Lab Notes

Short stories and links shared by the scientists in our community

The thrill of fieldwork

Shared by

Brittany Ward

Geochemistry and Paleoclimatology

University of Waikato

My favorite part of the science I do is field work. I fell in love with the study of geology because of all the field trips my classes took to mountains, road-side outcrops, and sand dunes on Lake Michigan, and the time spent wading in rivers and lakes. I never imagined, though, that I would spend my graduate studies crawling around underground in caves! I had been in so-called "show caves", like Mammoth Caves in Kentucky. But, they didn't prepare me for the thrill (and scariness) of crawling and climbing through the remote and unmodified caves central to my fieldwork.

My fieldwork in caves consists of cave monitoring, where we frequently visit the caves and measure their CO2 levels and temperature, and collect water from inside the cave to analyze back in our lab. We monitor the caves in the modern climate system, so we can better understand what they might be able tell us about past climate. The cave pictured here is Waipuna Cave in New Zealand's North Island, where we have cave deposits that serve as climate archives for the past 30,000 years. I've learned to love caves for both the awesome science they allow me to do, and their beauty. How can I not be inspired?