Skaneateles alumnus studies climate change in Arctic Circle

Skaneateles alumnus Elizabeth Thomas recently had a research article published in the "Journal of Paleolimnology" based on time she spent in the Arctic Circle studying climate change in the Baffin Islands over the last 2,000 years.

Thomas is the daughter of Patty Weisse, director of the Centers for Nature Education at Baltimore Woods.

"Both of my parents were geologists and I liked spending time outside," she said. "When I was little I would always go to the summer nature camps and then I worked at the summer camps later."

Thomas is finishing up her master's program at the University at Buffalo and has applied to doctorate programs at the University of Massachusetts, the University of Boulder and the University of Arizona at Tuscon. All of these schools have well-known arctic study programs.

She recently spent time in the Baffin Islands in arctic Canada near Greenland. There she took sediment samples from the bottom of lakes to analyze organic material. The species of chironomids (mosquito-like bugs) in the mud in the lakes tells information about the climates throughout different periods in the earth's geological history.

"Like tree rings, the sediment cores have layers. Each layer tells information about a time period, with the oldest information at the bottom and the surface is the youngest."

Chironomids can identify temperature information because each species can only survive in very specific climates. By knowing which species live in which temperatures, geologists can tell what the temperature was like during the time period of the sediments. Thomas' research focuses on the last 2,000 years.

"I love going to the arctic," she said. "It's awesome. I wouldn't trade the experience for anything."

Thomas and other geologists study in the arctic because the area is more sensitive to climate changes. As the white snow melts, darker surfaces (either water or land) is exposed, making the area warm easier, which makes even a small change in temperature have a large effect.

"It's a self-amplifying process," Thomas said.

Thomas' research is available online and will be published in print some time this year in the Journal of Paleolimnology.

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