. Otherwise, we will be remembered as the scientists that provided all the evidence of human interference in the climate system, but failed to act on it.”

Other institutions involved with the project include the University of Sao Paulo, the University Federal Fluminense in Rio de Janeiro, the Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, the SUNY System Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, and the Argentinian Institute for Snow, Glacier and Environmental Research (IANIGLA).

 You can learn more about Vuille’s research and expertise here.

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