Student Vignettes

Catherine Prunella

About my research:

My research aims to understand how ocean temperatures affect Antarctic ice sheet stability. Warm waters are implicated in the recent retreat of marine terminating outlet glaciers in West Antarctica. However, due to a limited observational record of both Antarctic ice sheet variability and Southern Ocean temperatures, the role of ocean heat in driving ice loss is unclear. To understand past ocean-ice interactions, I use marine sediments drilled from the Antarctic continental margin. These sediments contain the fossilized remains of foraminifera, microscopic organisms that build calcium carbonate tests. The elemental and isotopic composition of their tests can be used to reconstruct past oceanic conditions. Using the ratio of magnesium to calcium (Mg/Ca) and oxygen isotopes (δ18O) incorporated in surface and bottom dwelling foraminifera, I am generating a record of oceanic temperature change on the Ross Sea shelf over the last three million years, during the Pliocene and Pleistocene. I use sediment cores recovered from the outer-shelf at International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) Site U1523. This paleotemperature data, in conjunction with lithofacies analysis, will allow me to assess the role of oceanic heat in driving past ice sheet variability.


I chose the College of Marine Science (CMS) for my graduate education because of the opportunity to apply paleoceanographic tools to Antarctic sediments in Dr. Amelia Shevenell’s lab. I have found that CMS offers an immersive experience in oceanography, through interdisciplinary course work, and its waterfront location in downtown St. Petersburg. CMS equips students with the tools necessary to become well rounded oceanographers, and the faculty, administration, and student body foster an environment conducive to growth as a scientist and a professional.


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