Collaborative Research: Deducing Late Neogene Antarctic Climate from Fossil-Rich Lacustrine Sediments in the Dry Valleys
This project studies ancient lake deposits from the western Dry Valleys of Antarctica. These deposits are particularly exciting because they preserve flora and fauna over seven million years in age that represent the last vestiges of ecosystems that dominated this area before formation of the modern East Antarctic ice sheet. Their unique nature offers a chance to bridge modern and ancient ecology. Formed along the margin of ancient alpine glaciers, these deposits contain layers of silt, clay, and volcanic ash; as well as freeze-dried remnants of mosses, insects, and diatoms. Geological and biological analyses provide a view of the ecological and environmental conditions during mid-to-late Miocene--seven to seventeen million years ago--which spans the critical period when the East Antarctic ice sheet transitioned to its present stable form. The results place the modern lakes of the Dry Valleys into a long-term evolutionary framework, and allow for correlation and dating comparisons with other fossil-rich deposits from the Transantarctic Mountains. Chemical fingerprinting and dating of volcanic glass shards will also help date fossil- and ash-bearing horizons in nearby marine cores, such as those to be collected under the ANDRILL program.
The broader impacts are education at the postdoctoral, graduate, and undergraduate levels; and collaboration between a research institution and primarily undergraduate institution. The work also improves our understanding of global climate change during a critical period in the Earth's history.
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