From mountaineer to climatologist: a profile of Dr. Cameron Wake

By Emily Bowers

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Part 1: The Ascent from Mountaineer to Climatologist
A childhood adventure in the Canadian Rockies completely altered the course of Dr. Cameron Wake’s life. He was 14 when he traveled, on the suggestion of his older brother, from his hometown in Montreal to Banff National Park to complete a mountaineering course. He described the area where he camped in the Kananaskis Valley as three miles from any road, adjacent to a wide gushing river, surrounded by snow-peaked mountains and untouched forest. It was there that he fell in love with the mountains.

“I discovered a pretty powerful chord,” he said. “Some people learn how to play piano, other people learn how to hit a baseball—I went to the mountains. Everything I did from that point forward was about gaining the skills and putting myself in a position to work in the mountains.”

And that he did. Now a climatologist and associate research professor at the University of New Hampshire’s Earth Systems Research Center, Wake’s journey began with an undergraduate degree in geology and a graduate degree in geography. At the end of his undergraduate degree in Geology he was a sedimentary geologist who, in his words, was “headed for the oil patch.”

“But there were no jobs in the early 1980s because there was a huge oil glut then, and so I got a job monitoring a glacier in the Canadian Rockies,” said Wake. “It was exactly what I wanted to do.”

Through his experience monitoring a glacier he met a geographer who worked in a part of the Karakoram located in northern Pakistan. The Karakoram is a large mountain range that passes through Pakistan, India and China, north of the Himalayas, that contains the highest concentrations of mountain peaks in the world.

A mountaineer’s dream, Wake traveled to Pakistan to work in the Himalayas and the Karakoram for the next 15 years. While studying the glaciers of that area and learning about climate change, Wake said he realized the potential of glaciers as a “tremendous archive from which we could study climate change and the past.”

“That’s when I shifted from a guy that just wanted to climb mountains to a guy that wanted to study the science,” said Wake. That brought him to the University of New Hampshire to do his PhD in Earth Sciences, where he has remained to teach and continue his research.

TOMORROW Part 2: Ice Core Research

Dr. Cameron Wake is a research associate professor with the Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans, and Space at the University of New Hampshire. Find more of his research here.

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