Image of the Week: Lake Coring in Svalbard

Image of the Week: Lake Coring in Svalbard

Collecting a sediment core from a lake in Svalbard. Credit: Billy D'Andrea

Collecting a sediment core from a lake in Svalbard. Credit: Billy D’Andrea

Climate scientist William (Billy) D’Andrea seeks to understand global climate change and how the environment has changed over time by reconstructing climate history using molecules preserved in lake sediment cores.

D’Andrea’s research involves collecting and examining natural recorders of climate, such as temperature and precipitation that are preserved in sediments at the bottom of lakes and the ocean. Different fat molecules, or lipids, from plants and algae are preserved in the sediments that accumulate each year on lake beds and the seafloor. Analyses of these lipids reveal how temperature, precipitation and evaporation have changed through time.

Svalbard 2014

A scene from one of D’Andrea’s fieldwork sites in Svalbard. Credit: Billy D’Andrea

In 2014, D’Andrea and colleagues traveled to Svalbard, a group of Arctic Ocean islands located about 650 miles north of mainland Norway, to collect sediment cores from the archipelago’s lakes.

This was not D’Andrea’s first time in Svalbard. Previous fieldwork in the region resulted in a 2012 study published in the journal Geology that found summers in the Svalbard are now warmer than at any other time in the last 1,800 years. The study found that since 1987, summers on Svalbard have been 2 degrees to 2.5 degrees Celsius (3.6 to 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit) hotter than they were there during warmest parts of the naturally driven Medieval Warm Period.

In early July, scientists who study the full range of Arctic systems met in Washington, D.C. to discuss the troubling rate of warming in the Arctic. The research D’Andrea does in Svalbard, Greenland and other areas of the Arctic provides valuable insight into how Earth systems respond to natural and human-induced change—and what the future might hold for the fast-changing areas above the Arctic Circle.