Tag Archive for Earth and Environmental Sciences

Wesleyan in the News

In this recurring feature in The Wesleyan Connection, we highlight some of the latest news stories about Wesleyan and our alumni.

Wesleyan in the News
1. Inside Higher Ed: ‘Safe Enough Spaces’

President Michael Roth is interviewed about defending free speech, inclusion on campus, and affirmative action, among other topics, in connection with the forthcoming publication of his new book, Safe Enough Spaces: A Pragmatist’s Approach to Inclusion, Free Speech, and Political Correctness on College Campuses, due out Aug. 20 from Yale University Press.

2. The New York Times: “The World’s Smartest Chimp Has Died”

William Griffin Professor of Philosophy Lori Gruen writes in this op-ed about the legacy of the “world’s smartest chimp” Sarah, who died recently in her 50s after a long career working with researchers. Sarah taught the world about animal cognition, including chimps’ understanding of the thoughts and desires of others. Her career showed us that “not only do chimpanzees have complex thoughts, but also distinct personalities with strong preferences and prejudices,” Gruen writes.

Wesleyan in the News

In this recurring feature in The Wesleyan Connection, we highlight some of the latest news stories about Wesleyan and our alumni.

Wesleyan in the News

  1. The Hill: “Advice on Climate Policy for the 2020 Presidential Candidates”

In this op-ed, Huffington Foundation Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies, Emeritus Gary Yohe and his coauthors write that they are encouraged by the “unprecedented attention being given to climate change among those vying for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination” and offer words of advice for creating an ambitious but credible climate policy.

2. AINT — BAD: “Isabella Convertino”

The photography of Isabella Convertino ’20 is featured on this website, an independent publisher of new photographic art. According to the article, “Her work has been published by ROMAN NVMERALS press, and was recently acquired by the MoMA library. Convertino’s images speak to the complications of adolescence, compounding memory and trauma as points of departure. Interested in the interplay between familial and gender structures, her work probes modes of power-inheritance and the potential devastation of genetic happenstance.”

3. EOS: “Resurrecting Interest in a ‘Dead’ Planet”

Martha Gilmore, the George I. Seney Professor of Geology, is quoted in this article on new research suggesting that, contrary to popular belief, the surface of Venus actually may be quite active today. “Venus is an Earth-sized planet and now—who knew?!—there are Earth-sized planets all over the galaxy,” said Gilmore. “So now, Venus is even more relevant for that reason.”

4. The Middletown Press: “High School Students from Around World Take Part in Wesleyan Summer Arts Camp”

Sixty-eight Center for Creative Youth (CCY) participants from around the country and the world recently demonstrated the skills they had learned in just a week of intensive art study during a community share day. Wesleyan assumed leadership of CCY in fall 2018 as an official University program, and this is the first time the camp has been offered under Wesleyan’s management.

Yang ’21 Participates in NSF-Sponsored Workshop on Antarctic History

Donglai Yang ’21 worked at the University of Arizona this summer on a project titled “Cenozoic detrital record offshore Dronning Maud Land.” His workshop concluded on July 8.

For two weeks this summer, Donglai Yang ’21 used isotope dating of rocks, minerals, and sediments from the Weddell Sea near Antarctica to determine the age of a section of Earth’s southernmost continent.

Yang, an earth and environmental sciences and physics double major, was selected as one of 10 undergraduate and graduate students from around the world to participate in the National Science Foundation–sponsored Antarctichron/Chronothon 2019 workshop held June 24 to July 8 at the University of Arizona.

The workshop introduced participants to geo- and thermochronology through some applications to the geology of Antarctica. Students learned to analyze and interpret their own samples and data in the context of their own research projects.

Yang’s study focused on the “Cenozoic detrital record offshore Dronning Maud Land,” a Norwegian territory that makes up approximately 1/6 of Antarctica. He specifically studied rock and sediment fragments that broke away from a landmass.

“These sediments were deposited around 30 million years ago, but the minerals within that layer of sediments have diverse ages,” he said. “Those minerals are scraped directly from the Antarctic bedrock by glaciers so their ages bear complicated terrestrial thermal history.”

During the workshop, Yang participated in informal lectures and discussions and learned the fundamentals of radioisotopic dating, laboratory techniques, analytical instrumentation, basics of thermochronologic modeling, and the geology of Antarctica. Core samples were provided by the International Ocean Discovery Program sediment core repository and the fellowship also was supported by Wesleyan’s College of the Environment.

Yang’s advisor, Suzanne O’Connell, professor of earth and environmental sciences, initially introduced Yang to the concept of radiometric dating in geosciences.

“I was fascinated at once,” he said. “Its current applications have far transcended its use since its advent when, about a hundred years ago, scientists finally managed to fathom the absolute age of the Earth.”

Now with a much-expanded understanding of the kinetics in multiple decay systems, questions that arise from almost every single field in earth and environmental sciences become resolvable to varying extents, Yang explained. “On top of this, our sedimentology lab reckons it a valuable opportunity to bring in some new techniques as we have rarely dealt with unstable isotopes in minerals before.”

After Yang graduates from Wesleyan, he plans on attending graduate school, conducting research in geophysics or geochemistry.

Wesleyan in the News

NewsIn this recurring feature in The Wesleyan Connection, we highlight some of the latest news stories about Wesleyan and our alumni.

Wesleyan in the News

  1. The New York Times Magazine: I’m 20. I Have 32 Half Siblings. This Is My Family Portrait.

Eli Baden-Lasar ’22 always knew he was conceived using a sperm donor, but he didn’t discover he had half siblings until he was 19. He went out searching for them and found more than 30 young men and women around the country. In this photo essay, he writes about the experience of meeting his half siblings. Photo portraits he took of each of them are featured along with their quotes about meeting blood relatives they hadn’t previously known existed.

2. American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS): Geologist Embarks on 60-Day Voyage to Study Past Climates

Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences Suzanne O’Connell is featured in this blog post. She has studied paleoceanography for more than 30 years and recently sailed to the Subantarctic Ocean just north of the Antarctic Circle to drill for and study ocean sediment samples on the JOIDES Resolution research vessel. She talks about dodging icebergs, and how she hopes the data she helped collect will be useful for climate modelers working to figure out how fast the ice will melt in the future.

Herbst and Greenwood in The Conversation: The Tell-Tale Clue to How Meteorites Were Made

Wesleyan faculty frequently publish articles based on their scholarship in The Conversation US, a nonprofit news organization with the tagline, “Academic rigor, journalistic flair.” In a new article, John Monroe Van Vleck Professor of Astronomy Bill Herbst and Assistant Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences James Greenwood write about the model they’ve proposed for how the most common kind of meteorites form—a mystery that has dogged scientists for decades.

The tell-tale clue to how meteorites were made, at the birth of the solar system

April 26, 1803 was an unusual day in the small town of L’Aigle in Normandy, France – it rained rocks.

Over 3,000 of them fell out of the sky. Fortunately, no one was injured. The French Academy of Sciences investigated and proclaimed, based on many eyewitness stories and the unusual look of the rocks, that they had come from space.

The Earth is pummeled with rocks incessantly as it orbits the Sun, adding around 50 tons to our planet’s mass every day. Meteorites, as these rocks are called, are easy to find in deserts and on the ice plains of Antarctica, where they stick out like a sore thumb. They can even land in backyards, treasures hidden among ordinary terrestrial rocks. Amateurs and professionals collect meteorites, and the more interesting ones make it to museums and laboratories around the world for display and study. They are also bought and sold on eBay.

Despite decades of intense study by thousands of scientists, there is no general consensus on how most meteorites formed. As an astronomer and a geologist, we have recently developed a new theory of what happened during the formation of the solar system to create these valuable relics of our past. Since planets form out of collisions of these first rocks, this is an important part of the history of the Earth.

This meteor crater in Arizona was created 50,000 years ago when an iron meteorite struck the Earth. It is about one mile across. W. Herbst, CC BY-SA

This meteor crater in Arizona was created 50,000 years ago when an iron meteorite struck the Earth. It is about one mile across. (Photo by Bill Herbst, CC BY-SA)

The mysterious chondrules

Wesleyan in the News

In this recurring feature in The Wesleyan Connection, we highlight some of the latest news stories about Wesleyan and our alumni.

Wesleyan in the News

  1. Inside Higher Ed: “The Need for a Recovery of the Humanities”

In this essay, President Michael S. Roth responds to the “flood of negativity” in public discourse about higher education, in general, and the humanities, in particular. He suggests that “in order to recover the trust of students and their families, we must overcome our cultivated insularity.”

2. NBC News: “Carbon Dioxide Hits a Level Not Seen for 3 Million Years. Here’s What That Means for Climate Change — And Humanity.”

Dana Royer, professor and chair of earth and environmental sciences, comments on new evidence that the concentration of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere has climbed to a level last seen more than 3 million years ago. According to the article, shorter term impacts include loss of vegetation and sea-ice coverage, while other things, like the melting of ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland, will occur more slowly. “But these impacts are going to persist for a very long time,” said Royer. “Once that happens, we can’t really reverse it.”

Students Study Volcanic Soil, Map Historic Footprints in Hawai’i as Part of Their Senior Capstone Projects

 Left to right: Tim Ku (faculty), Celeste Smith, Jacqueline Buskop, John Sheffer, Ryan Nelson, Sara Wallace-Lee, Kelly Lam, and Phil Resor (faculty) at a newly formed black sand beach on Hawaii. The rocks on the left solidified in 2018.

At left, Associate Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences Tim Ku, Celeste Smith ’19, Jacqueline Buskop ’19, John Sheffer ’19, Ryan Nelson ’19, Sara Wallace-Lee ’19, Kelly Lam ’19, and Associate Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences Phil Resor visit a newly formed black sand beach on Hawai’i. The rocks on the left solidified in 2018.

Six students majoring in earth and environmental sciences who said “aloha” to Hawai’i in January have completed their senior capstone project.

Seniors Jackie Buskop, John Sheffer, Kelly Lam, Sara Wallace-Lee, Ryan Nelson, and Celeste Smith traveled to the Big Island of Hawai’i Jan. 8-15 to conduct original, field-based research projects. They were accompanied by Associate Professors of Earth and Environmental Sciences Tim Ku and Phil Resor.

Prior to the trip, all six students enrolled in the fall semester course Senior Seminar E&ES 497, where they used the primary scientific literature to create hypothesis-driven research proposals. After collecting data in Hawai’i, the students enrolled in E&ES 498, where they analyzed and interpreted their data, and summarized their projects in journal article–style reports. On April 7, the students presented their results in short talks at the E&ES colloquium.

“Through this capstone sequence, students learn to develop and execute a research project from the initial idea through the planning, field collection, and data interpretation stages, and finally, how to synthesize this work into an illuminating presentation and written report,” Ku said. “We hope this capstone experience helps students transition to independent, professional scientists.”

Buskop, Sheffer, and Smith teamed up to work on a project titled “Inferences from 3D Modeling and Field Measurements of Human Footprints of the Ka’u Ash Desert (Kilauea, Hawai’i).”

O’Connell in The Conversation: 60 Days in Iceberg Alley, Drilling for Marine Sediment to Decipher Earth’s Climate 3M Years Ago

Wesleyan faculty frequently publish articles based on their scholarship in The Conversation US, a nonprofit news organization with the tagline, “Academic rigor, journalistic flair.” In a new article, Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences Suzanne O’Connell writes about her work on board the JOIDES Resolution research vessel in the Scotia Sea, drilling for sediment core samples to study how much and how fast the Antarctic ice sheets melted between 2.5 to 4 million years ago, the last time atmospheric CO2 was at the same level as today. (Read more about O’Connell’s experience in this AAAS article.)

60 days in Iceberg Alley, drilling for marine sediment to decipher Earth’s climate 3 million years ago

Competition is stiff for one of the 30 scientist berths on the JOIDES Resolution research vessel. I’m one of the lucky ones, granted the opportunity to work 12-hour days, seven days a week for 60 days as part of Expedition 382 “Iceberg Alley” in the Scotia Sea, just north of the Antarctic Peninsula.

I’m a paleooceanographer. My research focuses on how Earth’s oceans and climate operated in the past; I’m especially interested in how much and how fast the Antarctic ice sheets melted between 2.5 to 4 million years ago, the last time atmospheric carbon dioxide levels were about 400 parts per million, as they are today. This work depends on collecting sediment samples from the ocean floor that were deposited during that time. These sediment layers are like a library of the Antarctic’s past environment.

The JOIDES Resolution is the only ship in the world with the drilling tools to collect both soft sediment and hard rock from the ocean – material that we recover in long cylinders called cores. No wonder researchers from all over the world, at all career stages, are excited to have traveled from India, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, Brazil, China, Germany, Australia, the United Kingdom and, of course, the United States to join the expedition.

Study by Herbst, Greenwood Presents New Theory on How Meteorites Formed

A paper by John Monroe Van Vleck Professor of Astronomy William Herbst and Assistant Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences James Greenwood will be published in the September 2019 issue of Icarus, published by Elsevier. The paper is available online.

The paper, titled “Radiative Heating Model for Chondrule and Chondrite Formation,” presents a new theory of how chondrules and chondrites (the most common meteorites) formed. It suggests a new approach to thinking about these rocks that populate the meteorite collections on Earth. It includes both theory and experiments (completed in Greenwood’s lab in Exley Science Center).

These laboratory experiments demonstrate that porphyritic olivine chondrules, the most voluminous type of chondrule, can be made using heating and cooling curves predicted by the “flyby” model. View a schematic diagram here.

“The problem of how chondrules and chondrites formed has been around for decades—more than a century, really. We cannot yet claim to have solved the problem but we have provided a new idea about the solution that passes many tests,” Herbst explained.

The basic idea, Herbst said, involves heating of small fluffy “rocks” in space as they fly past molten lava eruptions on larger asteroids, during the first few million years of the solar system’s existence.

Herbst, Greenwood, and Postdoctoral Research Associate Keniche Abe, will present this research at meetings this summer in Europe and Japan.

Varekamp Presents Papers at Volcanic Lakes Meeting in New Zealand, Receives Award

Johan (Joop) Varekamp

Joop Varekamp

Johan (Joop) Varekamp, the Harold T. Stearns Professor of Earth Science, presented three papers during the Commission on Volcanic Lakes (CVL) program held March 18-20 in Taupo, New Zealand. The papers were coauthored by Wesleyan students, graduate students, recent alumni, and faculty.

The CVL is a scientific, nonprofit organization of the International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth’s Interior (IAVCEI), connecting researchers that seek to understand how volcanic lakes relate to volcanic activity and their hazards.

Varekamp, who also is the Smith Curator of Mineralogy and Petrology of the Joe Webb Peoples Museum of Natural History and professor of earth and environmental studies, is a former leader of the CVL organization. In addition to delivering a keynote address, Varekamp was named the recipient of the 2019 IAVCEI Kusakabe Award.

Fish Species Named After Professor Barry Chernoff

Bryconops chernoffi

Bryconops chernoffi

A new species of fish discovered in Brazil was recently named in honor of Wesleyan Professor Barry Chernoff.

Barry Chernoff

Scientists encountered the Bryconops chernoffi in Rio Ipixuna—a small tributary of the Rio Maicuru, which feeds into the lower Amazon River in Pará, Brazil. Samples of the fish were collected by researchers on four trips in 2014–15, and in March 2019, Zootaxa released an article describing the new species.

Chernoff, the Robert Schumann Professor of Environmental Studies, focuses his research on freshwater fishes in North America and the Neotropical region, primarily those in South America in the Amazon.

He’s also professor of earth and environmental sciences; professor of biology; chair, Environmental Studies Program; and director of the College of the Environment.

The Zootaxa announcement explains that Bryconops chernoffi’s specific epithet honors “Barry Chernoff, and is in recognition for his contributions to the taxonomy of Bryconops, as well as for ichthyology as a whole.”

Chernoff has published 89 peer-reviewed scientific works, including six books and edited volumes. He has led international teams on expeditions designed to conserve large watersheds of the world, having made more than 34 expeditions in 13 countries.

The Zootaxa abstract describes Bryconops chernoffi as differing from all its congeners “by the presence of an elongated dark patch of pigmentation immediately after the posterodorsal margin of the opercle, running vertically from the supracleithrum to the distal margin of the cleithrum (vs. absence of a similar blotch), and by a dark dorsal fin with a narrow hyaline band at middle portion of dorsal-fin rays (vs. dorsal fin hyaline or with few scattered chromatophores). It differs further from all its congeners, except B. colanegra, by the presence of a blurred black stripe at the anal fin.”

“It doesn’t really resemble my friend Barry, who in addition to being a fish scientist and environmentalist is also a guitar player and songwriter,” wrote Wesleyan President Michael Roth in a recent blog post. “And now he has fish named in his honor. A true species of Wesleyan.”

Chernoff is the third Wesleyan faculty, in recent years, to have a species named in his or her honor.

In 2010, a dinosaur from the Cretaceous Period (about 110 million years ago) was named Brontomerus mcintoshi for John S. “Jack” McIntosh, Foss Professor of Physics, Emeritus. The fossil, discovered in Utah, is marked by its large, powerful thighs, which may have been used to kick predators and travel over rough terrain. The American-British team of scientists who discovered the remains named the dinosaur for McIntosh, “a lifelong avocational paleontologist.”

Two species of benthic foraminifera are named after Ellen Thomas, the Harold T. Stearns Professor of Integrative Sciences, research professor, earth and environmental sciences; the Smith Curator of Paleontology of the Joe Webb Peoples Museum of Natural History.

Globocassidulina thomasae, discovered in the northeastern Indian Ocean, was named in 1999, and Ossaggittia thomasae, discovered in the eastern Indian Ocean, was named in 2012. They were named in honor of Ellen Thomas, “a well-known specialist on deep-sea benthic foraminifera, who was one of the first micropaleontologists to document the disappearance of Stilostomellidae and Pleurostomellidae in the Pleistocene of the North Atlantic Ocean.”

Students, Faculty, Alumni Present Research at 50th Annual Planetary Science Conference

Jeremy Brossier presented a talk titled "Radiophysical Behaviors of Venus’ Plateaus and Volcanic Rises: Updated Assessment." He also presented a poster titled "Complex Radar Emissivity Variations at Some Large Venusian Volcanoes."

At left, earth and environmental sciences postdoctoral research associate Jeremy Brossier presented a poster titled “Complex Radar Emissivity Variations at Some Large Venusian Volcanoes” during the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Texas.

Several Wesleyan students, faculty, and alumni attended the 50th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC) March 18-22 in The Woodlands, Texas. Members of the Wesleyan Planetary Sciences Group presented their research on a range of planetary bodies.

This annual conference brings together international specialists in petrology, geochemistry, geophysics, geology, and astronomy to present the latest results of research in planetary science.

Earth and environmental studies major Emmy Hughes ’20 presented a poster titled “Observations of Transverse Aeolian Ridges in Digital Terrain Models” during a session on “Planetary Aeolian Processes.”

Earth and environmental science graduate student Reid Perkins MA ’19 presented a talk titled “A Reassessment of Venus’ Tessera Crater Population and Implications for Tessera Deformation” and a poster titled “Volumes and Potential Origins of Crater Dark Floor Deposits on Venus.”