De­cod­ing the Cli­mate Change Cipher


AS one of ma­jor chal­lenges con­fronting the world, cli­mate change was a selected topic dis­cussed at the 72nd UN Gen­eral As­sem­bly held from Septem­ber 19 to 25, 2017. Lately, the globe has been fre­quently rocked by nat­u­ral dis­as­ters such as typhoons and hur­ri­canes. In the con­text of global warm­ing, how should we re­spond to nat­u­ral dis­as­ters and ex­treme weather?

Ex­am­in­ing Lake Sed­i­ments

Sci­en­tists have long been try­ing to trace cli­mate change through ge­o­log­i­cal records of deep-sea sed­i­ments, po­lar and alpine ice cores, loess, lakes, sta­lag­mites, corals, etc.

Li Minghui, as­so­ci­ate re­search fel­low at the In­sti­tute of Ti­betan Plateau Re­search with the Chi­nese Academy of Sci­ences, fo­cuses on study­ing lake sed­i­ments and en­vi­ron­men­tal min­er­al­ogy. Since the early 1990s, she has trav­eled to many far­away places such as the Ti­betan Plateau and the Qil­ian Moun­tains.

Ac­cord­ing to Li, the re­search on global cli­mate change is vi­brant and at the fore­front of nat­u­ral sci­en­tific re­search. It is also the core topic of global change re­search. Lake sed­i­ment records rich his­tor­i­cal cli­mate in­for­ma­tion in a pre­cise man­ner. The min­eral com­po­si­tion of sed­i­ments cap­tures key clues of cli­mate change, con­sti­tut­ing a ba­sic in­di­ca­tor in as­sess­ing the cli­mate and en­vi­ron­ment.

With the lake sed­i­ment act­ing as a kind of cli­mate proxy, sci­en­tists are able to re­con­struct the se­quence of en­vi­ron­men­tal changes by mea­sur­ing the avail­able sed­i­ments and ex­tract­ing cli­mate and en­vi­ron­men­tal in­for­ma­tion. The re­search will help us to un­der­stand cli­mate change through­out his­tory, and more­over, bet­ter pre­dict the changes in the fu­ture.

Ex­plor­ing the Plateau

The Qing­hai- Ti­bet Plateau is home to a large quan­tity of lakes, whose area ac­counts for more than 45 per­cent of China’s to­tal. In ad­di­tion, the high­land lakes are al­most free from hu­man ac­tiv­i­ties. Most are in­land saline lakes, rich in salt min­er­als such as halite, bo­rax, and sodium sul­fate. These salt min­er­als record the en­vi­ron­men­tal changes in dif­fer­ent ar­eas of the plateau.

Thanks to its unique ge­o­graph­i­cal lo­ca­tion, the Ti­betan Plateau is sen­si­tive to cli­mate change and thus serves as a good place in this re­gard. The min­er­als in plateau lake sed­i­ments are ex­tremely use­ful in re­search on en­vi­ron­ment evo­lu­tion.

Since Li joined the Ti­betan Plateau In­sti­tute in 2005, her re­search find­ings have filled a gap in this field. For in­stance, she dis­cov­ered mono­hy­dro­cal­cite ( CaCO3 · H2O), a min­eral, in high- al­ti­tude ar­eas, and a sul­fate min­eral Na4Ca ( So4) 3 · 2H2O in China. All these find­ings pro­vide min­er­alog­i­cal ev­i­dence for the lake en­vi­ron­ment changes, and also en­rich the ba­sic data for salt min­er­als re­search. Li and her team also re­vealed

Li Minghui is an as­so­ci­ate re­search fel­low at the In­sti­tute of Ti­betan Plateau Re­search with the Chi­nese Academy of Sci­ences.

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