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Hampshire Professor to Lead Arctic Climate Change Study

Monday, April 7, 2008

Research Experiences for Undergraduates

Steven R. Roof, associate professor of earth and environmental science at Hampshire College, has been named co-principal investigator in an international climate change study.

Roof, along with Mount Holyoke College geology professor Al Werner, recently got news of the $924,925 grant, which was awarded by the National Science Foundation. The grant will involve six American students a year over five years, some of whom will be drawn from the Five Colleges, to spend summers above the Arctic Circle examining evidence of climate change. Students from around the country will be able to apply to participate in the study; Norwegian students will be part of each year's team, as well. The award is a Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) grant, which gives college students practical and field experience in scientific investigation.

Roof, a geologist whose area of study is climate change, will take students to Svalbard, a remote and sparsely populated archipelago halfway between Norway and the North Pole. Sixty percent of the mountainous islands are covered in glacial ice, and the deep gorges contain sediment which, like tree rings, tells a long story of atmospheric fluctuation. "There are thousands of years of records in the layers of mud in the lakes and fjords," said Roof. "By telling us how the climate interacts with the landscape, we can then go back and read older and older layers of mud and sand, and decipher how climate changed in the past. The better we can understand past climate change, the better we can understand future climate change. And the climate in the Arctic is changing rapidly."

The project was initiated in 2000, at a U.S.-Norwegian NSF conference promoting international collaboration in climate change research. As co-principal investigator, Roof will oversee the project, which comprises researchers from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst (Julie Brighham-Grette of the geosciences department), Bates College, and Northern Illinois University. The project is endorsed by International Polar Year (IPY), a collaboration that started in the 1800s to understand the polar regions and which is observed every fifty years. The 2007-2009 IPY is sponsored by the International Council for Science (ICSU), which was founded in 1931 as an international non-governmental organization devoted to worldwide co-operation in the advancement of science.

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