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Summer Research Project 2019

  • Title: Group Project: Reconstructing landscape change in New England from lake sediments: interaction of humans, vegetation, climate change, and extreme weather
  • Group Project Leader: Noah Snyder
  • Mentors: Timothy Cook; Noah Snyder
  • Collaborators: David Foster; Wyatt Oswald
  • Project Description:

    Sediment that accumulates in the bottom of lakes can record evidence of past environmental changes in the surrounding landscape. Such records allow us to understand how landscapes respond to the interplay of humans, vegetation, climate change and extreme weather. This project is specifically focused on understanding changes in erosion resulting from both climate variability and human alteration of the landscape. Rapid, catastrophic erosion can be life threatening, damaging to infrastructure, and extremely costly; gradual, more continuous erosion threatens agricultural productivity and the sustainability of forest ecosystems, degrades water quality and ecological services, results in the infilling of lakes and reservoirs, and alters the distribution and fate of particle-borne contaminants.

    The overall project aims to quantify spatial and temporal variations in erosion rates across New England from deglaciation (approximately 10-15 thousand years ago) through the present day by collecting sediment cores from a network of lakes. We are coring a suite of lakes in watersheds of varying relief, land use histories, and surficial geology to test hypotheses related to the relative importance of climate and land use history on erosion. To accomplish this, we extract records from sediment cores to quantify changes in erosion, identify mass wasting events, vegetation changes from pollen grains, and fire history from charcoal particles. Erosion and landscape histories for study watersheds are interpreted in relation to the history of human activity and land use change as well as long-term variations in climate from regional paleoclimate reconstructions.

    For summer 2019, we are seeking two students to join this project, which is a collaboration among paleolimnologist Tim Cook (UMass Amherst), geomorphologist Noah Snyder (Boston College), paleoecologist Wyatt Oswald (Emerson College and Harvard Forest), and ecologist David Foster (Harvard Forest).

    Student subprojects: The students will participate in a field campaign collecting sediment cores over several weeks in June from lakes around New England. This work will be done from small boats. The cores will then be analyzed in lab facilities at Harvard Forest and UMass Amherst throughout the rest of the summer. Based on interest, the each student will likely focus on analysis of cores from one or two of the lakes we study, and make lab measurements including: organic content, sediment density and grain size, geochemistry, radiometric dating, pollen, and charcoal. In addition, there will be opportunities to conduct geographic information systems (GIS)-based analyses of the geomorphology and hydrology of the watersheds upstream of each lake.

    Mentors (Noah Snyder and Tim cook) will work directly with students during fieldwork, and be onsite at Harvard Forest for most of June. Throughout the summer mentors and students will have regular in-person meeting and check in on a near-daily basis (telephone, email, Skype) depending on the independence of the students. This project will include the opportunity to interact with undergraduate and graduate students at all of the mentors’ home institutions.

    Desired Skills: Applicants for this project should
    - Have good quantitative and computer skills.
    - Have coursework/experience in geosciences (preferred), sedimentology, geomorphology, paleoclimate,GIS and/or statistics, .
    - Be enthusiastic about spending time outside in small boats.
    - Be able to lift heavy equipment
    - Be open to encounters with mud, bugs, poison ivy, ticks, and the typical extremes of New England summer weather.

  • Readings:

    Cook, T.L., Yellen, B.C., Woodruff, J.D. and Miller, D., 2015. Contrasting human versus climatic impacts on erosion. Geophysical Research Letters, 42(16), pp.6680-6687.

    Oswald, W.W., Foster, D.R., Shuman, B.N., Doughty, E.D., Faison, E.K., Hall, B.R., Hansen, B.C., Lindbladh, M., Marroquin, A. and Truebe, S.A., 2018. Subregional variability in the response of New England vegetation to postglacial climate change. Journal of Biogeography, 45(10), pp.2375-2388.

    Snyder, N.P., Nesheim, A.O., Wilkins, B.C. and Edmonds, D.A., 2013. Predicting grain size in gravel-bedded rivers using digital elevation models: Application to three Maine watersheds. Bulletin, 125(1-2), pp.148-163.

  • Research Category: Regional Studies, Historical and Retrospective Studies, Group Projects