Tag Archive for Earth and Environmental Sciences

Varekamp Presents Papers at Volcanic Lakes Meeting in New Zealand

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.”

O’Connell’s Article Published by the Geological Society of America

The article is accompanied by graphic, featured on the cover, of the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) ships (left to right): the Chikyu, a riser-equipped platform coring in the western Pacific; the JOIDES Resolution, which recovers cores throughout the ocean; and a Mission Specific Platform (MSP) drilling vessel. Dotted lines—representative depth.

O’Connell’s article is accompanied by a graphic featuring the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) ships (left to right): the Chikyu, a riser-equipped platform coring in the western Pacific; the JOIDES Resolution, which recovers cores throughout the ocean; and a Mission Specific Platform (MSP) drilling vessel. The dotted lines show representative depth.

Suzanne O’Connell, professor of earth and environmental sciences, is the author of a cover article titled “Holes in the Bottom of the Sea: History, Revolutions, and Future Opportunities,” published by the Geological Society of America (GSA) Today in January 2019.

Scientific ocean drilling (SOD) contributions include geophysical surveys, core samples, borehole well logs, and sub-seafloor observatories. After more than half a century, involving thousands of scientists from around the world, SOD has been instrumental in developing three geoscience revolutions: (1) plate tectonics, (2) paleoceanography, and (3) the deep marine biosphere.

In this paper, O’Connell explains that without SOD, it is unlikely that our current understanding of Earth processes could have developed. SOD has also been a leader in international collaborations and the open sharing of samples, data, and information. Almost 2.5 million samples have been taken from over 360 km of core located in three repositories. Today about half the members of scientific teams, including co-chief scientists, are women. This program is needed in the future for geoscientists to continue exploring our planet to understand how it functions and to create predictive models, she explains.

At Wesleyan, Professor O’Connell teaches geosciences with a strong emphasis on hands-on research with undergraduates. Her current research focuses on Antarctic climate change using sediment cores from the Weddell Sea, Ocean Drilling Program (ODP) Leg 113. She has authored or coauthored more than 60 refereed publications. Read more about O’Connell’s recent Weddell Sea core research in this College of the Environment blog post.

She is a member of the American Geophysical Union, American Association for the Advancement of Science, Association for Women Geoscientists, the Union of Concerned Scientists and a Fellow of the Geological Society of America. She is also on the governing council of the Geological Society of America and a recipient of the Association for Women Geoscientists Outstanding Educator Award, Wesleyan’s Edgar Beckham Helping Hand Award, and the McConaughy Writing Award.

“Terrible Beast” Takes Residence in Exley Science Center

Exley Science Center is now home to its second prehistoric specimen—a massive land animal known as a Deinotherium giganteum. This elephant-lookalike would have weighed up to 20,000 pounds and would use their massive tusks for stripping bark from tree trunks for eating and for dominating fellow males during mating season.

Exley Science Center is home to its second prehistoric specimen—a massive land animal known as a Deinotherium giganteum—or “terrible beast.” The skull cast is displayed in the hallway between Exley Science Center and the passway to Shanklin Laboratory and is part of the Joe Webb Peoples Museum of Natural History. The exhibit was installed on Feb. 26.

In 2017, the Deinotherium skull was discovered in two wooden boxes by faculty and students exploring Exley Science Center’s seventh-floor penthouse. The skull was once a centerpiece to Wesleyan’s Natural History Museum, located on the top floor of Judd Hall (pictured at left). After the museum closed in 1957, the Deinotherium and thousands of other specimens and objects were relocated and displaced around campus. The skull was first housed in the tunnels beneath the Foss Hill residence hall and relocated to Exley in 1970. (Historic photo courtesy of Wesleyan’s Special Collections and Archives)

Gilmore Speaks on Venus’s Terrain at American Museum of Natural History

Sporting their Earth and Environmental Sciences–labeled jackets, John Hossain MA ’18 and Avi Stein ’17 posed for a photo with Professor Marty Gilmore during her recent talk at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

Martha “Marty” Gilmore, the George I. Seney Professor of Geology and professor of earth and environmental sciences, presented a talk at the American Museum of Natural History on Feb. 4 titled “Venus: One Fate of a Habitable Planet.” Gilmore’s presentation was part of the museum’s Frontiers Lecture Series, which highlights the latest advances in our knowledge of the universe by presenting the work of scientists at the cutting edge of astrophysics.

Gilmore, a planetary geologist, uses surface mapping and orbital spectroscopy to study Venus’s terrain. During her talk, she spoke about the planet’s oldest rocks and what they can tell us about the history of water on one of Earth’s closest neighbors.

“Venus is likely to have had an ocean longer than Mars which forces us to consider it as another potentially habitable planet in our solar system,” Gilmore said. “Because it is Earth-sized, it uniquely informs us about the origin and fate of our planet and Earth-sized planets in other solar systems.”

Gilmore supports her investigations by studying minerals formed and/or weathered under conditions on Venus.

Wesleyan alumni Avi Stein ’17 and John Hossain MA ’18 attended the standing-room-only talk.

Gilmore is a Fellow of the Geological Society of America. At Wesleyan, she’s also the director, graduate studies, and co-coordinator, planetary science.

5 Students Receive NASA Connecticut Space Grant Consortium Fellowships, Awards

Two graduate students and three undergraduate students are recipients of Fall 2018 NASA Connecticut Space Grant Consortium (CTSGC) awards. They are among 39 students from 13 CTSGC academic affiliate institutions to be honored.

NASA CTSGC is a federally mandated grant, internship, and scholarship program that is funded as a part of NASA Education. There are Space Grant Consortia in all 50 states, plus Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico.

Earth and environmental science graduate student Christina Cauley received an $8,000 Graduate Research Fellowship for her project “Chemistry and Biology of Giant Hydrothermal Mounds in Paulina Lake, Oregon.” Her advisor is Joop Varekamp, the Harold T. Stearns Professor of Earth Science and Smith Curator of Mineralogy and Petrology of the Joe Webb Peoples Museum of Natural History. Varekamp also is professor of earth and environmental sciences; professor, environmental studies; and professor, Latin American studies.

Astronomy major Hunter Vannier ’20 received a $5,000 Undergraduate Research Fellowship for his project titled “Using Hubble to Look Back at the Sun’s Historical Trajectory Through the Local Interstellar Medium.” Vannier’s advisor is Seth Redfield, chair and associate professor of astronomy. Redfield also is associate professor, integrative sciences, and co-coordinator, planetary science.

Three other students received $1,000 Student Travel Grants, which covered travel expenses to attend the American Astronomical Society Meeting in Seattle, Wash., in January.

At the meeting, Astronomy major Michael Henderson ’19 presented his senior thesis research titled “High Precision Photometry of Faint White Dwarf Stars from K2 Data.” Henderson’s advisor is Seth Redfield.

Astronomy graduate student Ismael Mireles, presented his master’s thesis research on “Searching for planets around the brightest stars in K2.” Mireles’s advisor is Seth Redfield.

And astronomy graduate student Anthony Santini ’18 presented his BA/MA thesis research titled “Determining Fundamental Properties of Galaxies with X-ray Binary Correlations.” Santini’s advisor is Roy Kilgard, associate professor of the practice in astronomy and associate professor of the practice, integrative sciences.

Students Partner with Physical Plant Employees to Learn Inner Workings of Campus

Pictured in the back row, from left: Sammy Osmond, Lilley Gallagher, David Malone, Tom Macri, Gaelin Kingston, Joseph Dorrer, Pictured in the middle row, from left: Dean Canalia, Camille Britton, Tamara Rivera, and Mia McKinney. Pictured in the front row, from left: Gretchen LaMotte '18 and Allison Orr.

Pictured in the back row, from left: Sammy Osmond ’22; Lilley Gallagher ’22; David Malone, HVAC/utility mechanic; Tom Macri, HVAC shop foreperson; Gaelin Kingston ’22; Joseph Dorrer, energy manager. Pictured in the middle row, from left: Dean Canalia, plumbing shop foreperson; Camille Britton ’20; Tamara Rivera ’21; and Mia McKinney ’22. Pictured in the front row, from left: Gretchen LaMotte ’18 and Allison Orr, Distinguished Fellow in the College of the Environment. Missing from photo are material handlers Mario Torres and Kristopher Patterson.

Six students in the Introduction to Environmental Studies course traded their notebooks, backpacks, and pens for wrenches, electronic temperature control meters, and even plungers as part of a special project involving staff from Wesleyan’s Physical Plant.

Throughout the fall semester, the students partnered up with an electrician, a plumber, material handlers, temperature control mechanics, and others to learn about trades and to form friendships with the staff who keep Wesleyan running behind the scenes. On Nov. 29 the students presented their experiences—through talks, performances, music, and graphics—to fellow classmates and Physical Plant staff.

Wesleyan Celebrates GIS Day with Hands-on Activities

On Nov. 14, Wesleyan celebrated geography, mapping, and spatial data analysis at the annual GIS Day. GIS Day provides an international forum for users of geographic information systems (GIS) technology to demonstrate real-world applications that are making a difference in our society. The first formal GIS Day took place in 1999.

During GIS Day, the Wesleyan community was invited to participate in multiple activities, including a hands-on humanitarian map-a-thon, a seminar on digital storytelling with maps led by Sam Raby ’17, and games involving “Fun with GIS.” The events were led by students taking the E&ES 281: GIS Service Learning course and Kim Diver, associate professor of the practice in earth and environmental sciences. Diver’s research focuses on island biogeography, with particular interests in water level changes, isolation metrics, forest dynamics, and applications of GIS to investigate spatiotemporal distributions of insular plant species.

Wesleyan joined hundreds of organizations and institutions from North America, South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia in hosting GIS Day gatherings. For more information, visit Wes GIS.

Photos of GIS Day are below:

Jesse Simmons (’21), Luke Green (’20 ENVS, HIST), Sarah Goss (’19 BIOL, PSYCH)

From left, Jesse Simmons ’21, Luke Green ’20, and Sarah Goss ’19.

Chernoff Honored at “Sound of Science” Musical Premiere

Chernoff, second from right, at the concert November 10. He is pictured on stage with, from left, composer Felipe Perez Santiago, composer Graham Reynolds, and cellist Jeffrey Zeigler.

Barry Chernoff, second from right, is pictured on stage with, from left, composer Felipe Perez Santiago, composer Graham Reynolds, and cellist Jeffrey Zeigler.

Barry Chernoff, director of the College of the Environment, was one of eight scientists recently honored with a new musical composition based upon his research—part of a concert and album titled “The Sound of Science, performed in New York City on Nov. 10.

The project aims to build “bridges between the musical and scientific worlds, celebrating their shared culture of inquiry,” according to the website. The pieces were written by seven celebrated composers for amplified cello and electronics, and were all recorded and performed by world-renowned cellist Jeffrey Zeigler, longtime member of Kronos Quartet and several other groups. The Grammy Award–winning quartet has performed at Wesleyan’s Center for the Arts, most recently in April 2018.

Each composer was paired with a scientist of his or her choosing and tasked with creating music inspired by and reflective of the scientist’s life and practice.

Chernoff’s piece, titled, “Pastaza,” was composed by Graham Reynolds, an Austin-based composer-bandleader-improviser who creates, performs, and records music for film, theater, dance, rock clubs, and concert halls. “Pastaza” and the other works can be played online here.

According to the website: “Graham was drawn to Chernoff’s work for its influence and importance on this grand scale…. When it comes to considering what future we are creating, there is nothing more crucial than the planet, its limited resources, and how it will fare for generations to come.”

The piece aims to honor Chernoff’s “abundant curiosity for the world” around him, and to examine the ways in which his work influences our understanding of “what came before and what’s ahead.”

“I am incredibly honored to have a piece of music inspired by my research and conservation efforts in the Amazon and in South America—and I am in awe of Graham Reynolds’s ability to have imagined the music without having traveled by dugout in the Amazon basin himself!” said Chernoff. “His composition, ‘Pastaza’ is so beautiful, if not breathtaking. Hearing the music performed live by Jeffrey Zeigler with Graham’s electronic backing with my photos being displayed on the wall was an experience I will never forget.”

Chernoff is also the Robert Schumann Professor of Environmental Studies, professor of biology, professor of earth and environmental sciences, and professor and chair of environmental studies.

O’Connell in The Conversation: What Scientists Have Found by Drilling into the Ocean Floor

Suzanne O'Connell

Suzanne O’Connell

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,Suzanne O’Connell, professor of earth and environmental sciences, writes about the important findings that have resulted from 50 years of scientific drilling on the ocean floor—and how much is still unknown.

Scientists have been drilling into the ocean floor for 50 years – here’s what they’ve found so far

It’s stunning but true that we know more about the surface of the moon than about the Earth’s ocean floor. Much of what we do know has come from scientific ocean drilling – the systematic collection of core samples from the deep seabed. This revolutionary process began 50 years ago, when the drilling vessel Glomar Challenger sailed into the Gulf of Mexico on August 11, 1968 on the first expedition of the federally funded Deep Sea Drilling Project.

I went on my first scientific ocean drilling expedition in 1980, and since then have participated in six more expeditions to locations including the far North Atlantic and Antaractica’s Weddell Sea. In my lab, my students and I work with core samples from these expeditions. Each of these cores, which are cylinders 31 feet long and 3 inches wide, is like a book whose information is waiting to be translated into words. Holding a newly opened core, filled with rocks and sediment from the Earth’s ocean floor, is like opening a rare treasure chest that records the passage of time in Earth’s history.

Gilmore, Greenwood Recipients of NASA Grant to Map Venus’s Craters

Caption: Radar image of Venus. Alpha Regio tessera is partly covered by the dark parabola of the impact crater Stuart on the volcanic plains.

Professors Martha Gilmore and James Greenwood recently received a NASA grant to study crater parabolas on Venus using radar data. Pictured is a Magellan radar image of Venus. Alpha Regio tessera is partly covered by the dark parabola of the impact crater Stuart on the volcanic plains. (Photo courtesy of NASA)

Like planet Earth, the geology of Venus is diverse; consisting of areas of flat plains and deformed, mountain-like terrains called tesserae. And like Earth, Mars, and the Moon, Venus is checkered with hundreds of craters.

“What’s odd about Venus’s craters, is that craters we do see are relatively young, indicating the surface of Venus has been covered by planet-wide volcanic flows,” says Martha “Marty” Gilmore, George I. Seney Professor of Geology, professor of earth and environmental sciences. “The tesserae are the only terrains older than these volcanic flows and thus our only hope at accessing rocks from the first billion years of Venus’s history, when the planet may have had an ocean and may have been habitable.”

As the recipient of a three-year $430,801 grant from NASA’s Solar System Workings Program, Gilmore and James Greenwood, assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences, will use Magellan radar data to create the first map of crater ejecta on Venus classified by origin on plains or tessera terrain. Their project is titled “Radar Emissivity and Dielectric Permittivity of the Venus Surface Beneath Crater Parabolas.” Crater parabolas refer to the shape of the ejecta deposits as they are carried westward by the high-altitude Venus winds.