This Major Research Instrumentation grant supports acquisition of an accelerated solvent extraction system (ASE) and a gas chromatograph with flame ionization detector (GC-FID). The equipment will support PI and undergraduate student research in paleoceanography and paleoclimatology that relies on analysis of lipid biomarkers preserved in marine sediments and terrestrial sequences. In particular the PI seeks to focus on the use of the GC for isolation and analysis of alkenones from complex organic mixtures found in marine sediments and rock outcrops as a proxy for estimating past sea surface temperatures. The technique can offer new information for the study of Cenozoic global climate, its relationship to orbital forcing and the effects of past atmospheric CO2 levels on Earth's climate system and implications for glacial and interglacial transitions. Luther College is an undergraduate liberal arts institution and the PI is a female early career geoscientist (Ph.D. 2009).
This grant enabled the establishment of a new undergraduate research laboratory in paleoclimatology at Luther College, a small liberal arts college where students play an active role in faculty research. Paleoclimatologists are engaged in reconstructing the Earthâ€™s past climate behavior in order to further our understanding of climate system dynamics and to gain insight into possibile future climate changes. With this instrumentation purchased using this grant, the PI is equipped to pursue a number of different research questions by empolying a methodology for estimating past sea surface temperatures through analysis of lipid compounds preserved in ocean sediments. The PIâ€™s specific research plans include exploring the symmetry or asymmetry of northern and southern hemisphere climate changes from the late Miocene to the present and assessing the southern hemisphereâ€™s response to orbital forcing parameters, with implications for our understanding of the development of the polar ice sheets and the connections between atmospheric carbon dioxide and climate evolution. Additionally, the establishment of this laboratory provides undergraduate students with the opportunity to be introduced to the field of paleoclimatology and to gain direct, hands on training in scientific research through academic year and summer research opportunities. This type of experience is valuable development and preparation for those interested in pursuing graduate degrees in the sciences and for those who wish to further explore the nature of scientific inquiry.