In 2001, Gary Comer and the crew of his yacht Turmoil successfully sailed the Northwest Passage, the route through the Arctic Ocean connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Historically, the passage was a treacherous ice-ridden journey that once turned back early explorers, but Turmoil made it through with relative ease. Mr. Comer returned from this journey convinced that he had witnessed rapid transformation of arctic ice. He immediately set out to learn more, contacting leading scientists in the field and eventually supporting abrupt climate change research. ‘Abrupt climate change’ is defined by the United States Geological Society (USGS) as a large-scale change in the climate system that takes place over a few decades or less, persists (or is anticipated to persist) for at least a few decades, and causes substantial disruptions in human and natural systems. Additional insight can be obtained from the new National Academies report, Abrupt Impacts of Climate Change: Anticipating Surprises, 2013, available at the National Academies Press.
Seeking a Deeper Understanding of Earth’s Climate
The Gary Comer Abrupt Climate Change Fellowship was established in 2002 to support scientists studying the causes and consequences of abrupt changes in climate by funding post-docs, graduate students and technicians. The Fellowship supported climate research at 31 institutions from 2002 to 2007. Mentors at each institution selected fellows and approved research projects. The program also seeded special abrupt climate change fieldwork and projects requiring fast-track funding. Since 2004, the foundation has sponsored The Changelings, a membership group of scientists dedicated to exploring and advancing the broad field of abrupt climate change. For more than a decade, this diverse group has worked to identify and fill the biggest gaps in scientific knowledge of abrupt climate changes, through meetings, discussions with invited experts, and field conferences. The group also has worked to share the insights on abrupt climate change with policymakers and the broader public. In addition, Comer Family Foundation hosts an annual Abrupt Climate Change Conference where Comer Fellows and guests have convened for presentations and discussion since 2004. In 2005, 5 million dollars was set aside to fund Climate Project Grants, with 128 worldwide projects sponsored to date.
Medill Comer Scholars
In the early 2000s, Gary Comer noticed the scant media coverage of climate change was often politically skewed and lacking in its ability to distill scientific concepts for everyday readers. In response, we partnered with Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University to create Medill Comer Scholars. Established in 2010, the scholarship supports students committed to environmental journalism. Medill also hosts Impact, Mysteries, Solutions, a climate news site featuring interviews with climate scientists and Comer Fellows. Comer Scholars have gone on to report for public radio stations, newspapers, the energy media and not-for-profit organizations.
More Stories in Environment
The Gary C. Comer Geochemistry Building at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University opened in 2004. The 63,000-square-foot structure was awarded LEED Silver Status in 2010. The state-of-the-art laboratories are home to world-class scientists whose research focuses on the Earth and its environment.
Comer Family Foundation supported the research of Klaus Lackner and Allen Wright by providing funding for Kilimanjaro, Inc., formerly Global Research Technologies, the first company dedicated to the development and commercialization of Air Capture Technology, a technology for the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.