Don Rodbell

Tshering Lama Sherpa ‘18, Jordy Herbert ’18 and James Molloy ‘17 and Dave Gillikin with a surface core from a cirque lake in Bosque de Piedras Peru

This past year was an eventful one for me, both personally and professionally. The Lake Junin (Peru) drill core project was the main focus of my research and the Core Lab has been a very busy place as we are charged with analyzing thousands of samples for organic and inorganic carbon, grain size, and biogenic silica. Union College is the first undergraduate institution to be the lead institution in a large lake drilling project sponsored by the International Continental Drilling Program. We have managed to handle all the finances and process the samples thanks to lots of help from the Geology Department’s Administrator, Deb Klein, and from Sarah Katz, the tireless and supremely well-organized manager of the Core Lab. We hosted the recent Junin Science Team Workshop (early September, 2017), where faculty and students from the University of Pittsburgh, MIT, Oregon State University and the University of Louisiana shared and compared data sets. The record from Lake Junin continues to exceed expectations, and the stratigraphy coupled with an emerging age model reveal 8 glacial-interglacial cycles spanning the past 700,000 years, the longest continuous record of tropical glaciation ever recovered. Lots of intriguing details are apparent, including potential links to North Atlantic climate events on millennial time scales and widespread regional droughts that caused low lake levels and glaciers to retreat in nearby valleys.
As part of the Junin Drilling Project, we received a supplement from the NSF to conduct a study of the eolian transport of heavy metals around the Lake Junin basin. This was partly an outgrowth of our earlier work to document the heavy metal contamination of surface sediments in Lake Junin (GSA Today 2014, v. 14., no. 8). Students James Molloy ‘17, Tshering Lama Sherpa ’18 and Jordy Herbert ’18 travelled with Dave Gillikin and me to the Junin basin in July to sample dust traps that we installed one year earlier. In addition, we collected surface soil samples and short cores from several lakes to document long term metal deposition associated with mining activities around Cerro de Pasco. On our way home James Molloy presented the results of his senior thesis at the Universidad del Centro del Perú in Huancayo.
In May I travelled to Zaragoza Spain to present some of the first results of the Junin Project, and in June I spent two weeks in Las Cajas National Park southern Ecuador. This latter trip was focused on coring lakes in search of ENSO signals that will help document natural variability in the frequency and magnitude of El Niño events during the Holocene. One goal of this project is to provide some geologic perspective on efforts to predict El Niño’s response to global climate change.
As some of you may know, this past year was also a tragic one for me and daughters Gabriella and Erika as we lost Cecilia to a long, multi-year battle to breast cancer. Nothing will replace Ceci in our lives, but we are grateful to all who supported us through the worst days, including (and especially) many colleagues, students and alumni of the Geology Department.
All the very best,
Don

Tshering, Jordy, and James

Lunch stop overlooking Lake Junin

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