The Initiative for the Science of the Human Past at Harvard and the Climate Change Institute at the University of Maine are delighted to announce that the Arcadia Fund of London awarded a $495,000 grant to their Historical Ice Core Project. The interdisciplinary project’s aim is to study the history of climate change, atmospheric pollution and environmental transformations in the last two millennia, and their impact on human populations.

In 2013, a joint endeavor of Heidelberg University, University of Maine, University of Bern and Harvard University retrieved an ice-core from Colle Gnifetti, in the Swiss-Italian Alps. The location of the glacier, in the heart of Europe and in close proximity to areas of great historical significance and long-term human settlement, holds much promise for the study of past climate and human activity.

Thanks to a previous grant by the Arcadia Fund, Harvard historians have been compiling a geodatabase of Eurasian climate events from written historical sources, in languages such as Latin, Greek, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Middle English. Climate patterns identified in the historical evidence provide invaluable and essential contextual information to understand climate signals from the ice. Written evidence of weather deterioration, flooding, warming, droughts and poor harvests, among other recorded phenomena, allow historians and scientists to understand the full impact of climate change on human health and survival, political stability and migration.

Analysis of the chemical composition of the ice core and resulting climatological interpretations, already underway at the Climate Change Institute’s W.M. Keck Laser Ice Facility, has yielded results of extraordinary quality and detail. The Institute’s next-generation technology has allowed historians and scientists to identify historical and climatic events with an unprecedented level of detail, opening new avenues of research and pioneering new methodologies that will be essential for scholars around the world dedicated to understanding and addressing climate change.

At Harvard University, the project is overseen by Prof. Michael McCormick, chair of the Initiative for the Science of the Human Past and Goelet Professor of Medieval History, and managed by Dr. Alexander More. At the University of Maine, the project is overseen by Dr. Paul Andrew Mayewski, director of the Climate Change Institute and Distinguished University Professor along with Dr. Andrei Kurbatov, Dr. Nicole Spaulding, Dr. Pascal Bohleber  (also at Heidelberg University), and Dr. Sharon Sneed.