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US multi-millionaire funds research on climate

Media Release
28 September 2003

US multi-millionaire donates funds to Waikato University
for research on Abrupt Climate Change.

In the early 1980s, Waikato University associate professor Chris Hendy was a key player in discovering the phenomena of Abrupt Climate Change – times when the Earth’s climate went from glacial conditions to nearly as warm as today in as little as ten years.

“The abrupt climate changes dwarf the greenhouse gas warming currently concerning climate scientists and governments, and unless we understand how they work, what hope have we of understanding the effects of carbon dioxide and methane?” asks Chris.

Now a philanthropic American multi-millionaire Gary Comer, who has a keen interest in the issue, is granting Assoc Prof Hendy $500,000 to help unpick the puzzle of why these Abrupt Climate Changes occur.

Knowing why will be a key to helping predict how vulnerable we are to such dramatic climatic shifts today.

The $500,000 will pay for a variety of research, including a key study of sediments deposited in kilometre-deep water off the coast of the South Island. These sediments contain a geological record of the Abrupt Climate Changes.

“Basically what we want to do over the next three years is establish whether abrupt climate changes in the southern hemisphere, and New Zealand in particular, occur at the same time, before or after similar changes in the northern hemisphere,” says Chris.

“If the changes are simultaneous, physics tells us that the Abrupt Climate Changes must be caused by something off the planet, such as output changes from the sun, or changes in the way the atmosphere circulates. Clearly, if that’s the case we need to be doing a whole lot more research to understand what is happening.”

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Chris says if the timing is not the same in both hemispheres then the cause of Abrupt Climate Change is Earth-based and a popularly held belief is that they may have been caused by sudden release of huge lakes dammed up by northern hemisphere ice sheets. Their sudden discharge into the North Atlantic Ocean is thought to alter oceanic circulation patterns.

The field work for the study of ocean sediments off the South Island will be carried out by Dr Penny Cooke, a recent graduate from Waikato University’s Department of Earth Sciences. A PhD student and three Masters students will be recruited to look at links between the oceanic record and records on land in such places as the MacKenzie Basin and South Westland.


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