Adventures in Science - Climate Edition

Jonathan Strickland

What can caves tell us about the climate history of the planet? | Credit: iStock/Thinkstock

Climate change is an incredibly complex field of research. The recent IPCC report refined earlier measurements and predictions, demonstrating that while we know a lot about the global climate there is still much to learn. But how do we learn?

You might think that climatologists simply feed endless amounts of data into computer models and then see what happens. While virtual representations of the Earth's climate are important, a surprising amount of research happens in the field. And it can be exciting, breathtaking work.

Take the experience of this group of Georgia Tech students and faculty. They traveled to Borneo to explore caves and retrieve samples of stalagmites and fossilized coral. They then analyzed their samples in a lab to see how that region changed over time as global conditions -- like carbon dioxide levels -- also changed.

Not every scientist gets to don a fedora and carry a trusty bullwhip while doing science. But it's also true that not every scientist is chained down to a lab day after day. Reading stories like this one (and watching the YouTube videos) gives me just a twinge of regret that I didn't pursue my original plan of becoming a marine biologist. Though to be fair, I'm not sure a fedora and whip would be useful underwater. I'll get back to you on that.