On May 12, 2021, Martin Stute, the Alena Wels Hirschorn '58 and Martin Hirschorn Professor in Environmental and Applied Sciences and co-chair of the Environmental Science Department, published breakthrough research in Nature — one of the world’s most prestigious scientific journals. Stute worked alongside scientists from the U.S., Switzerland, and Germany to complete the study, which found that scholars have — up until now — underestimated the cooling in the last glacial period and, as a result, miscalculated the Earth’s climate sensitivity to greenhouse gases.
The paper, titled “Widespread six degrees Celsius cooling on land during the Last Glacial Maximum,” uses measurements of noble gases found in groundwater samples to evaluate estimates of Earth’s climate sensitivity to carbon dioxide (CO²). The analysis includes four decades of groundwater noble gas data from six continents, along with new records from the tropics. These samples were then interpreted using the same physical framework.
Based on these results, the authors conclude that the Earth’s climate is likely more sensitive to CO² than previous estimates have claimed. What this means for the future is that “we can expect more climate change than we thought,” Stute explains.
Because this landmark study alters current predictions about how quickly global warming will progress — with major consequences occurring faster than anticipated — the research will, undoubtedly, impact important policy decisions as the world prepares for environmental changes.