Hot on the trail

Hundreds of University staff and students are engaged in critical climate change research. Some operate in far-flung locations, others are much closer to home, writes Tim Thwaites (BSc(Hons) 1974, Trinity College, Janet Clarke Hall).

David Karoly

Professor David Karoly has been documenting the changing climate for more than 30 years. Picture: Justin McManus

For a legion of researchers, the search for clues as to how our climate is warming can be as much about hard toil as hard science.

And doing it in some of the most remote and inhospitable places on Earth.

For Dr Michael-Shawn Fletcher it has meant trekking into the Tasmanian wilderness in winter – as he did last year – to drill into the bed of a pristine lake, after first cutting through a 20-centimetre crust of ice.

Over the past 15 years, Fletcher (BEd(Sec) 1997, PGDipArts 2000, PhD2009), has been extracting sediment cores – with the diameter of a jam jar and up to 10 metres long – from lake beds all over the Southern Hemisphere: in Chile, New Zealand, south-western Victoria, the south coast of NSW and, recently, Litchfield National Park near Darwin.

Many of his sites are so remote that his floating platform and drilling equipment have to be dropped in by helicopter.

For his Tasmanian research, Fletcher, from the University’s School of Geography and Resource Management, was operating in Ben Lomond National Park, south-east of Launceston.

Why do it? “Lakes are receptacles of atmospheric information through time,” he explains.

“It can be in the form of dust, pollen, or charcoal, or even the products of surface chemical reactions that are absorbed into the plants and animals living in the lake. Eventually all of these settle into the sediments at the bottom.”

His sediment cores provide clues to what has happened over time.

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