Bucknell Student's Journey to Great Barrier Reef Yields Climate Breakthrough
2019 Nov 15
To accurately predict where the world's climate is headed, you'll need to dive into the research. So bring your wetsuit, scuba gear and an air-powered drill that works underwater.
That was the plan two summers ago when Kyle Fouke '20, a geology major from Urbana, Ill., joined a team of researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on a 9,000-mile journey to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Their plan: dive down to the coral reef for science.
It turns out that coral skeletons, like tree rings, offer a window into the past. Scientists rely on these skeletons to study past climate patterns and make remarkably accurate predictions about the future of our planet.
This past summer, Fouke and his team studied their coral samples from Australia, and they discovered something that could affect global climate predictions.
"We established a correction factor based on microscopy and chemistry, allowing coral skeletons to be used as the gold standard for accurate climate predictions," he says.
In other words, they learned that the existing methods used to make climate predictions could result in measurements that are off by as much as 16 degrees Fahrenheit. They published their findings in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science.
While at Bucknell, Fouke has worked with Professor Jeff Trop, geology, to sharpen his scientific and writing skills. Fouke says Bucknell professors aren't afraid to "hand off the reins" and work closely with students to prepare peer-reviewed manuscripts meant for publication.
"They know the science; they know the ropes; they know how to write," Fouke says. "They're excellent at advising the student in the classroom, the laboratory and the field."
For his senior honors thesis, Fouke is turning his attention to the coral reefs on Curacao in the southern Caribbean. This continuing geoscience research experience will be invaluable for Fouke as he applies to graduate schools. His ultimate goal is to earn a Ph.D. and become a professor.