Chris Messerich '20
Keck Geology Consortium Research Project, Summer 2017
Being a part of the 2017 Keck Gateway program was a fantastic opportunity. I met other undergraduate students with similar interests, collaborated with various professors and people in the field, improved my lab skills, and worked on a poster presentation and abstract for the upcoming GSA conference this fall. The Keck Gateway program this year was composed of 10 students from various liberal art colleges and universities. The students go to school in states across the country, including California, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia. The students were split into two teams, Team Alaska and Team Utah. I spent 8 days in and around Juneau, Alaska doing field work. Then I worked at the College of Wooster in Wooster, Ohio for approximately 4 weeks doing lab work and data analysis. The team I worked with was led by a very qualified professor with years of research experience, Dr. Greg Wiles. The team studied how various climatic factors influenced the growth and decline of yellow cedar trees in the Gulf of Alaska. We cored yellow cedar trees at 3 different sites around Juneau, Alaska. We hiked 31 miles over 5 days in the field. We spent a few days in Juneau going to the state natural history museum, going on hikes, exploring the city, and having dinner with some of our collaborators. We walked on Mendenhall Glacier and explored various geological and historical landmarks. It was a fantastic trip that nobody really wanted to see come to an end, but we had to return to Ohio to complete our lab work.
At the College of Wooster, we mounted and sanded the tree cores to have a higher resolution image to count under the microscopes. We counted and measured the individual tree rings and composed a chronology of the trees that dates back over 400 years. We composed the largest and most accurate master chronology of yellow cedar trees in the world, and this information can now be uploaded to a larger international database for other researchers to use. We then measured the ring widths to understand how much the trees grew each year and correlated the measurements and chronology to various climate signals. These correlations describe the dynamic relationship between yellow cedar growth and climatic factors such as temperature or precipitation in the Gulf of Alaska.
Dr. Meagan Pollock and Dr. Greg Wiles are terrific people and were great to work with over the five-week program. They kindly hosted small team dinners at their homes and made us all feel welcomed. Team Alaska also collaborated with professors from University of Alaska Southeast and Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. The two teams grew very close over the five weeks and efficiently worked towards completing their goals on their projects. Working with these people has made me appreciate the tight-knit community that surrounds research and encourages the advancement of science. This positive research experience has inspired me to pursue further research opportunities.