2014 Stefansson Memorial Lecture

Join a webcast of the lecture at 6:00pm EST

The annual Stefansson Memorial Lecture, delivered in commemoration of the explorer and anthropologist Vilhjálmur Stefansson, will be December 11, 2014, at the Institute of Arctic & Alpine Research (INSTAAR), University of Colorado Boulder, 1560 30th Street, Room 269 at 4:00pm. Reception to follow.

INSTAAR Director James White will present the lecture "Abrupt change-Past, Present and Future: The hard reality and silver lining in a sustainable future." According to Web of Science, Dr. White is one of the top 1% most highly cited authors in his field. This is an event of the Stefansson Institute in Akureyri, Iceland, and is co-sponsored with the Institute of Arctic Studies at the Dickey Center for International Understanding at Dartmouth College. 

Climate, along with many parts of our environment, are changing as humans put more and more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. With CO2 levels today around 400ppm and rising, levels which last occurred during much warmer times millions of years ago, it is clear that we are committed to even more climate change in the future, not only in our lifetimes, but well beyond our children’s and grandchildren's lifetimes as well. A key question is how changes will occur. Abrupt climate changes are those that exceed our expectations, preparedness, and ability to adapt. Such changes challenge us economically, physically, and socially. This talk will draw upon results from ice core research over the past twenty years, as well as a new NRC report on abrupt climate change in order to address abrupt change, as seen in the past in ice cores, as seen today in key environmental systems upon which humans depend, and what may be coming in the future.

Dr. White is a noted climate scientist working on abrupt climate change, sea ice and sea-level changes, and carbon cycles.  His research interests are broad but revolve around the use of environmental stable isotope ratios that tell us about paleoclimate, biogeochemistry, and global change.  He has been involved in reconstructing both the longest and the most high-resolution climate records obtained from ice cores. His work has been instrumental in showing that large climate changes tend to occur as abrupt shifts in mode, probably driven by internal adjustments in the Earth climate system (rather than gradual adjustments to changing external conditions like energy received from the sun).  Shifts of more than 10˚C in mean temperature in less than a human lifetime are common in the paleoclimate record, and serve as a warning that adaptation to future climate changes may not be easy.

Dr. White is a popular teacher as well as researcher, and regularly conducts courses and innovative programs that address human interactions with the environment. He is Director and Fellow of INSTAAR, Professor of Geological Sciences, and a Professor in the Environmental Studies Program at the University of Colorado Boulder. He received his PhD from Columbia University in 1983.

The first Stefansson Lecture was given in 1998, by Dr. Oran Young, then Professor and Director of Institute of Arctic Studies at Dartmouth. Subsequent lecturers include Dr. Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, President of Iceland; Governor General of Canada, Adrienne Clarkson; New York Times reporter Andrew Revkin; and in 2013, Professor Thomas McGovern, Hunter College, CUNY; and many other distinguished scholars.