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Handling the Effects of Abrupt Climate Change

Floodwaters surrounding houses in Dhaka, Bangladesh

UMaine Gets $3 Million NSF IGERT Award For An Adaptation To Abrupt Climate Change Program

The need to adapt environmental policies and management strategies to meet the social and ecological challenges caused by abrupt climate change events around the world is the focus of a new graduate program at the University of Maine beginning this fall, funded by a five-year, $3 million award from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The program, called Adaptation to Abrupt Climate Change, is a collaboration between UMaine’s Climate Change Institute and School of Policy and International Affairs, funded through NSF’s Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) program. It will support the international research of 24 Ph.D. students in Earth sciences, ecology, economics, anthropology and archaeology. Their focus will be on threats of abrupt climate change to global security; ecosystem sustainability under abrupt climate change; and adaptation of economic, social, political and ideological systems to abrupt climate change.

In addition to collaborative interdisciplinary research, the students will participate in policy and management internships with international, federal and state agencies and organizations.

In the new graduate training program, students will become experts and leaders in their fields, understanding the dynamic relationship between the environment and the security of humans in response to abrupt climate change, says Jasmine Saros, associate professor of biology in UMaine’s Climate Change Institute and the principal investigator on the project. They will be the next generation of scientists charged with anticipating, managing and meeting the environmental and social challenges of abrupt climate change.

“The risks of abrupt climate change are globally pervasive and include increased numbers of environmental refugees from storms, sea level rise and inundation of coastal areas, disruption of vital ecosystem services such as potable drinking water,
and erupting conflicts over changing resource availability,” says Saros. “This is why abrupt climate change is recognized as one of the major challenges to global sustainability. Meeting this challenge will require a stronger integration of both the
social and natural sciences — exactly what our new IGERT program is designed to do.”

The U.S. Climate Change Science Program defines abrupt climate change as “a large-scale change in the climate system that takes place over a few decades or less, persists (or is anticipated to persist) for at least a few decades, and causes
substantial disruptions in human and natural systems.”

UMaine’s program will be led by Saros and a team whose research looks at the causes and effects of abrupt climate change: Climate Change Institute director Paul Mayewski; Kristin Sobolik, professor of anthropology and climate change; Mario Teisl, professor of resource economics and policy; and Ivan Fernandez, professor of soil science.

UMaine’s new program received one of 18 NSF IGERT awards made this year. Since the inception of the IGERT program started more than a decade ago, UMaine has received three of the highly competitive awards. The first two are Ph.D. programs in Sensor Science, Engineering and Informatics, and Predoctoral Training in Functional Genomics in Model Organisms, funded in 2005 and 2002, respectively.

Contact: Margaret Nagle, (207) 581-3745

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