Comer team drills into Mongolia’s climate mystery and its global consequences

Aaron Putnam of the School of Earth and Climate Sciences and Climate Change Institute at the University of Maine is trying to find the switches that caused the Earth to lurch out of the last Ice Age. Climate levers are not yet well understood, and "just what the heck" causes them is still a mystery he's hoping to solve in Mongolia this summer. To weave together the clues, Putnam seeks information from a remote ice field in Mongolia's Bayan-Ölgii Province in the Altai mountains.

What caused the warming out of the last Ice Age is one of the premiere questions in climate change research. Putnam is searching for an event from this period of time that could inform his understanding of the physics of the climate system.

Our recent data seem to imply that transition happened really fast. Now we are finding that it was extraordinarily fast

—Aaron Putnam

Destiny Washington, a 17-year old student at Gary Comer College Prep, is joining him for six weeks this summer to collect core samples from a modern day glacial field, samples that could hold key information for understanding current climate change as well as in the past.

Washington lives in Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood, and she was selected for her interest in climate research as a career, her academic excellence, and maturity. 

"I’ve never seen glaciers up close, outside of the ones we built in the parking lot,” she said. But she’s excited; it’s like she won a carnival game, one “with a big prize that you hardly ever win."

—Destiny Washington

Washington has never been to Asia before, and she will chronicle her experience through a blog on the Climate Change website of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. The blog will be edited by Comer Scholar Kevin Stark who will blogging as well and covering the expedition for major media. Stark is a journalist living in Chicago and pursuing a graduate degree at Medill. He is concentrating on environmental and science journalism.