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World’s future may turn on dust in the wind

February 25, 2010

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Strange as it sounds, dust may have helped end the last ice age some 10,000 years ago.

And that has environmental scientists like SFU’s Karen Kohfeld taking a closer look at its role in climate change today.

Kohfeld, who holds a Canada Research Chair on climate resources and global change, says the tiny particles that float around in the earth’s atmosphere may now be affecting the earth’s climate and ocean productivity.

She leads the Climate, Oceans and Paleo-Environments (COPE) lab, where she uses data from past climates to test present-day climate models.

"My current work has been putting these effects into perspective relative to other natural causes of changes in atmospheric CO2," she says.

Kohfeld and one of her students are also studying ocean carbon-sequestration as a means of dealing with the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Her research also examines how climate change will affect extreme weather events in B.C. For example, one study is tracking how the number and intensity of extreme windstorms has changed over the last 50 years in coastal B.C.

Another will examine past storms in B.C. using isotopes in tree rings.

"The underlying principle behind all of these studies," says Kohfeld, "is to try to examine the past to understand how—and if—certain aspects of climate are changing now, and therefore what may drive changes in the future."

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