Project Info

Past climates inform our future

Piret Plink-Bjorklund

Project Goals and Description:

As the world warms due to rising greenhouse gas concentrations, the Earth system moves toward a climate state without societal precedent, raising the need for studies of past global warming events, where Earth’s history provides a series of natural experiments — actual realizations of how the Earth system responds to greenhouse forcing. Some unmitigated scenarios of greenhouse gas emissions (RCP8.5) predict climates like those of the Early Eocene by 2150. Although the unmitigated scenarios may not be the most likely to transpire, this establishes the Early Eocene as an important end-member climate analogue or test bed. This project studies the extremely warm Early Eocene climates and how ancient rivers responded to these climate changes. Ancient climate conditions cannot be directly measured, and are rather inferred from proxy data. Proxies are not direct indicators for changes in temperature, precipitation or evaporation, but rather provide indirect evidence for how temperature and hydrological changes impacted the Earth surface or biota. In this project, we will collect such proxy data for Early Eocene atmospheric drivers, temperature and precipitation to reconstruct multiple consecutive global warming events. We will also collect data on how rivers and their flood characteristics and floodplain ecosystems responded to these climate changes.

More Information:

Grand Challenge: Not applicable.
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Primary Contacts:

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Student Preparation


We are looking for two undergraduate students who will work on different aspects of this project, where each closely collaborates with a PhD student. One of the students will focus on atmospheric driver, temperature and precipitation proxy data, and the other student on river flood and floodplain ecosystem proxy data. One student needs to be interested in laboratory sample preparation and analyses. Both students need to be interested in statistical data analyses. Coding skills help but are not required. Students from any department at Mines are welcome to apply.


flexible, approximately 5 hours per week


Both students will learn how to set up and conduct research projects, including scientific questions and testable hypothesis, how to plan and conduct work that ensures results, and how to disseminate the results by conference presentations or publications. The students will learn about past climate changes and how the past proxy data can inform our future. One student will learn laboratory sample preparation and analyses, and will go through laboratory safety training. Both students will learn statistical and machine-learning techniques of data analyses


The student will work closely with me and with a PhD student. We will set up regular weekly or bi-weekly meetings to monitor the progress.  We will together develop a research plan and decide on expected outcomes. The student is also invited to join weekly research group meetings and any activities. I will encourage the student to present at the department's yearly science fair as well as at a major conference, and to co-author a publication.


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