By Karen Richardson
Cheryl Wilson, another student in the Master's of Biology program, is also researching long-term climate change in the arctic.
Both Wilson and McCleary spend much of their time looking through a microscope, looking for algae fossils and grouping them into different species. While McCleary's research is focused on the calibration set for the warm oasis and trying to determine how ancient groups may have affected their environment and when, Wilson is focused on lake sediments and algae to reconstruct the long-term climate record of a long core on Eastern Baffin Island that dates back to the last ice age.
By looking at fossils within those sediments, I can estimate what the climate was like 100,000 years ago," says Wilson.
Wilson, an academic co-ordinator with the Biology Graduate Committee and a member of GSES, works with Professor Smol and Professor Alexander Wolfe at the University of Alberta. She is looking at two previous inter-glacial periods, which are "warm periods" or periods between glaciations, and have found that previous inter-glacials have been as warm as or warmer than our current climate. "This could mean we have yet to see what current climate change has in store for us - and really allows us to place our current climate in context. It's hard for us to really understand what's going on with climate change without understanding what has gone on in the past in the Arctic. That is primarily what we study in this lab and the usefulness of paleolimnology."
The paleolimnology lab holds about 35 graduate, undergraduate students, post-docs and research associates. "It's a very well-equipped, well-funded lab," says Wilson. "For the study of paleolimnology, the lab is probably the best lab in the world. Professor Smol was one of the first scientists in the 1980s to get into this field, so he is really quite renowned." Professor Smol was awarded the 2004 NSERC Herzberg Gold Medal, as Canada's top scientist or engineer.
Wilson found the Inuit culture quite interesting and the scenery in the Baffin Island landscape "awe-inspiring." "Working in the Arctic is almost something that you have to do if you want to study climate change," she says. "To meet Inuit people who have actually seen changes in the sea ice near their homes-it sticks with you and is really motivating. I had an amazing time in the Arctic - it's something I'll never forget."