University of Maine climate change researchers’ camp on a glacier on Tupungato, an active Andean volcano in Chile (Photo by Mariusz Potocki)
University of Maine climate change researchers’ camp on a glacier on Tupungato, an active Andean volcano in Chile (Photo by Mariusz Potocki)
University of Maine Professor Paul Mayewski is featured in "Years of Living Dangerously," a nine-part documentary series about the impact of climate change on people and the planet.

The show was developed by David Gelber and Joel Bach of "60 Minutes," and its executive producer James Cameron, who also directed "Titanic," "Avatar" and "Aliens," describes it as the biggest survival story of this time. The series, which premiered on Showtime on April 13, stars Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Matt Damon.

Ford and Damon, as well as journalists Lesley Stahl and Thomas Friedman and scientist M. Sanjayan, examine death and devastation caused by Superstorm Sandy; drought and lost jobs in Plainview, Texas; worsening wildfires in the U.S.; and civil unrest heightened by water shortage in the Middle East. They interview policymakers, some of whom refute the science or are reluctant to pursue legislation, and they speak with scientists who go to great lengths, and heights, to conduct climate research. Mayewski, director of UMaine's Climate Change Institute (CCI), is one of those scientists. He is scheduled to appear in the series finale at 8 p.m., Monday, June 9.

Climate change, says Mayewski, is causing and will continue to cause destruction. "There are going to be some scary things that happen but they won't be everywhere and it won't be all at the same time," he says. "You want people to think about it but not to terrify them so they turn it off completely. You want them to understand that with understanding comes opportunity."

In February 2013, Sanjayan and a film crew joined Mayewski and his team of CCI graduate students for the nearly 20,000-foot ascent of a glacier on Tupungato, an active Andean volcano in Chile, to collect ice cores.

Sanjayan calls Mayewski "the Indiana Jones of climate research" for his penchant to go to the extremes of the Earth under challenging conditions to retrieve ice cores to study past climate in order to better predict future climate.

Mayewski says it's imperative to provide tools that enable people to take action to mitigate climate change as well as adapt to it. "When we have a crystal ball, even if the future is bad, we can create a better situation," he says. "We have no choice but to adapt."

In Maine, Mayewski says climate change is evidenced by the powerful 2013-2014 winter, the lengthening of summers, increased lobster catches and northward spread of ticks.

While climate change has become a political topic, Mayewski says it's a scientific and security issue. He says it's notable that previous civilizations have collapsed in the face of abrupt, extreme changes. And climate change, he says, is far from linear in the way it evolves.

For decades, Mayewski has been interested in exploring and making discoveries in remote regions of the planet. "When you go all over the world, you get a global view," he says. "By nature, I'm an optimist. That is tempered with this problem. I do believe there will be a groundswell of people, or governments, or some combination so that there will be a better future in store."

To watch clips from previous episodes of Years of Living Dangerously, as well as the entire first episode, visit