Regina researcher part of new study that shows it's 'virtually impossible' to dispute climate change

A Regina-based scientist has contributed some of his research on trees to a project that looks at how the earth’s temperature has risen.

New database shows temperature records going back as far as 2,000 years

A new database of temperatures from around the world underscores what scientists like David Sauchyn have known for years, which is that the planet's temperature is rising at an unusual rate. (Getty Images/RooM RF)

A Regina-based researcher is one of nearly 100 scientists hand-picked from around the world to be part of a new study that shows the planet is indeed getting hotter.

David Sauchyn is a senior researcher at the Prairie Adaptation Research Collaborative and professor of geography at the University of Regina.

He's one of a handful of Canadians whose climate research has been used to create an international database of historical temperature records — some going as far back as 2,000 years — so scientists could have a better idea of what the earth's natural temperature was before humans started burning fossil fuels.

The major finding? That the planet's temperature was declining over the last 2,000 years until 150 years ago when that trend did an about-face, and temperatures started rising rapidly. 

"It just adds to the large body of scientific facts that confirm, that verify that the climate is warming at an unusual rate," he said of the study.

"We haven't discovered anything new, it's just that we presented such a conclusive set of facts that it's virtually impossible to argue anything else."

The database is published on an online journal that allows open access to data deemed important to science. It was created as part of global research initiative on climate trends. 

University of Regina researcher David Sauchyn holds a cross-section of a tree, showing its growth rings, which provide a record of available water in the Athabasca Basin over the years. (Courtesy David Sauchyn)

Looking beyond weather

Unlike other studies that use weather to study climate, this one examines climate by looking at natural life, such as mineral or coral growth, or in Sauchyn's case, the growth of trees.

"All of these natural phenomenon are sensitive to temperature and so we can actually determine what the temperature was when these things were growing 2,000 years ago or 1,000 years ago," he explained.

He said he was asked to participate because for the past 25 years, he and students have collected wood from across the Prairies.

The 648 sites temperature records were collected from that formed the database. ( A global multiproxy database for temperature reconstructions of the Common Era)

As a result of that work, Sauchyn was able to provide temperature records for two sites in the Canadian Rockies from more than 600 years ago. 

The database includes 692 of these temperature records from 648 sites around the world, including oceans. 

He said similar studies of this nature have been done in the past, but nothing on this scale.

More data, better conclusions

Sauchyn explained only looking at climate by studying weather leaves a short history.

"Weather stations have only existed around the world since about 1880, so we only have about 140 years of weather data, which to an average person sounds like a lot, but the weather and the climate are much, much older than that."

Another problem is that's around the time humans began burning coal and oil.

"We've been measuring weather during the period in which humans have been modifying the climate, so by going back 2,000 years we have a record of temperature before humans had such a profound impact on our climate." 

But thanks to the new database, scientists can now have a better understanding of what earth's climate was doing naturally — well before people were burning fossil fuels.

"The more data, the better because the more solid are your conclusions," he explained.