Whether new to the subject or well-versed in climate science, visitors to the Field Museum will find plenty to interest them in “Climate Change,” a traveling exhibit now on view there. The exhibit explains the science of climate change — what scientists know and how they know it — and explores its effects on our atmosphere, oceans, land and societies. Equally important, the exhibit highlights practical solutions and the important roles of individuals, communities and countries in curbing climate change.

The Problem

The exhibit begins with a bright red timeline that tracks the rise of carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in the atmosphere over the last 400 years, from the pre-industrial era to the present day. Next, display panels examine the major sources of greenhouse gases today — coal, oil, natural gas, cement production and deforestation — and their contribution to climate change.

A video pulls it all together with an introduction to climate science and an explanation of how CO2 and other greenhouse gases are causing the average global temperature to rise and the climate to change.

The Effects

The exhibit proceeds to detail the changes already under way due to the warming climate.

• Changing Atmosphere explains the difference between weather and climate and examines the “wild weather” that is becoming more common and more severe.

• Changing Ice discusses the important role that ice plays in Earth’s climate and the consequences of rapidly melting polar ice and glaciers.

• Changing Ocean looks at how ocean waters are warming and acidifying and the likely impact on marine organisms and the ocean’s ability to store CO2.

• Changing Land explores the growing risk of drought in some areas, flooding in others, and the impact of climate change on ecosystems and on other species.

Tangible Objects Catch the Eye Models and interactive displays draw visitors’ attention. 

• A massive six-foot tall model of a metric ton of coal represents the amount of coal needed to meet the electricity needs of the average U.S. household for two months.

• A computer display lets visitors see how even small personal changes (using energy-efficient lights, driving less, planting trees) add up quickly to help reduce CO2 emissions.

• A model of a section of a core sample of Greenland ice calls attention to the evidence of changing concentrations of CO2 that scientists find by analyzing the bubbles trapped in the layers of ice going back over the past 100,000 years.

• A model shows Manhattan Island going underwater in different scenarios of sea-level rise.

• A life-size polar bear scavenges in a pile of trash because its natural habitat is shrinking.

• The movements of clouds, ocean currents and seasonal ice illustrating how climate works are projected onto video globes in several parts of the exhibit.

• A model of a dead white coral reef – the result of “coral bleaching” – highlights the danger of the increasing acidification of the ocean.

The Solutions

Multiple strategies will be needed to reduce CO2 emissions. Among these, the greatest challenge is to develop enough clean sources of electricity to meet the world’s growing appetite for energy.  The last part of the exhibit discusses a variety of clean energy choices, including solar power, wind power, nuclear power and carbon capture and storage. A brief video describes another strategy: The Field Museum’s efforts to establish a carbon offset project designed to avoid deforestation in a vast and pristine rainforest in Peru.

A bulletin board covered with notes from kids (and some adults) offering ideas of ways to tackle climate change suggests that the exhibit’s messages have taken hold. Further evidence that people are ready to make a difference can be found in a small companion exhibit about the Chicago Climate Action Plan that showcases city initiatives and accomplishments to date.

Planning a Visit

“Climate Change” runs through Nov. 28. Admission requires a timed-entry ticket, which can be reserved in advance. Museum members can reserve their free tickets by calling 312-665-7705. For non-members, there is an additional charge for the exhibit over the general admission fee. Advance tickets may be purchased online, over the phone (866-343-5303), or in person at the will-call booth. Exelon is contributing $1 to the museum for every visitor to the exhibit.

In conjunction with the exhibit, the Field Museum is offering a free lecture – “Climate Change in the Great Lakes Region” – by Dr. Donald Scavia, director of the Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute, University of Michigan,
at 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 7 in Lecture Hall I. Pre-registration is encouraged but not required: 312-665-7400.