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Earth Science
2020 Project Proposal

Climate History of the Rensselaer Plateau, east-central New York

Kirsten Menking (Earth Science)         

Earth's history of climatic change is recorded in a variety of geological and biological proxies for parameters such as temperature and precipitation. In this URSI project, we build on the work of the spring 2020 ESCI/ENST 335: Paleoclimatology senior seminar by using diatoms, pollen grains, and plant macrofossils in a sediment core collected from Dyken and/or Shaver Pond to uncover the climatic history of the Rensselaer Plateau, just east of Albany, NY. The Rensselaer Plateau hosts a number of different biological communities that are sensitive to climate change. Covered by the Laurentide ice sheet until as recently as 15,000 years ago, the Plateau has experienced several climatic oscillations, including wetter intervals and drought, that are recorded in changes in vegetation both surrounding and within the ponds. Understanding the nature of these climatic changes, what caused them, and how long they lasted is very important for our comprehension of what the climate system is capable of doing in the absence of human activities and provides the baseline against which anthropogenic climate change can be measured. In addition, some earlier intervals in Earth history may provide insights into how the vegetation on the Rensselaer Plateau will respond to future warming.

This project is best suited to students who have taken ESCI/ENST 335: Paleoclimatology, but students who have not taken this course will also be considered. Students will preferably have some familiarity and comfort with using compound and dissecting microscopes as most of the work will involve identifying and counting pollen grains, diatoms, and plant macrofossils under the microscope.

How should students express interest in this project?
Interested applicants should send an email to Kirsten Menking ( expressing what about the project sounds interesting to them and why, outlining their previous experience with or enthusiasm about learning how to work with microscopes, and providing their current class schedule and suggested times for an interview.

This is an 8 week project starting 2 weeks later than other projects and running from June 8-July 31.