Field Notes 
Lake drilling out of Africa   Hydrogen on Mars   
$150 for geosciences

Lake drilling out of Africa

Lake Malawi in East Africa is one of the oldest and largest lakes on Earth. More than 7 million years old and reaching depths of more than 700 meters, Lake Malawi could provide climatologists with a unique window into Earth’s climate past. At least that’s what Chris Scholz, associate professor of earth sciences at Syracuse University, hopes.

The National Science Foundation’s Paleoclimate Program has given Scholz and his colleagues $2 million to drill Lake Malawi and analyze its sediment cores. The researchers hail from Syracuse University, University of Minnesota-Duluth, University of Rhode Island and the University of Arizona.

“Lake Malawi is very large and very deep,” Scholz says. “And it’s an extremely sensitive recorder of changes in climate.” Scholz’s team will drill Lake Malawi at the southern end of the East African Rift Valley. The drilled cores should help in constructing a continuous, high-resolution record of past climates in the continental tropics over the past 800,000 years.

Although Malawi is an open-basin lake with an outlet, most of the water that enters the lake does not flow out. Instead, the water evaporates. “So that means that lake is extremely sensitive to any changes in the precipitation/evaporation ratio, and that is reflected in huge changes in lake level,” Scholz says. Early surveys reflect these lake-level changes, perhaps as large as 500 meters over geological time. On a seasonal basis, he says, the changes could amount to as much as 2 meters between wet and dry seasons.

“Another exciting reason to study this lake is that in certain areas it contains annually laminated sediments,” Scholz says. “So we can potentially have not only a very long record of geologic change, a very sensitive record, but also one that’s recording changes on a year by year basis.”

But, Scholz adds, the site most uniquely distinguishes itself for the climate record with its location as a continental tropical site. “There’s a lot of data from the marine realm, but relatively little from the continental tropics. So the global change research community really needs these reference sites in order to constrain modeling efforts.” Lake Malawi is one of the few Southern Hemisphere tropical sites, sitting between 9 and 14 degrees latitude. “It’s also of course in the Great Rift Valley — it’s the birthplace of mankind really.” So, Scholz says, the coring research could provide a geological background for understanding the origin of early humans.

Lisa M. Pinsker

Hydrogen on Mars

On Feb. 14, the Mars Odyssey spacecraft successfully went into mapping orbit and began sending back data. Some of these preliminary data indicated large amounts of hydrogen near the southern pole of Mars, extending to 60 degrees south latitude.

Two weeks later, NASA released detailed maps confirming those preliminary findings that the martian soil near the south pole is rich in hydrogen and could thus represent water ice. Shown here is a view of the south pole of Mars seen with intermediate-energy, or epithermal, neutrons. Deep blue colors on the map indicate hydrogen-rich soil, or a low intensity of epithermal neutrons. This map comes from measurements made by Odyssey's neutron spectrometer instrument.

Lisa M. Pinsker

Image courtesy of NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

$150 million for geosciences

The University of Texas at Austin announced March 2 that it has received what it is calling the largest monetary gift ever made to a single public university. The lucky department? Geoscience.

Retired oilman and geologist John A. Jackson pledged a portion of his estate to the university, also his alma mater. The gift’s current worth is estimated to be $150 million.

The money will support the John A. and Katherine G. Jackson School of Geosciences, which combines the university’s Department of Geological Sciences, the Geophysics Institute and the Texas Bureau of Economic Geology.

Last year, Jackson donated $25 million for starting the school, which launched last summer, says William Fisher, a professor of geology at the university and chair of the university’s Geology Foundation, which will manage the donation (Geotimes, September 2001). Jackson also donated $15 million to the university in 2000 for expanding the Geological Sciences Building.

“One of the biggest things we’re doing first is trying to put together a more competitive package for graduate students,” Fisher says of the school. “Our idea is to get the best students possible.”

Kristina Bartlett

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