Unlock the keys to climate change hidden in New Zealand caves

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The expertise of a Huddersfield researcher has been sought to help an international research project that aims to unlock the keys to climate change hidden in cave formations known as speleothems located deep in New Zealand caves.

Dr Bethany Fox of the University’s Department of Biological and Geographic Sciences is participating in a NZD $ 1 million SMART Ideas Research Project funded by the New Zealand government, led by the University of Waikato, titled ” Quantification of past precipitation and climatic extremes in New Zealand ”.

Speleothems are produced from the water outside the cave that slowly drips through the cave roof over thousands of years. Gradually, this deposit of minerals creates cave formations from the ground, called stalagmites, or from the roof, called stalactites.

“Because the water came from outside the cave, it means it has a connection to the climate,” explained Dr. Fox. “When there is more or less precipitation, you can see changes in the chemistry of the stalagmite or the stalactite layer and that can reveal what was happening in the past with the climate of that region.”

Using x-ray computed tomography (XCT)

Part of Dr Fox’s project is to conduct research on the magnetic minerals located in the cave deposits through a process known as computerized x-ray tomography (XCT) which Dr Fox will perform using an X-ray CT scanner based in 3M Buckley University. Innovation center. XCT is a non-destructive testing tool that can be used in a wide variety of industries including medicine, electronics, engineering, forensics, ballistics, and archeology.

Dr Fox said the early stages of the project had already led the researchers to uncover some interesting results, in that the magnetic grains deposited in the cave are much larger than they would normally expect to find.

“Magnetic minerals contain iron, which is why they are magnetic. This makes them very heavy, very dense compared to most common minerals, ”said Dr. Fox.

“In order for these large grains of heavy minerals to end up in the speleothem, there had to be a high-energy process capable of moving them.”

Predict past extreme weather events

One possible explanation, she added, is that a past extreme weather event caused the cave to be flooded.

“If we can detect exactly which layers of the speleothem harbor the large magnetic minerals, it could provide us with a good record of when the cave was flooded in the past,” she said.

Since New Zealand is located in the South Pacific, where there is not much land, it can be problematic to find out what the local climate was like in the past.

Dr Fox revealed this, added to the fact that extreme events of the past are often difficult to study because they are of short duration – whereas geological records tend to be produced over a much longer period of time – that is why the site of this particular cave is so interesting.

Geographic Sciences excels in national student survey

As a lecturer in geographic sciences, Dr Fox has been with the program since its inception three years ago. During this time, she worked hard alongside her colleagues in the geography team to ensure that students received a great teaching and learning experience.

That commitment has now paid off after achieving exceptional scores in the 2021 National Student Survey.

Although geography is a relatively new program of study at the University and the hurdles the team had to overcome due to the pandemic, not only was the entire cohort of final year geography students 100% satisfied. of their experience throughout the course, but the program also achieved top marks in all areas.

Dr Rob Allan, Head of Geographic Sciences Course and Director of Teaching and Learning in the Faculty of Applied Sciences, said:

“Achieving the highest possible score for what is a new course is a good reflection of the course design, but more importantly the commitment of the staff to providing a great teaching and learning experience.

“We aim to challenge students to be their best, but we have supports in place to enable them to achieve this goal. Where possible, we deliver material to small groups and try to make sure we develop individual talents. Our goal is to develop critical thinkers able to apply their knowledge and understanding to real scenarios. Our graduates worked hard to earn their degrees and the staff supported them throughout their journey.


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