Tag Archive for Earth and Environmental Sciences
by Hannah Norman '16 •
Students from Associate Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences Timothy Ku’s Environmental Geochemistry class presented their findings regarding the geochemical makeup of Lake Hayward in East Haddam, Conn., to almost two dozen members of the Lake Hayward and Wesleyan communities on Dec. 2 in a presentation at the Russell House. The class is part of Wesleyan’s Service Learning Program spearheaded by Rob Rosenthal, director of Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life, the John E. Andrus Professor of Sociology.
“Working in science, it’s always fulfilling when you have people who care about the information you’re looking at,” said Zachary Kaufman ‘16.
During the project, students collected samples and conducted lab work to analyze the lake’s eutrophication, or the process by which bodies of water are made more well-nourished and nutrient rich. While the process occurs naturally in all lakes, human activity can expedite the occurrence and cause ecological impacts and a rise in fish mortality, among other things. Students’ findings showed that there is nothing concerning about Lake Hayward’s current geochemical makeup.
“The students were enthusiastic and engaged,” said Randy Miller, a member of the Lake Hayward community who worked with students and attended the event. “We would do this again in a heartbeat.” (Photos below by Hannah Norman ’16)
by Lauren Rubenstein •
Four Wesleyan undergraduates and a faculty member received awards in the latest call for proposals from NASA’s Connecticut Space Grant Consortium.
Astronomy major Rachel Aronow ’17 was awarded an Undergraduate Research Fellowship in the amount of $5,000 for her project, “Planet Formation and Stellar Characteristics in Tatooine-like Systems.” She is working with Bill Herbst, the John Monroe Van Vleck Professor of Astronomy, studying Tatooine-like systems (named after the fabled home system of Luke Skywalker), which are planet-forming disks that surround a close pair of stars that are in orbit around each other. Aronow conducted research with Herbst last summer, and these funds will support further work this academic year and possibly next summer.
Two students each received Student Travel Grants of $1,000. Melissa Lowe ’17, an earth and environmental sciences major, is working with James Greenwood, assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences, and will use the travel grant to present research at the Lunary and Planetary Conference in Houston, Tx. in March. Jesse Tarnas ’16, an astronomy and physics double major with a minor in planetary science, is working with Seth Redfield, associate professor of astronomy, associate professor of integrative sciences, on a project using data from the Kepler Space Telescope to measure the atmospheric and planetary properties of distant exoplanets. He is working on a senior thesis and will present preliminary results at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Florida this winter. He is also attending the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco to present research he did as part of a summer research program at NASA Ames Space Academy.
Aylin Garcia Soto ’18 was awarded a $5,000 Undergraduate Scholarship, given to a student preparing for a career in STEM. Last summer, Garcia Soto worked at Williams College as part of the Keck Northeast Astronomy Consortium (KNAC) Research Experience for Undergraduates program, of which Wesleyan is a member.
Finally, Amrys Williams, visiting assistant professor of history, was awarded a Faculty STEM Education Programming Grant of $5,000 for the “Under Connecticut Skies” project. She is leading an effort that involves several faculty in the Astronomy Department, History Department, and Science in Society Program to create a museum exhibit in the library of the Van Vleck Observatory inspired by the celebration of the observatory’s centennial anniversary. Supported by the Connecticut Humanities Council, Williams led research with a team of student last summer into possible exhibit topics. This NASA CT Space Grant award will support the implementation of the exhibit.
by Lauren Rubenstein •
Suzanne O’Connell, professor of earth and environmental sciences, faculty director of the McNair program, is the author of a new op-ed appearing on Inside Sources and The Hartford Courant, in which she urges aggressive action to counteract climate change.
O’Connell acknowledges the difficulty in communicating the urgency of climate change, and writes that one way she’s found to express this to her students is to liken climate change to cancer. That is, it is the rapid rate at which we are introducing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere—much like the accelerated rate of cell growth in cancer—that is so harmful.
Cancer progresses at different rates in different patients and requires different treatments. Once diagnosed, however, aggressive measures are taken to stop the process. And the earlier treatment starts, the better the prognosis. Why aren’t we taking the same aggressive measures to limit our greenhouse-gas production? Because it’s too difficult or too costly? The same might be said for cancer treatment, yet most people take the aggressive option.
Maybe we are failing to take action because just as in the early stages of cancer, the early stages of global warming aren’t too obvious. Not yet. Few people, if any, wake up one morning knowing they have cancer. There are analyses and tests to be conducted first.
We’ve already done that work with regard to our climate, we have those analyses and tests. We know that air, land and ocean temperatures are rising. The warming ocean and melting ice contribute to sea level rise. Our wait-and-see attitude makes as much sense as waiting to see if the cancer spreads before undergoing treatment. What will a few degrees of warming do to a planet? To a human body?
by Laurie Kenney •
Wesleyan Earth and Environmental Sciences students and faculty attended and contributed to this year’s Geological Society of America (GSA) Annual Meeting, held Nov. 1–4 in Baltimore, Md.
by Laurie Kenney •
Jelle Zelinga de Boer, Harold T. Stearns Professor of Earth Science, emeritus, was selected by the Geological Society of Connecticut (GSC) as the recipient of its 2015 Joe Webb Peoples Award, in recognition of de Boer’s many contributions to the understanding of the geology of Connecticut.
by Lauren Rubenstein •
Suzanne O’Connell, professor of earth and environmental sciences, received the Exchange Award from the Association for Women Geoscientists at its annual awards breakfast on Nov. 2. The Exchange Award recognizes the contribution of those who exchange technical, education, and professional information in the field.
The award ceremony took place at the Baltimore Convention Center in Maryland in conjunction with the Geological Society of America’s annual meeting. O’Connell is also faculty director of the McNair Program.
According to Blair Schneider, president of the Association for Women Geoscientists, O’Connell won the organization’s Outstanding Educator Award in 2000. Since then, she has been an active member of the group’s Outstanding Educator Award committee, and has continually written articles highlighting the winners for the group’s quarterly newsletter. In explaining O’Connell’s selection for the Exchange award, Schneider pointed to her rare “exemplary teaching” in which she uses “hands-on learning with research for undergraduates.”
“Suzanne is also an incredible supporter of the organization and exchanges information about who we are to her own students and young professionals at every meeting. For example, she pays to bring her own students to the AWG awards breakfast so that they can learn about the organization and see women being recognized for their achievements,” Schneider added.
O’Connell also recently co-edited the publication, “Women in the Geoscience: Practical, Positive Practices Towards Parity.”
by Olivia Drake •
Joop Varekamp, the Harold T. Stearns Professor of Earth Science, professor of earth and environmental sciences, and Marty Gilmore, the George I. Seney Professor of Geology, professor and chair of professor of earth and environmental sciences, are the co-authors of two book chapters published in Copahue Volcano (Springer Publishers, September 2015)
Copahue Volcano is part of Springer Publishers’ “Active Volcanos of the World” series. Varekamp is the lead author on a chapter with Jim Zareski MA‘14 and Lauren Camfield MA’15. Gilmore and Tristan Kading MA’11 are co-authors with Varekamp on another chapter dealing with terrestrial environments as analogs for Mars. A third chapter, on acid fluids, was written by Varekamp with an Argentinian collaborator.
Since 1997, Varekamp has worked with Wesleyan undergraduate and graduate students almost every year at Copahue Volcano in Argentina. This project is reaching its closing stages, and has led to 10 peer reviewed published articles, most co-authored with students, four book chapters, six MA theses, and eight senior theses. All these students have subsequently obtained higher degrees in E&ES fields and are currently employed in the broad field of geochemistry and/or volcanology. Varekamp is now focussing his studies on the Newberry volcano in Oregon.
by Olivia Drake •
Marine scientist and author Ellen Prager ’84 came to the Exley Science Center on Oct. 8 to talk about her recent research and writing. Discussing her book Sex Drugs and Sea Slime: The Ocean’s Oddest Creatures and Why They Matter, she entertained a crowd of Wesleyan students and faculty with stories from her work in the Galapagos and as researcher at the Aquarius undersea laboratory off Key Largo, Fla. Lately, Prager has ventured into the realm of children’s fiction in order to spread awareness about the ocean’s most pressing issues. Her most recent children’s book, The Shark Whisperer, was published in May 2015.
Peter Patton, the Alan. M. Dachs Professor of Science, professor of earth and environmental sciences, professor of environmental studies, introduced Prager to the audience.
(Article by Andrew Logan ’18. Photos by Will Barr ’19)
by Olivia Drake •
On Sept. 30, NASA’s Discovery Program selected five planetary mission investigations for study during the next year as a first step in choosing one or two missions for launch as early as 2020. Wesleyan’s Martha Gilmore is on two of the investigation teams.
Gilmore, the George I. Seney Professor of Geology and chair of the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, is an expert on terrestrial planets. She studies the morphology and mineralogy of the surfaces of Venus and Mars using data from orbiting and landed spacecraft. She also is on the Executive Committee of NASA’s Venus Exploration Analysis Group which identifies scientific priorities and strategy for exploration of Venus.
Each of the five selected investigations will receive $3 million for one year to strengthen their proposed mission by doing in-depth concept design studies. At the end of the year, it is expected that one or two of the mission concepts will then be selected for flight.
“We’re absolutely ecstatic about this opportunity,” Gilmore said. “Venus is key to understanding how Earth-size planets operate in this solar system and in other solar systems. The driving question is why are Venus and Earth so different? Why is Earth the habitable twin planet? The measurements of Venus’ atmosphere and surface proposed by these missions are necessary to better understand the climate, volcanic activity and the habitability of Earth-size worlds.”
by Olivia Drake •
Ellen Thomas, the University Professor in the College of Integrative Sciences, research professor of earth and environmental science, is the co-author of two recently published papers. They include:
“Microfossil evidence for trophic changes during the Eocene–Oligocene transition in the South Atlantic (ODP Site 1263, Walvis Ridge),” published in Climate of the Past, Volume 11, pages 1249–1270 in September 2015 and “Changes in benthic ecosystems and ocean circulation in the Southeast Atlantic across Eocene Thermal Maximum 2,” published in the journal Paleoceanography, Volume 30, pages 1059-1077 in August 2015.
“Microfossil evidence” describes changes in organisms living in the oceans during a major change in the earth’s climate, a period of global cooling about 33.7 million years ago, when the Antarctic ice sheet first became established. The seven co-authors are all women, including former Wesleyan graduate student Raquel Fenero.
The researchers examined the biotic response of calcareous nannoplankton to environmental and climatic changes during the Eocene–Oligocene transition at Ocean Drilling Program (ODP) Site 1263 (Walvis Ridge, southeast Atlantic Ocean). During this time interval, global climate, which had been warm under high levels of atmospheric CO2 during the Eocene, transitioned into the cooler climate of the Oligocene.
In the Paleoceanography article, Thomas and her co-authors describe changes in benthic ecosystems in the oceans during a short period of global warming about 53.7 million years ago, and the effects of loss of oxygen and ocean acidification. The researchers include climate and geochemical modeling to indicate that changes in ocean circulation due to warming triggered more profound effects on living organisms at some depths than at other depths, and that the response of life forms to global warming (including feedback effects) thus may be complex. This article is the result of research done during Thomas’s stay as Leverhulme Visiting Professor at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, where she co-supervised graduate student Suzy Jennions.
“Our combined ecological and modeling analysis illustrates the potential role of ocean circulation changes in amplifying local environmental changes and driving temporary, but drastic, loss of benthic biodiversity and abundance,” Thomas said.
by Lauren Rubenstein •
In this News @ Wesleyan story, we speak with Robert Ramos from the Class of 2016.
Q: Robert, where are you from and what is your major?
A: I’m from Philadelphia, and I’m a biology and earth and environmental sciences double major.
Q: This summer you did a SEA Semester program, “Aloha ‘Aina: People & Nature in the Hawaiian Islands.” How did you become involved in the program?
A: I learned about the program from another Wesleyan student who had done it a few years ago. As a biology and E&ES double major, it sounded like it was right up my alley! At the time, I was thinking about how I was going to apply my studies—what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. This seemed like a good opportunity to explore new options.
SEA Semester does programs at sea all over the world. This summer just happened to be the trip to Hawaii, and I was very excited to go there! I also didn’t want to miss out on a whole semester on campus at Wesleyan, so this worked out well in that it was just five weeks in the summer.
Q: Please give us an overview of how you spent those five weeks.
A: I took two classes—on oceanography and marine policy—and did research on topics like ocean salinity, temperatures and currents.