The College of Engineering and Physical Sciences (CEPS) is a world-class college with top-tier research in environmental science, space science, and engineering. Along with eight other universities UNH can make the claim of having a Land, Space and Sea Grant status. This prestigious status proves beneficial to our ever growing dynamic research environment and our ability to attract external funding.
The faculty’s greatest pride however, is their one-on-one relationships with their students. Students are fostered to reach their highest aspirations, making their UNH experience a priceless commodity. Undergrad and graduate students have the opportunity to work with faculty who have obtained niches of extraordinary high national and international research capabilities.
A University of New Hampshire researcher is leading a pioneering $1.4 million National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded geological study that could have important implications for understanding, and possibly curbing, global warming.
In July, Professor Will Clyde, chairperson of the Department of Earth Sciences in UNH’s College of Engineering and Physical Sciences (CEPS), will lead a multi-institutional research team to Wyoming’s Bighorn Basin in a quest to uncover evidence of prehistoric global warming. The team has worked for the last three years to develop the drilling and science plans with final budget approval coming last October.
Clyde’s research team will drill to search for signs of environmental anamolies called hyperthermal events, instances of global warming that occurred during the early Paleogene Period about 50 to 65 million years ago.
The Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), which is the best documented of these events, involved a major release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and a warming of 9 to 16 degrees Farenheit over approximately 10,000 years. The carbon released was roughly equivalent to all of the carbon within today’s reserves of petroleum, coal and other fossil-based fuels.
By drilling 200 meters deep into the Bighorn Basin’s stratified layers of rock, it is hoped that clues will be found to the PETM’s origins. In doing so, Clyde and his colleagues may also discover whether such environmental upheavals could happen now, thereby intensifying modern global warming problems.
“Could our dependence on carbon-based energy sources trigger one or more causes of prehistoric global warming and, as a result, make our struggle with a warming earth far worse than currently predicted? ” asks Clyde.
Several theories about the causes of hyperthermal events include intense volcanic activity, which may have spewed large amounts of carbon into the ancient atmosphere, and the release of offshore carbon deposits by widespread underwater earthquakes.
Research into hyperthermal causes will take place by examining extracted core samples. For instance, by measuring the isotopic signature of carbon residue in the rocks, Clyde and his associates will better determine the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere during hyperthermals. In addition, fossilized pollen may offer insight into plants that thrived or perished during the period. These fossil specimens could also provide clues regarding how modern species might fare under comparably harsh environmental conditions. Clyde’s project will be the first on dry land. Prior hyperthermals research involved extracting sediment cores from the ocean floor.
The PETM was profound and extensive. Reflecting a worldwide evolutionary boom in mammals, the Bighorn Basin saw an influx of prehistoric horses and primates which may have traveled into North America across previously frozen, high-lattitude land bridges.
There are 11 institutions participating in the Bighorn Basin project including the University of Michigan, the University of Birmingham in England, and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. UNH is the leadinstitution and is represented by Clyde and graduate student Abby D’Ambrosia. Clyde is optimistic about the project’s ability to shed light on previous and potential global warming. “Hopefully,by looking at the past, we will better understand prospects for the long term climate cycle that may or may not become our future.”
The University of New Hampshire, founded in 1866, is a world-class public research university with the feel of a New England liberal arts college. A land, sea and space-grantuniversity, UNH is the state’s flagship public institution, enrolling 11,800 undergraduate and 2,400 graduate students.