James W.C. White became the Director of INSTAAR on July 1. White is a Professor of Geological Sciences and the CU Environmental Studies Program (ENVS). He has been a Fellow of INSTAAR since 1989 and started the INSTAAR Stable Isotope Lab that same year. In recent years, his research in global change, paleoclimate dynamics, and biogeochemistry has helped show that large climate changes in the natural system tend to occur as abrupt and rapid modal shifts. His research has also helped show that land plants are capable of removing large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, amounts that equal our input of CO2 from fossil fuel burning on short time scales. White's previous administrative position was as director of ENVS, a degree granting department that he helped found in 1995. He succeeds James Syvitski, who completed 12 years of service as INSTAAR Director in July 2007.
INSTAAR is pursuing major goals under White's leadership that include hiring new faculty, completing a partnership with the U.S. Geological Survey and other federal partners, and planning and building a new building on East Campus for the Environment and Energy Group, a team of academic and research units that include natural sciences, social sciences and humanities.
As CU's oldest institute, INSTAAR's traditional focus has been high-latitude and high-altitude regions because of their sensitivity to environmental change. However, the institute has broadened its geographic focus to match its range of interdisciplinary research, which includes studies of human and ecosystem ecology, biogeochemistry, landscape evolution, oceanography and climate. "Research institutes have led the way in making it very easy, if not downright fun, to cross over disciplinary boundaries at CU," White said. "That has set us up for success."
Beyond pursuing natural and physical science research, INSTAAR under White's leadership will emphasize finding ways to effectively convey its findings to the public by engaging policymakers, businesses and community members. "We constantly find ourselves in a position of being policy relevant, and we can't back away from that," White said. "Human beings are not a small part of the environment anymore. We are a key component, and we see it as necessary to get that message out. I think higher education has a huge responsibility to help guide society toward sustainability, and that is ultimately what INSTAAR is all about," White said. "We don't pretend to do it all. We would just like to do our part as well as we can."