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Large Lakes Observatory's Steinman Sets Sights on Global Lakes

Cole and Byron with a core sample

Cole Webster (left), an undergraduate research assistant, works with LLO's Byron Steinman to examine a sample from a sediment core. Proficient in the Spanish language, Webster will be an asset to Steinman on trips to gather samples in Spanish-speaking countries.

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Byron Steinman wants to assemble a team of undergraduate and graduate students to take the trip of a lifetime.

Imagine it... leave British Columbia's paved roads and drive hundreds of miles north on gravel. Shuttle gear from the trucks to the edge of the lake, inflate 10-foot rafts, and add equipment on the boards. Next, paddle onto the lake, set anchors, and hand-bore for sample sediment cores 20 feet deep, under the floor of the lake."

Why? “These lakes are so remote, we’ll be the first to sample them,” Steinman said. He needs help and is looking for students who are curious, motivated and hard working.

Steinman, assistant professor of Geological Sciences with the Large Lakes Observatory and the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, hasn't even been at UMD for a year and he has already distinguished himself as the lead author of a research paper published by the prestigious Science Magazine. The research landed him a slew of interviews with media such as the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times.

Recent Research: Earth and Water Temperature

Steinman's research in Science Magazine, which was conducted with Michael Mann and Sonya Miller of Penn State University, is about the internal, random temperature variability of the planet. The team analyzed computer models to simulate the earth’s natural variations in temperature over time. They especially looked at the internal temperature of the earth's land mass and oceans. By doing so, they helped to broaden the understanding of how outside forces like greenhouse gases, solar fluctuations and volcanic eruptions affect the climate.

They asked the question: Did climate change cause events such as a recent drought in the Sahel region of Africa or the increase in Atlantic hurricane activity in recent decades? Steinman said, "Based on our research, it appears as though changes such as these are being strongly influenced by external forces and, in particular, the increase in greenhouse gases from fossil fuel burning.”

Science Magazine is a weekly on-line and print publication. Read more about Steinman's Internal Variability research.

What's Next: Paleoclimatology

Steinman is primarily interested in paleoclimatology. That's where the drilling for core samples in lakes comes in. He's interested in the isotope geochemistry of lake water and sediment for application to paleoclimatology, as well as ancient pollution and land use in lakes and other catchment areas.

He has a lot of travel plans. He wants to study lakes in New Mexico, Arizona, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Colombia, Peru, Mexico, Mongolia and Tibet. Lakes in Manitoba and Ontario are on his list. The Large Lakes Observatory is a world-spanning research center with stakes in South America, Africa, Asia, and the furthest regions of North America, and Steinman intends to expand upon that. "There are many, many unexplored areas that have the potential to yield ground breaking data," Steinman said.

Student Support

Right now, Steinman works with two students, Cole Webster, an undergraduate, and Laura Cappio, a graduate student. Steinman’s goal is to expand his team to three undergrads and three graduate students who will help him on sample gathering expeditions and the follow-up lab work. He'll carve out master's thesis topics for the graduate students from the overall scope of the research projects.

Webster and Cappio have both been out on UMD's Blue Heron Research Vessel and look forward to working with scientists on future voyages. Cole is now helping set up Steinman's new limnology lab. He is outfitting the lab with existing LLO equipment, testing equipment, determining what other equipment needs to be purchased, and establishing lab protocols. Webster is a Spanish and Geological Sciences double major and Steinman sees possibilities in the combination. "Cole could be an invaluable asset on trips to places like Central America and Mexico," he said.

Cappio assists Aaron Lingwall, the lab manager, by running one of LLO's flagship pieces of scientific equipment, the ITRAX XRF Corescanner. This x-ray fluorescence core scanner can determine how much of each element is in tiny samples of lake sediment less than a millimeter wide.

When it comes to working with his students, Steinman can’t get enough. “Working with students is invigorating,” Steinman said. “When they do a project that they’ve never done before, they get excited and have a lot of energy, and then I have a lot more energy, too.” That's a good thing because the trip Steinman describes to distant lakes in British Columbia will take quite a bit of energy.


Steinman's Internal Variability research

UMD’s Swenson College of Science and Engineering (SCSE) enrolled 3,250 students in 2014. The College is home to ten departments and connects students with hands-on research opportunities through its collaboration with multiple research institutions.

Written by Cheryl Reitan. March, 2015.

UMD News Articles | News Releases
Cheryl Reitan, creitan@d.umn.edu

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