UMass students report on Arctic Paleoclimate

Congratulations to three students of the Castañeda Biogeochemistry lab group who recently published their research findings on Arctic paleoclimatology!

For his graduate work, Dr. Boyang Zhao examined lake sediment cores from Southern Greenland to examine the area’s paleoclimate history during the Norse inhabitation period, and, most importantly, during the sudden exodus of Norse people out of Greenland in the 15th Century. The full paper can be found here, in the journal Science Advances. In the manuscript, we utilize the hydrogen isotope ratios of organic biomarkers, along with other chemical indicators in the lake sediments, to conclude that the climate shifted toward drier conditions, likely stressing the agricultural practices and thereby contributing to the abandonment of Norse settlements. To read more, here are some popular science outlets that reported on Boyang’s work: IFLS, UMass, Science, CNN.

A view of sheep pastures and agricultural fields, near Igaliku, Greenland.
Drs. Isla Castañeda, Tobias Schneider, Boyang Zhao, and Ray Bradley (UMass Amherst) admire and process a lake sediment core from a small lake in Greenland.

Secondly, congratulations to Kurt Lindberg (UMass, ’20) on a recent publication in the journal Climate of the Past (link). Kurt worked with me and Isla on his senior thesis at UMass, in which he characterized Arctic climate change during the Mid-Pleistocene Transition. Kurt’s research utilized organic biomarkers preserved in the Lake El’gygytgyn drillcore from Northeast Russia to reconstruct temperature, and vegetation/aridity. The time period he studied was from 0.8 to 1.2 million years ago, which marked a critical transition interval in Earth’s climate history when global temperatures were cooling and ice ages were becoming more severe. Kurt is continuing to examine Arctic climate change as a graduate student at the University at Buffalo.

Kurt Lindberg (UMass ’20) processing lake sediment for organic biomarkers. Kurt used this research to characterize Arctic climate change during the Mid-Pleistocene Transition.

Most recently, Carly Lombardo, a current UMass undergraduate student working on the Lake El’gygytgyn project, shared the results of our research at the Northeast Section meeting of the Geologic Society of America. This was Carly’s first time presenting at a scientific conference, and her research prompted quite a bit of discussion at the meeting. Great job, Carly! Her research explores the history of wildfires at Lake El’gygytgyn, again using organic biomarkers preserved in the lake’s sediments. Wildfires are typically quite rare in the Arctic tundra, but appear to be increasing in frequency as a results of climate warming. Here, Carly was testing how temperature, aridity, and vegetation interact to control fire activitiy. In this case, Lombardo analyzed Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons, which are common byproducts of wildfires. Lombardo will also be sharing her research at the upcoming Massachusetts Undergraduate Research Conference, and a video link of her presentation can be found here.

UMass Amhest researchers Carly Lombardo and Will Daniels at the 2022 NE GSA meeting in Lancaster, PA.

Roni Horn Exhibit Opening Video

In January, I participated as a panelist during the Roni Horn art exhibit opening at the University Museum of Contemporary Art in Amherst, MA. Roni’s exhibit uses photography to examine themes of cyclicity and space in Iceland. For those that could not attend the opening, an edited version of the discussion panel is available here and at the UMCA website.

The panel discussion leads off with UMass geologist Julie Brigham-Grette speaking about the geologic history of Iceland. I follow Julie with discussion on the environmental and cultural history of the island.  Then, Roni shares a series of her writings pertaining to her time in Iceland.


NOVA: Polar Lab

Recently, I had the joy of working with NOVA and UMass Professor Julie Brigham-Grette to help develop NOVA’s new “Polar Lab“. This is one of a series of fantastic online teaching modules. Other topics include the Sun, Energy, Clouds, Evolution, RNA, and Cybersecurity. Each lab comes with a series of interspersed videos and video-game style activities, meant to introduce students to a variety of scientific topics.

The Polar Lab investigates how the Arctic climate has changed, both recently and in the geologic past. It starts with an exploration of the fossil assemblages and paleoenvironments of Ellesmere island. From there, users virtually travel to the National Lacustrine Core Facility (LacCore) at the University of Minnesota, to virtually analyze sediment cores collected in Siberia. View the demo below where students count fossil pollen grains and analyze changes in vegetation through time. I was a science advisor for this pollen module, and I couldn’t be more thrilled with how it turned out. It might be the first paleolimnology video game ever!  In Polar Labs, after completing the sediment analysis at LacCore, the mission continues in Seattle, Colorado, Greenland, and beyond…

This teaching tool is appropriate for 6th-10th graders. In the days of Coronavirus, when online teaching and homeschooling seem to be the best options available, I encourage schoolteachers to take advantage of the NOVA Labs.

NOVA Labs Link

Artist Roni Horn to exhibit Arctic photography at UMass

Iceland Silhouette

On Thursday, January 30, I will be participating in a panel discussion on Iceland and the Arctic, as part of a reception for the art installation entitled Pi, by artist Roni Horn. The work and the reception will be hosted at the UMass Museum of Contemporary Art, and are open to the public.  Horn’s installation concerns the landscape of Iceland, and more details on the artist, the art, and the reception can be found in the attached news release. The exhibit will remain open from Jan. 30 to Apr. 26, 2020 at UMass.

Roni Horn Press Release