Project QUEST update: WEG researcher visits the University of Cambridge

Hi! My name is Brittany Ward. I just finished my MSc at Boston College, were I was using speleothems (mineral cave deposits) as archives of past climate to understand how the South American Monsoon System has changed over the last 10,000 years. Has the monsoon weakened or strengthened? What may have caused that strength shift? And importantly, is the response of local precipitation changes the same in all parts of tropical South America? These paleo-questions are pertinent to our understanding of how water resources in South America may change in the face of anthropogenic
induced climate change.

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I officially start my PhD at the University of Waikato in November, but have had the amazing opportunity to begin my labwork early at the University of Cambridge through project QUEST. I’ve not yet narrowed in my PhD project, but I have started developing methods I’ll use to collect much of the data that will define my project. I’ll again be using speleothems as my climate archives. Now, I’ll be focusing on reconstructing the past climate of Aotearoa New Zealand over the last ~36,000 years, and I’ll aim to develop long records of both temperature and precipitation changes of both the North and South islands. New Zealand’s geographical location makes it an opportunistic place to study dynamics associated with Southern Hemisphere mid- and high-latitude climate (i.e., everything between the South Pole and 30°S). Much research focused on high latitude paleoclimate is limited to ice core and marine archives. While both are powerful and pertinent to the field, they are limited in what they can tell us about terrestrial paleoclimate.

One technique I’ll be using in my research is measuring the chemistry of water that has been trapped inside speleothems since their formation. Measuring this paleo-water can tell us a lot the past hydrology of New Zealand, and it is a fairly new technique in the speleothem-science world. Because it’s new, a lot of method development is needed to assure we can repeatedly make accurate measurements. This method development is how I’ve been spending most of my time in Cambridge. Working with researchers in the Godwin Lab for Paleoclimate Research, we’ve been developing a device that will crush our speleothem samples and trap the miniscule small amount of water that is released. You can see me and the device, which we affectionately refer to as ‘Wesley Crusher’, pictured here. I will take the methods developed here at Cambridge and install a similar system at Waikato so we can continue making these novel measurements at home.

I leave you with various scenes from Cambridge.



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