The 2019 climate conference inspired a portfolio of multimedia stories by Medill Comer Scholars
Comer Conference Scientists show global impacts of Climate Change Story by Chris McConaghey and the Medill Comer Conference Reporting Team |
The glaciers are melting faster, accelerating sea level rise. Ocean currents are changing, altering weather and rainfall that millions of people rely on. And wind patterns are shifting as the climate heats up. These are among the global climate challenges deliberated with new findings at the annual Comer Climate Conference in southwestern Wisconsin this fall.
‘Grandmaster of climate change’ Wally Broecker remembered at climate conference Story by Zack Fishman | Dozens of scientists convene every year at the Comer Climate Conference to share new research about rising oceans and melting glaciers, both today and in the past. The event, funded by the family of late billionaire philanthropist Gary Comer, has been organized since 2004 by famed climate scientists Wallace Broecker, Richard Alley and George Denton. But this fall, the conference was overcast by Broecker’s death in February. Colleagues, students and friends shared stories and memories of the influential scientist, who passed away at the age of 87 still actively engaged in climate research. The 2019 conference honored his legacy with the latest findings in global climate science.
Glaciers as “global thermometers” show the fast pace of melting in a warming world Story by Madhurita Goswami | Glaciers across the globe behave in a synchronized manner, said geologist Thomas Lowell at the recent Comer Climate Conference, an annual national conference held in Wisconsin. Not only does Lowell study glaciers around the world to reach this conclusion but also compared data obtained by separate dating techniques. Sounding the alarm, as we warm temperatures the glaciers retreat faster, he said. This, in turn, would change the sea levels in coming years by a greater extent than people imagine now, Lowell added.
Greenland ‘ice tongue’ at risk of melting away - again Story by Zack Fishman | A 30-mile-long strip of sea ice in northwest Greenland, once thought to be a permanent structure, didn’t exist until about 2,000 years ago, according to newly published research from researchers at Oregon State University. The findings suggest that some of the Arctic may melt more quickly than expected in today’s warming climate. The sea ice, known as the Petermann ice tongue, stretches across a narrow valley where the large Petermann Glacier meets the Arctic Ocean. The ice tongue captured media attention in 2010 and 2012 when enormous icebergs, each many times larger than Manhattan Island, broke off into the ocean. New fractures were spotted this year.
4,000 floating robots take on climate change Story by Elena Bruess | I ziplined recently with a scientist who told me that her work involved almost 4,000 floating robots and a massive global computer database that could help her predict the future of our world’s climate. This was during a break in the Comer Climate Conference and the woods behind conference headquarters held many mysteries, including a zipline and now – for me – the world’s most interesting researcher. She gave a presentation on her work the next day to climate scientists from across the nation gathered at the annual science meetup in southwestern Wisconsin. My fellow zipliner is Becki Beadling, a Ph.D. candidate.
Rapid glacial melt near Mount Everest peaks threatens Nepali communities Story by Elena Bruess | Near the peaks of Mount Everest – towering some 5.6 miles above sea level – the ancient Khumbu Glacier is melting - fast. Never before in the last 70 years has the massive ice rock melted more quickly than at present. It is losing thickness at an unprecedented rate – about 131 feet in the last 10 to 15 years, to be exact. And the Nepali communities surrounding the Khumbu are feeling the consequences. The impact of the depleted glacier could eventually reduce access to freshwater for these areas and could hinder Nepali guides who are dependent on the tourism from Mount Everest.
Khumbu Glacier in Nepal offers clues to rapid retreat of ice Story by Anne Snabes | The Khumbu Glacier in the Himalayas retreated rapidly in the past, offering clues to how the glacier will behave in the future, University of Maine research suggests. University master’s student Laura Mattas conducted field research this summer on the Khumbu Glacier in Nepal. She presented her research this fall at the Comer Climate Conference, an annual meeting in Wisconsin of climate scientists from across the country. According to the National Snow & Ice Data Center, glaciers globally are retreating at “unprecedented rates.”
Tropical glaciers are melting fast – A life cycle look at climate change Story by Madhurita Goswami | Most of us associate glaciers with Antarctica or the northern ice-sheets of the Arctic and Greenland. It may come as a surprise that scientists Alice M. Doughty and Meredith Kelly are studying tropical glaciers at the Rwenzori Mountains of Uganda to improve our understanding of climate change. The Rwenzori lies only 23 minutes north of the Equator. There are glaciers here because the life cycle of tropical glaciers isn’t about location but height. Reaching Rwenzori’s glaciers means climbing at least 4,000 meters (more than 13,000 feet) above sea level just to get to the foot of them. Still, in a warming world, height can’t protect these once mammoth ice masses as they rapidly retreat.
New NOAA weather prediction system improves severe storm forecasts Story by Lucia Whalen | The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration updated its weather prediction system this June with a climate model that will include data from updated oceanic science, allowing for more accurate climate change-related severe weather forecasting. The new weather model provides faster forecasts and can assess storm movement at the county level as weather extremes accelerate in an increasingly unstable climate.
Meet the next generation in climate science – Chicago teen studies glaciers in Mongolia Story by Lucia Whalen | The summer before college, most 18-year-olds work summer jobs, attend music festivals and spend their final days at home with friends before heading off to their first year of independence. Patricia Joyner is not most 18-year-olds. Over the summer, Joyner, a recent graduate of Gary Comer College Prep high school in Chicago and an incoming freshman at the University of Maine, joined scientists from there to track the retreat of the glaciers and how past changes can give clues to global climate triggers and what human-made warming might mean for us now.
Tiny shells reveal insights for ocean health in North Pacific Story by By Anne Snabes | Calcium carbonate, a primary ingredient in the shells of tiny marine organisms, reduces the acidification of our world’s oceans. The ocean is approximately 30% more acidic than when the Industrial Revolution began, and carbon dioxide emissions from human use of fossil fuels have greatly contributed to this increase.
Renowned geoscientist talks climate science, renewable solutions Story by Zack Fishman | Richard Alley caught a cold while flying to southwest Wisconsin for the annual Comer Climate Conference land, hosted each fall by the Comer Family Foundation. But the illness didn’t stop the seasoned scientist from celebrating each research presentation with emphatic words of encouragement, and he used his closing speech to remind his peers of their crucial role in combating climate change.
Scott Travis: On call for farm, foundation and science Story by Chris McConaghey | Scott Travis didn’t know what to expect when he put in an application to work for Lands’ End clothing company in 1987. He was 32 years old then and got the position. During that time, he had several opportunities to meet and talk with the late Gary Comer – founder and owner of Lands’ Ends – and was promoted from the sales and packaging department to eventually becoming a safety manager of the plant in Dodgeville, Wisconsin.