Driven to Extremes: The Roadless Pursuit of Scientific Drilling at El'gygytgyn Crater Lake, Arctic Russia

Julie Brigham-Grette, University of Massachusetts

Friday, October 19, 2012, 3:30pm

Spanos Auditorium

This seminar is part of the Jones Seminars on Science, Technology, and Society series.

In the middle Pliocene, 3.6 million years ago, a meteorite blasted open an impact crater nearly 18 km across in central Chukotka, 100 km north of the Arctic Circle. At that time most of the Arctic borderlands were forested all the way to northern-most coasts, the Arctic Ocean lacked perennial sea ice, and the Greenland Ice Sheet did not exist in its present form. In fact, after the meteorite hit, a million years passed before the first major glaciation of the Northern Hemisphere. Much of what geologists know about the transition from a forested Arctic to one of tundra and ice – punctuated by repeated cycles of glacial/interglacial climate change – has been derived from isolated, commonly thin stratigraphic sections that hold only small pieces of the story taken from many different parts of the Arctic. Yet the sediments that accumulated in crater Lake El’gygytgyn since 3.6 million years ago were continuous and undisturbed, making is possible for scientists in 2009 to recover an unprecedented record of Arctic change and chronicle the climate evolution of the high latitude earth system with a new perspective. The sediments from Lake El'gygytgyn contain new evidence of super interglacials over the past few million years that appear to correspond closely with intervals when the West Antarctic Ice Sheet had retreated. This new bipolar teleconnection raises new questions concerning the vulnerability of the high latitudes to a warming world.

About the Speaker

Dr. Julie Brigham-Grette received her Ph.D. from the University of Colorado’s Institute for Arctic and Alpine Research. After post-doctoral research at the University of Bergen, Norway, and the University of Alberta, Canada, with the Canadian Geological Survey, she joined the faculty at the University of Massachusetts in the fall of 1987. Dr. Brigham-Grette has been conducting research in the Arctic for nearly 34 years, including nine field seasons in remote parts of northeast Russia since 1991. Her research interests and experience span a broad spectrum dealing with arctic paleoclimate records and the Late Cenozoic evolution of the Arctic climate both on land and off shore, especially in the Bering Strait region. She is the US Chief Scientist of the Lake El’gygytgyn Scientific Drilling Project. Brigham-Grette was 2-term Chair of the International Geosphere/Biosphere Program’s Science Steering Committee on Past Global Change (PAGES) with an international program office in Bern, Switzerland, and past President of the American Quaternary Association. She served as one of two US representatives to the International Continental Drilling Program. She is currently Chair of the American Geophysical Union’s Paleoclimate and Paleoceanography Focus Group and Vice-chair of the DOSECC Board of Directors for scientific drilling. Married, 2 sons, one of whom is a senior geology major at UMass.