PI: Michal Kowalewski (Department of Geosciences, Virginia Tech)
This award is funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Public Law 111-5).
Quantitative integration of stratigraphic and paleontological data derived from sedimentary rocks can enhance informative value of both the geological and fossil records. This approach will be applied to the depositional system (sedimentary basin) of the Po Plain Delta, Italy. The goals include (1) assessments of stratigraphic biases that may affect quantitative data based on fossils; (2) numerical calibrations of the regional sequence stratigraphic model; and (3) reconstructions of eco-environmental changes during high-frequency sea-level fluctuations that shaped the recent geological history of this culturally and economically important region. To achieve those goals, Quaternary marine successions of the Po Plain, which contain abundant fossil mollusks, will be sampled to quantify commonly studied paleontological patterns (e.g., diversity, body size, etc.). The resulting data, based on numerous samples from multiple cores, will be integrated with the regional sequence-stratigraphic model, bathymetric surveys of present-day Mediterranean mollusk populations, and high-resolution geochronology (radiocarbon-calibrated amino-acid racemization dating). The intellectual novelty of the project resides in data-intense integration of paleoecology, sequence stratigraphy, and geochronology, which should produce a time-controlled 3D reconstruction of eco-environmental and depositional histories of the Po Plain basin. In terms of broader impacts, research efforts will be interfaced with educational and outreach activities at multiple levels. At the graduate level, a Ph.D. student will be trained in integrating disparate data and developing transferable skills in geological and statistical methods. At the undergraduate and K-12 levels, a new interactive educational exhibit (evolved from research activities) will be developed at the Virginia Tech Museum of Geosciences, an outreach/education outlet of rural Appalachia. The exhibit will make the process of multifaceted quantitative research and discovery accessible to K-12 students, science teachers, and the general public. The exhibit-based lab exercises for undergraduate college courses in paleontology and historical geology will also be developed. In addition, with assistance from the on-campus Department of Multicultural Programs and Services, undergraduates from underrepresented groups will be recruited as paid interns in order to participate in the exhibit development and to establish competitive professional portfolios. Finally, the project will involve long-term international interactions between Virginia Tech and University of Bologna. The participating researcher and students will benefit from international collaborations, thus gaining a broader perspective on scientific and societal issues. The project will offer logistic and intellectual support to 1 graduate student and up to 3 undergraduate interns. Senior personnel will include a museum outreach coordinator.