Science and Public Leadership Fellows Kim Cobb on reconstructing climates and Brian Hare on studying bonobos

Kim Cobb

Kim Cobb, Associate Professor of Climate Change at Georgia Institute of Technology is a climatologist known for her work analyzing global climate change and  reconstructing tropical climates.

Cobb studies the fundamentals of climate change.  Her primary research site is Palmyra Island where she collects samples in her attempts to reconstruct climate.  The challenge: how to improve climate model projects of regional climate change including, for example, trends in rainfall. 

There’s a lot of information about predicting rainfall that we don’t know at this point especially because rainfall records only go back to 1970.  But since 70% of the world’s population lives in the tropics, having a clearer sense of future rainfall over the next 100 years would be incredibly valuable.  Cobb is working to study climate variability of the past in order to construct a sense of what we can expect in the future.

Cobb is also trying to re-message climate science. "We need to sell settled science better, " she says in regards to how CO2 is warming the planet and climate change in general.  “We need to design a better infrastructure to work through these challenges.”

Brian Hare

Associate Professor of Evolutionary Anthropology and Cognitive Neuroscience at Duke University, Brian Hare works to identify how humans’ problem-solving abilities have evolved and studies how primates’ and non-primates’ social skills evolve.

Hare, who focuses on the origins of human nature, believes that we can learn a significant amount about relationships and cognition as it relates to other species. He wants to challenge the notion in Western culture that the human species is the most highly evolved.  “Maybe our species isn’t any more unique than any other species on the planet,” he said.

Hare compares how chimps, bonobos and homosapiens solve problems focusing primarily on bonobos.  He described a study he conducted in which a female bonobo, Little Mimi, dominated Tatongo, a much larger male bonobo. Usually we assume the bigger animal is dominant, but that’s not the case with Mimi and Tatongo — and bonobos in general — which are incredibly tolerant and never fight. If there’s ever any tension, they have sex. 

Hare believes that bonobos are the most intelligent species and to that end, he wants to get into their psyche so he can be more like them.

For more information about bonobos and preserving the sanctuaries in which they live, check out Friends of Bonobos or Bonobo Handshake.

(photos: Kris Krug)

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