Kurt M. Cuffey

Professor and Department Chair
Department of Geography
(and Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences)

University of California, Berkeley
507 McCone Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720-4740
510-642-3370 (fax)

The global physical environment is a vast and complex machine composed of numerous interconnected systems capable of dramatic change over brief intervals of time. A solid understanding of the character and dynamics of this machine can explain a diversity of engaging geographical phenomena, from the aesthetically stunning views on a high Sierra Nevada mountain summit to the devastating loss of life and property resulting from land-slides and floods. The purpose of my scholarship is to design, improve, evaluate, and enjoy such explanations. Two complementary approaches in this pursuit are (1) to achieve a rigorous physically-based understanding of environmental processes and sys-tem dynamics, and (2) to reconstruct the remarkable "natural experiments" of Earth's en-vironmental history. I use both approaches.

Constraints on time, technology, and brainpower have forced me, like most scholars, to the bittersweet reality of specialization; my research efforts emphasize environmental change of polar regions, with a focus on glaciologic problems. The choice of polar glaciology reflects the unique and powerful contributions that this subdiscipline makes to en-vironmental change research. Ice core reconstructions of environmental history offer the most comprehensive, varied, and high-resolution view yet achieved of past environments. The ice sheets themselves are a major control on global sea level and albedo, and on high-latitude atmospheric and oceanic circulations, and on physical landscape characteristics. No other topographic features of this size and importance are changeable on such short time scales.

I use a quantitatively rigorous and novel blend of geophysical and geochemical techniques to address questions that are important in this context: How have climatic temperature and atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations covaried in the past? What is the tempo and magnitude of climate changes in polar regions? What determines the isotopic composition of precipitation? How have the great ice sheets changed in the past, and how will they change in the future? How do they flow? How are microphysical processes in ice manifest at the scale of whole glaciers and ice sheets?

In addition to these major research themes, I also do some work on biogeography and temperate geomorphology. I very much enjoy the breadth and diversity of scholarship in the Berkeley Geography Department (my home department) and also am affiliated with the Department of Earth and Planetary Science.

Selected Publications:

Cuffey, K. M. (2004). Into an ice age. Nature, 431, p. 133-134.

Cuffey, K.M., and F. Vimeux (2001). Carbon dioxide and temperature covariation from the Vostok ice core after deuterium excess correction. Nature, 412, p. 523-527.

Cuffey, K.M. and S.J. Marshall (2000). Substantial contribution to sea level rise during the last interglacial from the Greenland Ice Sheet. Nature, 404, 591-594.

Cuffey, K.M. (2000). Methodology for use of isotopic climate forcings in ice sheet mod-els. Geophysical Research Letters, 27(19), 3065-3068.

Cuffey, K.M. and E.J. Brook (2000). Ice sheets and the ice-core record of climate change. pp. 459-497 In: Jacobson, M.C., R.J. Charlson, H. Rodhe and G.H. Orians, eds. Earth System Science. From Biogeochemical Cycles to Global Change. Academic Press, New York.

Cuffey, K.M., H. Conway, A. Gades, B. Hallet, C.F. Raymond, and S. Whitlow (2000). Deformation properties of subfreezing glacier ice: Role of crystal size, chemical impurities, and rock particles inferred from in-situ measurements. Journal of Geophysical Research, 105(B12), 27895-27915.

Cuffey, K.M., H. Conway, A.M. Gades, B. Hallet, R. Lorrain, J.P. Severinghaus, E.J. Steig, B. Vaughn and J.W.C. White (2000). Entrainment at cold glacier beds. Geology, 28(4), 351-354.

Cuffey, K.M. and G.D. Clow (1997). Temperature, accumulation and ice sheet elevation in central Greenland through the last deglacial transition. Journal of Geophysical Research 102(C12), 26383-396.

Cuffey, K.M., G.D. Clow, R.B. Alley, M. Stuiver, E.D. Waddington and R.W. Saltus (1995). Large Arctic temperature change at the Wisconsin-Holocene glacial transition. Science 270, 455-458.


Geography 40. Global Environmental Change (4 units). Overview of the atmosphere, the ocean, the continents, and the biogeochemical cycles, how they operate as systems and how they are linked to create global environments. This foundation is then applied to understand major environmental change issues including global warming, ice-age cycling, atmospheric and riverine pollution, soil loss, and biodiversity decline.

Geography 140A. Physical Landscapes: Process and Form (4 units). Understanding the physical characteristics of the Earth's surface, and the processes active on it, is essential for maintaining the long-term health of the environment, and for appreciating the unique, defining qualities of geographic regions. In this course, we build an understanding of global tectonics, and of rivers, hillslopes, and coastlines, and discover how these act in concert with the underlying geologic framework to produce the magnificent landscapes of our planet. Through our review of formative processes, we learn how physical landscapes change and are susceptible to human modifications, which are often unintentional. Prerequisite: Geography 1 or equivalent.

Geography 140B. Physiography and Geomorphologic Extremes (4 units). In this course we review the physical landscapes and surface processes in extreme environments: hot arid regions, glacial and periglacial landscapes, and karst terrane. Using this knowledge, plus an understanding of tectonics and temperate watersheds (gained from the prerequisite), we explore how unique combinations of geomorphic processes acting on tectonic and structural provinces have created the spectacular and diverse landscapes of North America. Regions to be explored include the Colorado Plateau, Great Basin, Sierra Nevada, North Cascades, Northern and Southern Rockies, Great Plains, Appalachian Highlands, and Mississippi Delta. Prerequisite: Geography 140A.

Geography/EPS C241. Glaciology (4 units). A review of the mechanics of glacial systems, including formation of ice masses, glacial flow mechanisms, subglacial hydrology, temperature and heat transport, and global flow and response of ice sheets and glaciers. We will use this knowledge to examine glaciers as geomorphologic agents and as participants in climate change. Prerequisite: working knowledge of Calculus.

Geography 243. Recent Advances in Environmental Change Research (4 units). In this seminar class we review recent important advances in environmental change research, including research on climate change and history, earth systems and their histories, and earth surface processes. Discussions, which focus on recently published articles in prominent journals, or on recently published texts, explore the frontiers of scientific knowledge in this subject, and the tools being used to advance this frontier. May be repeated for credit.

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