While many college students were getting a tan last summer, Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences John Tarduno and his students were trekking through the snow of the Arctic region in the name of science.
This was the fourth in a series of expeditions to the high Canadian Arctic to collect geological samples and chart the unexplored wilderness in order to better understand the geological history of North America.
The trip, from July 4 to Aug. 3, focused on studying the volcanic, tectonic and paleoclimactic evolution of the Arctic region from about 140 to 80 million years ago.
?We believe volcanism and tectonics, the motion of the Earth?s plates and mountain building are intimately related to Earth?s climate,? said Tarduno, who is also chair of the department.
Support from the National Science Foundation and the National Geographic Society allowed the undergraduates to take part in the expedition. They participated in scientific collection and learned basic field mapping techniques.
This year, Take Five Scholar Matt Polizzotto, junior Matt Friedman and sophomores Santo Marciano and Allyson O?Kane journeyed to the Arctic along with teaching assistant Peter Lippert and postdoctoral fellow Rory Cottrell.
?This expedition gave me the chance to learn some of the basics of field geology, something that will likely come in very handy in the future,? Friedman said. ?Also, I enjoyed just being there and living for nearly a month out of a tent in the Arctic.?
Because of the gradient between the equator and the poles of the earth, the Arctic is a ideal place to study paleoclimate ? it is extremely sensitive to global change.
The researchers found evidence that the Arctic was not always the temperature that it is today. At one location they found vertebrate fossils of dinosaurs and turtles, which suggest that the Arctic once had a climate similar to that of Florida today. But in other rocks they found ice accumulation in mountainous regions, suggesting that the Arctic used to be much colder than it is now.
The weather was exceptionally good on this trip compared to past years, which allowed them to establish camps at much higher latitudes, going as far as 81.5 degrees north on Ellesmere Island.
Normally, this area is shrouded in fog or snow, which does not allow people to camp and work there or see sights such as Axel Heiberg Island, Nansen Sound and the Arctic Ocean sea ice beyond.
Tarduno and his team found a series of ammonites that will help them to determine the age of some of the rock formations. They also found a series of lava flows at their highest latitude camp. This lava has the potential to help them unravel the processes responsible for the anomalous rates of volcanic activity seen in the Arctic.
?The Arctic is a key area for understanding past climate change,? Tarduno said. ?This, together with the realization that you are working in an area where few or perhaps no people have visited previously, brings excitement to the research.?
?When I thought about the Arctic, I thought of hundreds of miles of snow and ice and bitter cold temperatures,? he said after his second trip to the Arctic.
?There was plenty of snow and it got very cold at times, but I discovered that the Arctic is a beautiful landscape of rugged mountains, glaciers and tundra.?
Lippert said he would jump at the chance to go to the Arctic again, but advises that it?s not for everyone.
?An expedition thousands of miles from any real form of civilization is rigorous, the hours are long and hard and the weather can make or break it,? he said.
?But if this sounds like it appeals to you, definitely try to do such a thing.?