NSF-Funded Research Looks into Planet's Climate History


						Asst. Prof. Kate Swanger’s team collects samples from a sandstone boulder in the Olympus Range in Antarctica. 

Asst. Prof. Kate Swanger’s team collects samples from a sandstone boulder in the Olympus Range in Antarctica. 

03/27/2014
By Edwin L. Aguirre

From November 2013 to January 2014, Kate Swanger, an assistant professor in the Department of Environmental, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences (EEAS), led an expedition to Antarctica to investigate how the continent’s glaciers have responded to climate fluctuations in the past. Her work is supported by a three-year $124,070 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), with Swanger as principal investigator.

Glaciers occupy only about 10 percent of Earth’s land surface but they hold roughly three-quarters of the planet’s fresh water. Most of them are found in Antarctica and Greenland.

Swanger and her team, which includes EEAS graduate students Catherine Radonic and Christopher Ford as well as Ph.D. student Andrew Christ from Boston University, took three days and “countless plane rides” to get to McMurdo Station, the U.S. research facility on Antarctica’s Ross Island, located at latitude 78 degrees south.

Every austral summer, McMurdo Station supports hundreds of Antarctic scientists, organizing and transporting equipment, people, tents and supplies to remote sites across the frozen, desolate landmass. Swanger and her team spent five weeks camped in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, the largest ice-free region in Antarctica.

“This region purportedly has remained free of ice for at least 15 million years, and is therefore an important window into the continent’s long-term glacial, geological and climatic history,” explains Swanger.
 
The team conducted field work to analyze and date past advances of alpine glaciers.

“Given Earth’s changing climate and its potential future impact on ice volume and sea level, it is crucial to gain a better understanding of past advances and retreats of Antarctic ice, especially under higher carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere and/or warmer-than-present conditions.”

The team focused on three major existing glacier systems in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, gathering rock samples from surface glacial deposits for exposure dating, conducting on-site experiments to measure the erosion rates of bedrocks and mapping and characterizing the glacial deposits.

“The glacier systems exhibit variable sensitivity to climate change, some responding rapidly to minor warming whereas others only respond to major shifts in climate,” she notes. “Coupled with regional climate modeling, these data will provide critical insight on how sensitive Antarctic ice is to warmer-than-present climates.”

How Will the Weather Affect the Game?

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"For the next two days when the first two games of the Series are played, temperatures will be in the 40s. Here’s how the cold weather will have an effect on the game: 

The flight of the baseball through the air is affected by air density. Warm and humid summer days have lower density. Colder temperatures and less humidity produce denser air, which will make it harder to hit the ball long distances; home runs will be harder to hit. A strong wind blowing away from home plate (a wind from the southwest in Fenway Park), could offset the increased density. Right now, the current forecast shows light winds out of the north and northwest for Game 1, which would not help hitting home runs. The longer range forecast for Game 2 shows moderate winds of 10 to 20 mph out of the west-southwest, which could help the hitters.

Pitchers will feel the denser air too, since the effects of spin should be stronger. Curve balls will curve more, and movement on fastballs and sliders will be greater. As a result, pitches may be harder to hit, but also harder for the pitchers to control."

-Prof. Frank Colby, Meteorology

EEAS students study lunar rocks

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From 1969 to 1972, a total of 12 American astronauts walked on the surface of the Moon as part of NASA?s Apollo lunar exploration program. In addition to taking thousands of photos, they brought home with them a total of 841.4 pounds (381.7 kilograms) of lunar rocks and soils from six different sites. Most of these priceless materials are stored at the Lunar Sample Laboratory Facility in Houston. The rest are distributed around the country for research and educational purposes. In April the lunar rocks came to UMass Lowell.

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Over a two week period students in Environmental, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and Physics had a chance to examine the lunar specimens both as hand specimens and in thin section.

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Lunar basalt in plane polarized light (l) and in crossed polarizers (r). Width of field of view ~4 mm.

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The enigmatic orange soil from the Apollo 17 mission that so excited astronaut Harrison Schmidt. Plane polarized light. Width of field of view ~4 mm.

Trinitite (a fused sand glass) was formed during the first atomic bomb blast at the Trinity test site in New Mexico. In April, as part of ongoing research on this topic, Dr. Eby and his Los Alamos colleagues spent several days at the Trinity test site collecting specimens.

Following the atomic bomb blast the area immediately surrounding ground zero was covered with a bottle green glassy material (trinitite). To the north of ground zero, where there were overhead copper wires, both green and red trinitite are found. The red color is caused by copper from the wire which was incorporated into the glass.
Trinitite Examples.jpgRecent work has identified small spheres and dumbbell shaped green glass which is distributed over a wide area around ground zero. The material was originally found in the coarse material surrounding anthills, and for this reason has sometimes been referred to as "anthill trinitite". The material is very similar in appearance to tektites which are formed when a meteor impacts the earth causing melting of the country rocks and the splattering of the melted material over a wide area.

BEADS_SITE2_PART_B_HERMES_COLLECTION4,5.jpgAt the microscopic level trinitite is a marvelously complex material consisting of a few partially melted remnant quartz grains and a heterogeneous mixture of glassy material representing melted mineral grains and mixtures of melted grains. This heterogeneity occurs on a 10 to 20 micron scale. Given the high temperatures and short duration of the bomb blast, the material provides insights into disequilibrium melting.

Trin Bead 3.JPGResearch groups interested in tektites are currently studying material from the Trinity site. Because trinitite contains material from the atomic bomb, fission products, and neutron activation products, another active area of research is nuclear forensics. The glass produced by a nuclear explosion can provide information about the type of device that was detonated.





EEAS Tour of Southwestern US Geology

From May 12­ - 18, EEAS Professors Lori Weeden and Kate Swanger took seven students on a whirlwind tour of southwestern geology.  To bring you this report on the geologic history of Utah and Arizona, these nine brave souls had to endure ridiculously picturesque scenery, excessive laughter on long van rides, and delicious s?mores cooked over the campfire. It was a most perilous expedition.

Zion National Park, southwestern Utah.

At our first stop we marveled at the 2,000-ft high cliffs of Navajo Sandstone in Zion NP. These rust-colored sandstones were deposited during the Jurassic, when stegosaurs and brachiosaurs roamed our continent, and Utah was buried under a massive expanse of sand dunes. All of the continents had come together to form one supercontinent, Pangaea, and the colossal Appalachian Mountains (still young and as tall as the present-day Rockies), were shielding the western US from rain, causing a vast desert to form in Utah.

At Zion NP the students braved steep cliffs to hike the famous Angel?s Landing Trail. On this hike, we got a close-up view of the large-scale cross-beds of the Navajo Sandstone, formed as sand dunes migrated and buried each other.  We could also clearly see the gradation of brown to pink to white in the Navajo, which is caused by variations in the oxide minerals that cement this impressive deposit.

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Left: Zion National Park, southern Utah. Right: Cameron Simmons poses next to chevron folds in Kolob Canyon, Zion National Park.




Bryce National Park, southwestern Utah

After the break-up of Pangaea, 200 million years ago, North America was inundated by a massive inland sea that covered much of the interior of our country, including Utah. In this warm, lush environment, dinosaurs still ruled North America. But ?all good things must come to an end.? By the time the Yucatan Peninsula was hit by an asteroid 65 million years ago (marking the end of the dinosaurs), the waters were already retreating from the interior of the US. The Rocky Mountains were beginning to rise, and along with them the Colorado Plateau where Bryce NP and Grand Canyon NP now reside.  From 70­?40 million years ago, as Utah emerged from the ocean, vast fluvial and lake deposits were formed, including the sandstones, siltstones and limestones that would eventually form the famous ?hoodoos? of Bryce NP.  These hoodoos (or spires) formed during the past few million years, as wind and water eroded vertical fractures in the rocks, making Bryce NP one of the most unique and gorgeous landscapes on Earth.

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Left: Alison O'Connor and Dylan Cole hike through Bryce Canyon National Park, southern Utah. Right: Ryan Farrell investigates the Claron Formation limestones in Bryce Canyon National park.





Grand Canyon, northern Arizona

Carved by the mighty Colorado River during the past six million years, the Grand Canyon has beckoned tourists, adventurers, and artists from around the globe. It stands as a clear testimony of the power and antiquity of the Earth we live on, reminding us that we are but tiny pieces in a greater whole that has existed for billions of years and that will continue to exist long after we are gone.

Our first glimpse into the Grand Canyon came after a long van ride, when we stopped along the eastern South Rim. Though exhausted, we were enraptured by its beautiful enormity and couldn?t wait to hike down Bright Angel Trail the following day. Along with pack-mules, horses and hundreds of other travellers, we literally hiked backward through time, starting with the 270-million year old Kaibab Limestone that caps the South Rim, down to the 505-million year old Muav Limestone.  Had we more time and endurance, we could have hiked all of the way down to the Vishnu Schist, a 1.7-billion year old rock that forms the ?basement? of the southwest. Every year, thousands of hikers take this journey, hiking ?rim to rim,? traversing 1.5 billion years of earth history in less than a day.

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From left to right: Rachael Megnia, Kate Swanger, Cameron Simmons, Tara Cenzalli, Ryan Farrell, Lori Weeden, Sephera Simoneau, Alison O’Connor, and Dylan Cole on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, northern Arizona.


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Post CAMP magmatism: The White Mountain and Monteregian Hills igneous provinces, eastern North America.

The Central Atlantic Magmatic Province (CAMP) extends approximately 5000 km north to south on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. The magmatic activity occurred at the Triassic-Jurassic boundary (~200 Ma). In New England and the Maritime provinces this magmatic event is represented by two major suites of Mesozoic dikes emplaced between 225 and 230 Ma (Coastal New England, CNE) and at ~200 Ma (CAMP). In New England the CAMP magmatism is immediately followed by the emplacement of a distinctly different suite of igneous rocks (the older White Mountain Igneous Province, OWM) between ~200 Ma and 160 Ma. In the Cretaceous (~122 Ma) a more diverse group of rocks, ranging from carbonatites to alkaline granites, here referred to as the Monteregian Hills White Mountain Igneous Province (MHWM), are emplaced in Quebec and New England.

                The OWM is dominated by feldspathic silica-saturated rocks (syenites, quartz syenites, and granites), but silica-undersaturated rocks are found at Red Hill and Rattlesnake, Maine.  The rarity of mafic rocks inhibits direct comparison with CAMP magmas. However, the most primitive OWM samples have elemental and isotopic characteristics that are similar to the CNE and MHWM magmas but distinctly different from the CAMP magmas. Mafic rocks are much more abundant in the MHWM series and previous models suggest that these magmas were derived from a depleted mantle source and are related by variable degrees of melting and crustal contamination. The same models can be extended to the OWM and CNE. Thus one possible conclusion is that the CNE, OWM and MHWM magmas were derived from a similar source and represent a spectrum of magma compositions related by variable degrees of partial melting and crustal contamination. The CAMP magmas represent a totally different source and have a different petrogenetic history.

See the complete paper

Taking the leap to head down to the southern hemisphere for four months was the best decision I have made in my life so far. I was very fortunate in getting accepted in the EcoQuest New Zealand program, Fall 2012. EcoQuest was formed by The University Of New Hampshire in 1999. EcoQuest is an applied field studies program in ecology, resource management, and environmental policy. The 25 other students I lived with for 15 weeks became more to me than just my ?whanau? which means family in Maori. The program was 15 weeks long, each week was a theme and we traveled on the North and South island for the best-fit environment for learning this theme.

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            For one of my favorite weeks (hard to pick because they were all my favorite) we learned about Eco-Tourism and stayed at a marae in Kaikoura. Since we were learning Eco-Tourism we took the role of tourist and we went swimming with wild Dusky Dolphins in Kaikoura. We were privileged to meet and talk with the owner of Dolphin Encounters. We learned about the permits in place when it comes to interacting with marine life and how protection efforts for marine life are enforced. Another week that was very memorable to me was the Marine Ecology week. We stayed in dorms at the Auckland University Marine center and snorkeled in two marine reserves. One of which was the first marine reserve protected in the world. For our classes we would use quadrants on bare rock and seaweed areas to see what effects Snapper fish had on the kina (sea urchin) population. The other reserve we snorkeled at was Poor Knights. Poor Knights is one of the top 10 dive sites in the world!!

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            The last four weeks of the EcoQuest program were our DRP?s (Directed Research Program). My directed research was based on the translocation of Shore Skinks (similar to a lizard) to Motuihe Island. For a week my awesome research team, (Laynie Saidnaway, Annie Fuller and Olivia Cushing) and I worked out in the field baiting and checking pitfall traps for skinks. These traps were 5L buckets dug into the ground so that the top of the bucket was ground level and had a wooden cover on the top. We baited our traps with pear or fish-based cat food that did not smell too pleasant at 5:30 am. Our objective was to see if the release of the Shore Skinks was positive. We wanted to see if this particular skink species could become self-sustaining after the release. This was by far my favorite part of the EcoQuest program because it was hands on, out in the field working with a small group, and extremely fun.

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            The memories and adventures I took away from New Zealand will stay with me forever. I was able to come home with more of an open mind, not just about the educational part of the experience but on a personal level as well. Everyone would tell me it would be a life changing experience and I was wondering if that just met it would hit me one day while I was there, but that was not the case. Through out the entire program I grew personally and was fortunate to grow with the help of my 25 other students who became my family. I learned more about New Zealand?s environment, and living in a close nit community. It was honestly the best experience I have encountered. I would highly recommend this particular program if you don?t mind getting close with 25 amazing students with similar interests as you and getting down and dirty!

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Recycling at UMASS Lowell

On October 1, 2012 the University of Massachusetts Lowell played host to the Elizabeth Warren/Scott Brown senatorial debate and on the same day the Environmental, Earth and Atmospheric Science Department’s Environmental Science Seminar conducted a recycling audit of the recycling bins in the Olney Science Center. Joining the group was Gunther Wellenstein (class of 2002) who is the recycling coordinator for the City of Lowell. The goal was to determine the types and amounts of material that were recycled and to determine how much trash was place in recycling bins (people are not always careful when disposing of material).

Ryan recycling 2.JPGPeople who sort trash are happy people.

Ryan recycling 3.JPGThe final total was 4 bags of paper, 1 bag of plastic, 1 bag of cans, and 1 bag of trash. Plastic bottles were the second most numerous recyclable items and Gunther made the point that Lowell residents should be drinking more tap water. Bottled water is significantly more expensive than tap water and Lowell's tap water is of excellent quality.


A hardy group of structural geology students, equipped with hard hats, safety glasses and rock hammers, descended on the Pike Industries sand and gravel quarry in Hookset, NH. I'm not sure I'd want to meet this group on a dark street. The fellow with the white hard hat is Ryan Crosbie, our intrepid quarry guide.

Class at Pike's Quarry
The quarry is sited in the Rangley formation, a wonderful mix of igneous and metamorphic rocks and plenty of yummy structural geology. Can you spot the boudins in the image below?

Marvelous structure
To make things even better, the Pine Hill fault runs through the quarry. Careful investigation by the students determined that the damage zone was at least 100 m wide which suggests that this is a major fault. Isolated surface outcrops indicate a length of at least 50 km.

Pine Hill fault
Both crushed stone for aggregate and asphalt are produced at the quarry. We also learned about the quarrying operation and the associated environmental issues. Many thanks to Ryan Crosbie who was an informative and helpful guide to the interesting geology of the quarry and the quarry operations.

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