UMaine Climate Change Institute celebrates 50th anniversary

The University of Maine’s Climate Change Institute celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2023, marking half-century of research and education related to climate change in Maine, New England and across the planet.

In 1973, professor emeritus Harold Borns, whose research focused on glaciers and glaciation in Maine, founded the Institute for Quaternary Studies with the goal of conducting interdisciplinary research studying the last 2 million years of Earth’s physical, chemical, biological and social characteristics. In 2002, the institute was renamed as the Climate Change Institute (CCI).

Since then, CCI has spearheaded important projects leading to groundbreaking discoveries. Scientists at CCI first mapped the difference between climate during the Ice Age and today in the 1970s; discovered the importance of marine-based ice sheets in the 1980s; connected acid rain to human causes in the mid-1980s; uncovered the concept of abrupt climate change through studying ice cores in Greenland in the mid-1990s; and led expeditions traversing Antarctica to determine the impact of human-sourced pollutants into the 2010s.

Along the way, students at UMaine played a focal role in research and participated in other hands-on learning opportunities through CCI. Many have gone on to be leaders in fields studying the physical, chemical, biological and social aspects of climate change around the world.

More information about CCI’s research expeditions can be found on its website.

Paul Mayewski, world-renowned polar explorer, climate scientist and glaciologist, has served as the director of the CCI since 2002. He has led more than 60 expeditions to some of the planet’s most remote areas, including an expedition to Mount Everest with National Geographic and Rolex in 2019.

Mayewski said that CCI is one of the first — if not the first — truly interdisciplinary group at UMaine with a worldwide reach.

“Doing interdisciplinary science is not such a simple thing; it really requires an openness to other disciplines’ methodologies and the problems that they care about. For a problem like climate change, you need to have a multidisciplinary approach. It’s not enough to just have people in silos; you want people to be talking to each other and developing responses to the challenge together. This is bigger than an individual research and/or academic unit,” says Mayewski. “We give our graduate students and many undergraduate students a life-changing experience through our approach to research and field expeditions throughout Maine, the polar regions, high mountains, deserts and oceans”

Mayewski discussed the 50th anniversary of CCI on last week’s episode of the Maine Question podcast, along with UMaine researchers Cindy Isenhour, associate professor of anthropology and climate change, and Dan Sandweiss, professor of anthropology and Quaternary and climate studies.

On Nov. 18, current students, alumni and faculty gathered to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the CCI — its history, past accomplishments, future goals and continued impact on current students and alumni. Presenters included George Jacobson, director emeritus of CCI; Jim Roscoe, professor emeritus of anthropology with a cooperating professorship at CCI; CCI alumna Kimberly Miner, scientist and engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL); and CCI alumnus Kurt Rademaker, assistant professor of anthropology at Michigan State University.

Additional video testimonials contributed by CCI alumni that were screened at the 50th Anniversary proceedings can be viewed on YouTube.

Mayewski is proud to be celebrating CCI’s 50th anniversary and reveling in its accomplishments, but their work is far from over. The next half-century of the institute promises even more discoveries and contributions to tackling the all-encompassing challenge of climate change around the world.

“Because climate change is a rapidly evolving challenge, it is constantly absorbing more and more disciplines and views,” Mayewski says. “We need to constantly evolve with it.”