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Paleoecology lab


Wednesday, August 3, 2011, by Lindsay Day
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This summer, I researched and contributed to the reconstruction of past ecosystems by working in the Paleoecology lab. Our main field research experience involved a lake-coring trip to Martha’s Vineyard. My mentor Wyatt, lab manager Elaine Doughty, Director of Harvard Forest David Foster and I loaded up the big green van with canoes and coring equipment and took the trip out to the Vineyard. Lake coring involves attaching a wooden board to two canoes and loading all sorts of tubes and poles into the constructed raft. The four of us rode the raft out to the deepest point in the lake and proceeded to set up tubing for extraction of lake sediment.

This process can be long and arduous, depending on how deep the lake sediment is. We took cores until we hit sand that we could not push through. Over our four-day trip to the Vineyard, we got to see much of the beautiful island, we cored five ponds on the island, and brought back a few meters of cores from each. After we collect the cores, we bring them back to the lab and cut them up into one centimeter sections according to their depth in the sediment and use them from a variety of research. While this involved a good bit of heavy lifting, the experience was fun, unforgettable, and very rewarding as I got to see exactly how the Paleoecology lab collects its data for uncovering history. 

From the lake sediments, we can identify the age of the sediment by sending it out to be tested and dated. However, right in the Paleo lab, we do tests to reconstruct periods of drought by measuring organic material, identify times when fire occurred through counting charcoal, and process pollen to discover what plants were growing in the area around the lakes. I got to do some of these tests over the summer and contribute to the large amount of data collected by the Paleo lab for revealing the history of New England vegetation. The data from the past is used to help us understand current questions on our changing world. The experience was invaluable and I hope to explore the area of paleoecology more after this summer.

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