Collaborative Research: Reconstructing Temperatures During the Mid-Pliocene Warm Period in the McMurdo Dry Valleys with Cosmogenic Noble Gases

Lead PI: Jennifer Lynn Lamp , Marissa Tremblay, Darryl Granger

Unit Affiliation: Geochemistry, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO)

August 2020 - July 2023
Antarctica ; McMurdo Dry Valleys
Project Type: Research

DESCRIPTION: Scientists study the Earth's past climate in order to understand how the climate will respond to ongoing global change in the future. One of the best analogs for future climate might the period that occurred approximately 3 million years ago, during an interval known as the mid-Pliocene Warm Period. During this period, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was similar to today's and sea level was 15 or more meters higher, due primarily to warming and consequent ice sheet melting in polar regions. However, the temperatures in polar regions during the mid-Pliocene Warm Period are not well determined, in part because we do not have records like ice cores that extend this far back in time. This project will provide constraints on surface temperatures in Antarctica during the mid-Pliocene Warm Period using a new type of climate substitute, known as cosmogenic noble gas paleothermometry. This project focuses on an area of Antarctica called the McMurdo Dry Valleys. In this area, climate models suggest that temperatures were more than 10 C warmer during the mid-Pliocene than they are today, but indirect geologic observations suggest that temperatures may have been similar to today. The McMurdo Dry Valleys are also a place where rocks have been exposed to Earth surface conditions for several million years, and where this new climate substitute can be readily applied. The team will reconstruct temperatures in the McMurdo Dry Valleys during the mid-Pliocene Warm Period in order to resolve the discrepancy between models and indirect geologic observations and provide much-needed constraints on the sensitivity of Antarctic ice sheets to warming temperatures. The temperature reconstructions generated in this project will have scientific impact in multiple disciplines, including climate science, glaciology, geomorphology, and planetary science. In addition, the project will (1) broaden the participation of underrepresented groups by supporting two early-career female principal investigators, (2) build STEM talent through the education and training of a graduate student, (3) enhance infrastructure for research via publication of a publicly-accessible, open-source code library, and (4) be broadly disseminated via social media, blog posts, publications, and conference presentations.