Investigating the mysteries of climate change

As concern for global warming intensifies, researchers are seeking ways to better understand the mechanisms of climate change. Global warming is regarded by many as a problem rooted in the present. Spiros Pagiatakis (right), professor of geodesy and geomatics engineering in York’s Faculty of Pure and Applied Science, takes a different view. He is looking to the past for answers to the problem of global warming.

Pagiatakis is focusing on climate fluctuations that took place during the earth’s ice age. Twenty thousand years ago, much of North America was covered by a heavy layer of glacial ice that was several kilometres thick. The layer of ice depressed parts of the Earth’s crust nearly 500 meters.

The earth’s ice age ended 12,000 years ago when a climate change melted much of the ice. The reduction in the ice surface caused the depressed crust to rise at a rate of approximately one cm per year. This phenomenon is known as post-glacial rebound, and while most of the ice may be gone, the earth is still rebounding.

Using measurements of gravity taken over the last 50 years – measurements never intended to aid in studying this phenomenon – Pagiatakis is attempting to better understand the post-glacial rebound, and by extension, the interior structure of the planet. Ultimately, this research may help scientists determine just how much ice once covered the earth. This historical perspective could improve our current grasp of climate change and global warming.

Pagiatakis’ work is interdisciplinary, encompassing fields such as geology and geophysics. Specifically he uses the science of geomatics engineering as a tool to conduct his research.

Funding for Pagiatakis’ work comes from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), Geomatics for Informed Decisions (GEOIDE), Networks of Centres of Excellence (NCE), Canadian Foundation for Innovation (CFI) and the Ontario Innovation Trust (OIT)

Geodesy and Geomatics

Geomatics Engineering is founded on the scientific framework of geodesy, the science concerned with the determination of size, shape, physical surface and gravity field of the earth, in three-dimensional, time-varying space. Geomatics engineering uses terrestrial, marine, airborne and spacecraft sensors that are referenced to a national, highly accurate and globally consistent, four-dimensional spatial reference frame to acquire data for a wide range of applications.

Geodesy deals with the establishment, maintenance, continuous development and enhancement of national and global four-dimensional spatial reference frames and the measurement and monitoring of geodynamic phenomena. It makes use of conventional and space geodetic techniques in an integrated global observation system.

This article was submitted to YFile by Jason Guriel, York’s Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada SPARK student (Students Promoting Awareness of Research Knowledge). Guriel, a second-year graduate student in English, will be writing stories on York NSERC-funded researchers throughout the year.

SPARK is a program that was launched in 1999 at 10 universities across Canada. Through SPARK, students with an aptitude for communications are recruited, trained and paid to write stories based on the NSERC-supported research at participating universities. Information on the NSERC Spark Student program is available at