> Dust plays role in changing climate

Dust plays role in changing climate

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Karen Kohfeld, (available only by email while in San Diego) karen_kohfeld@sfu.ca
(She’ll be in San Diego until Feb. 20, in Portland til the 25th, back home Feb. 26)
Marianne Meadahl, PAMR, 778.782.4323

February 19, 2010

Dust may have helped end the last ice age. And that has environmental scientists like Simon Fraser University’s Karen Kohfeld taking a closer look at its role in climate change today.

Kohfeld, who holds SFU’s Canada Research Chair on Climate Resources and Global Change, says dust – the tiny particles that float around in the earth’s atmosphere – may have contributed 10,000 years ago to the end of the ice age (her paper is published in Advances in Science, a publication of the Royal Society of London).

Kohfeld will address international scientists on Feb. 19 in (San Diego) at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual conference (Feb. 18-22) to talk about her research on dust and how it is expected to impact the earth’s climate and ocean productivity.

Kohfeld earlier developed a model called the DIRTMAP (Dust Indicators and Records of Terrestrial and Marine Palaeoenvironments), which has enabled researchers to test theories about dust and its impact over the past decade.

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

Kohfeld studies the historical effects of dust on ocean productivity during the last ice age through a process known as iron fertilization. “My current work has been putting these effects into perspective relative to other natural causes of changes in atmospheric CO2,” she says.

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

Kohfeld’s research also targets issues relevant to British Columbia, such as how climate change will affect extreme weather events in the province. One study is tracking how the number and intensity of extreme windstorms have changed over the last 50 years in coastal B.C. Another will examine past storms in B.C. using isotopes in tree rings.

Says Kohfeld: “The underlying principle behind all of these studies 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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