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Forecasting the future of weather

Snow in Copley Square following a powerful blizzard.

Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images

Snow in Copley Square following a powerful blizzard.

When it comes to climate change, University of Massachusetts researchers are always looking forward, but they’re also looking back. Way back.

“We have some people looking at warming that happened 30 million years ago,” says Michael Rawlins, an associate professor of geosciences and the director of the university’s Climate System Research Center in Amherst.

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Founded in the mid-1980s, the center studies climate change and variability around the globe and across the ages, with particular expertise in ancient climate fluctuations. The center’s faculty, graduate students, and post-doctoral researchers have investigated the history of monsoons on the Arabian peninsula, the evolution of Arctic climates, and glacier movements on Mount Kilimanjaro.

And while the research center investigates the past and present, its younger sibling, the year-old Northeast Climate Science Center, is focused on the future.

The center, funded with a $7.5 million federal grant, brings together seven notable institutions — including UMass, Columbia University, and the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole — to research how ongoing climate changes will impact forests, fisheries, and other key natural resources in the Northeast. The goal is to give government leaders, wildlife managers, Native American tribes, and nongovernmental organizations the resources they need to see climate shifts coming and adapt policies and practices to new conditions.

“Combined, the research and expertise of the Climate System Research Center and the Northeast Climate Science Center make the University of Massachusetts an outstanding place to do climate science research,” Rawlins says.

So if we get slammed with a blizzard in May, at least UMass is on the case.

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