Exploring Earth Sciences
You can’t be too young to enjoy Earth Sciences!
On a spring day in April (2014), seventeen kindergarten students and their teacher, Anne, from da Vinci alternative school visited our Department and learned first hand why Dr. Charly Bank has received prestigious teaching awards for his educational contributions! These little budding earth scientists made fossil prints to take home to their families, and not only examined different rocks and minerals under the microscope (see photo) but they experienced the excitement of an exploding volcano first hand (see photo)! Who knew that you could combine baking soda and vinegar with such explosive results?
Geophysics applied to the evolution of humans in South Africa
Dr. Charly Bank and four of his undergraduate students (Catarina Sollaci, Stephanie Vaughn, Sam Edwards and Konstantinos Sacha Papadimitrios) travelled to South Africa in July of 2014 to assist a University of Toronto archaeologist (Prof. Chazan) and his graduate student (Vasa Lukich) to better understand the environment of early humans in Africa. Dr. Banks and his students used ground penetrating radar (GPR) to locate the bed of an ancient river currently covered by meters of sand blown in from the nearby Kalahari Desert. GPR is based on the principle that sound waves will bounce off features buried in the ground, with different landscape characteristics resulting in different patterns of rebounded sound waves. Dr. Banks and his students used GPR data to help predict the location of the shores of the buried ancient river. The archaeologists, in turn, assume that since humans tend to congregate near fresh water, if they were inhabiting this area tens of thousands of year ago, evidence of their presence would most likely occur along the sides of the river bed. The geophysicists identified two locations for the archaeologists to dig, and lo and behold, ancient stone tools were found in both locations! So exciting were these results, Dr. Banks and his students will be attending the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco the beginning of December to present their results in an eye-catching poster. We wish all of them an exciting trip!
How drilling into the Earth’s surface can tell us about climate millions of years ago.
Several faculty in our Department conduct “palaeo-science” research; meaning that they study trends in the past (i.e. palaeo-) in order to understand the present, and in turn, predict the future. One of these researchers is Dr. Uli Wortmann, who uses sediment cores to investigate biogeochemical cycling in the Earth’s past. The principle behind the use of ocean drilling cores (or in the case of the accompanying video, land surface cores drilled by those in the petroleum industry) rests on the observation that with time, today’s land surface sediments will eventually become buried (in the oceans or on land in wet environments). Because this has occurred continuously through time, the further down that we can drill into the Earth’s surface, the farther back in time that we are able to reconstruct the environment in which the sediments were originally buried. Dr. Wortmann is one of the senior scientists on an international grant proposal requesting funds for continued drilling in the coastal African nation of Tanzania. The accompanying video was produced so that the importance of their research can be better appreciated by a larger audience (including yourself!). Once a scientist has samples of drilled mud, they can look for different things; featured in this video are diatoms, microscopic algae that have distinctive shapes and sizes representing different species. Some species prefer warm environments, others prefer cold environments so if you are able to quantify the types of diatoms found in core samples, palaeo-temperatures can be reconstructed. This latter type of research is conducted by another of our Department’s palaeo-scientists, Dr. Joerg Bollman. Stay tuned for future news stories about the activities that he and his graduate students are participating to further global change research. See the Tanzania Drilling Project video here