Student Focus - Brittany Gilman and Stephanie Allard – Winter 2009
Summer on ice
(Editor’s note: Full-length version of story.)
Most students describe their summer vacation in one word: cool. But Brittany Gilman of South Portland, Maine, and Stephanie Allard of Woonsocket, R.I., really mean it. In August, the University of Maine Earth sciences students collected samples from the Greenland ice sheet. The undergraduate researchers are working with Climate Change Institute Director Paul Mayewski and scientists Andrei Kurbatov and Doug Introne to better understand the Younger Dryas, an abrupt climate change event that occurred roughly 12,900 years ago.
Tell us about the work you did this summer:
SA: In order to determine the cause of the Younger Dryas, we traveled to the edge of the ice sheet near Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, and took over 500 samples for isotope and iridium analysis. We spent about a week collecting these samples, and will be analyzing them during this coming school year.
Did you expect to have the opportunity to do this kind of hands-on research as an undergraduate?
BG: The opportunity to become part of a research project such as this was not something I had expected when I came to UMaine. It is an incredible experience that I am lucky to have.
SA: It was such a surprise to find out that I would be part of a real research project, one that has the potential to really make an impact. Field and research experience at this point in college was completely unexpected, but was the most exciting and beneficial adventure to take part in.
How does the work you did this summer contribute to our understanding of climate change?
BG: This research project should give us some insight into what causes abrupt climate change.
What is it like to research climate change now, when it is such a hot topic in the media and in global conversations?
BG: It’s really exciting to be a part of something that is so important. It’s an indescribable feeling to think that what we are doing could have a large impact on the way abrupt climate change events are viewed by the scientific community.
SA: It feels really good to be contributing something to this topic, especially as an undergraduate. What we find out from this research — whatever it may be — will be important in some way. It’s really awesome to imagine that the discoveries made through this project could be the basis for entirely new theories and ideas about how the climate works.
How does fieldwork like this add to what you’re learning in the classroom?
SA: Being able to actually see the ice sheet and glaciers, and the actual landscape they created is incredible. A textbook doesn’t come close to illustrating the size or detail of any of the features. I really enjoyed seeing everything I’ve learned in my classes in person. I can use what I’ve seen and learned in Greenland in my classes, whether it’s regarding geology, climate change, or just general fieldwork.
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