Ohio State Marion researcher preps for Arctic research trip

Staff report

In 2009, Ohio State Marion Assistant Professor of Earth Science, Joel Barker discovered a fossil forest deposit in the Canadian Arctic. Researchers are now taking the next step in that discovery to help predict our future climate.

Scientists from The Ohio State University, including George Grant, a graduate student at The Ohio State University who works with Dr. Barker, will join scientists from colleges and museums in the United States and Canada to visit this important site in the Canadian Arctic. The Arctic expedition will focus on collecting samples to figure out exactly what the environment was like in the Arctic under conditions that are forecast for the next 75 years.

The fossilized forest deposit Grant will be studying represents a time, when unlike today, the Arctic was forested.

“The earth is expected to warm by 3 °Celsius in the next 75 years. The earth was this warm as recently as 2 million years ago. We have the opportunity to explore forest remains in the Arctic from 2.5 million years ago, which will help understand how climate will look by 2100,” said Barker.

The effects of predicted global climate warming are difficult to visualize because it is unprecedented within the time frame of humanity’s existence on Earth. However, our planet has already experienced atmospheric CO2 levels and global temperature that is predicted for the next century, during a period known as the Pliocene, 5.3 – 2.5 million years ago. Pliocene atmospheric CO2 was 400 parts per million (ppm); It is 397 (ppm) today, and global temperature was 2-3 °C warmer than today. By examining geologic deposits from the past, scientists are able to take a peek at what the future Earth might look like.

According to Barker, so far, Pliocene deposits point toward a world where climate zones are shifted northerly, so much so that the barren and frigid high Arctic becomes densely vegetated and more similar to boreal forest ecosystems.

“We have located the most northerly site in North America where ancient forest remains are being exposed by a retreating glacier, he said. “This site is full of mummified trees, leaves, insects, nuts, and seeds. All of these fossils exist in a mummified state (they have not turned to petrified material) which allows us the rare opportunity to investigate climate signals preserved in wood, whereas these same signals would have been destroyed during petrification.”

“We will use climate information revealed by this Pliocene forest site to predict what sort of changes to climate might be expected in the next 100 years,” Barker explained. “We will be using forest remains from the past to predict what sort of changes might occur in the future.”

“Grant is going to use the past to predict the future,” said Barker, “but he needs your help. Travel to the Canadian Arctic is very expensive, especially for an American scientist. We’re trying to raise money to get him on the airplane.”

Funding a trip of this magnitude is expensive, so organizers have turned to new a web based giving site called Buckeye Funder. Buckeye Funder is The Ohio State University’s crowdfunding platform for fundraising. Crowdfunding offers our donors a new way to provide support to our schools, programs, and specifically projects at the university that mean something to them. Crowdfunding also assists Ohio State faculty, staff and students achieve their philanthropic goals. Crowdfunding ideas include innovative projects, service trips, events, and research, similar to Grant’s expedition this summer. To learn more or give, visit: https://buckeyefunder.osu.edu/eppf


Staff report