My name is Laurel Bayless, and I graduated last year with a BS in Physical Geography. I’m incredibly fortunate to have worked with multiple faculty and researchers since I started the geography major as a sophomore!
I took Dr. Ellen Mosley-Thompson‘s course on climate change (Geog 3901H), and I was fascinated to learn about her research in ice core paleoclimatology. After asking her how to get involved at the Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center, I started working in the Goldthwait Polar Library. Soon thereafter, I had the opportunity to conduct research with the Ice Core Paleoclimatology Research Group! Last year I completed my senior honors thesis, Signatures of El Niño-Southern Oscillation in an Ice Core from Huascarán, Peru, 1994-2019, under the guidance of Dr. Mosley-Thompson, Dr. Lonnie Thompson, and other members of the Ice Core Paleoclimatology Research Group. We found that isotopic signals found in cores extracted from Huascarán, Peru provide a robust proxy record for central Pacific sea surface temperatures. Since the Huascarán ice core record goes back around 19,000 years, the isotopic record can be used to interpret some aspects of El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) history for the entirety of the Holocene and into the late Pleistocene. This record could help us to understand how ENSO has varied over time and how it may now be changing due to climate change. Records of deuterium excess, ice accumulation, and insoluble dust require further research but may yield promising results.
I also worked with Dr. Becky Mansfield after taking her course on nature-society geography (Geog 3800). Our project focused on the portrayal of Neanderthals and prehistoric anatomically modern humans in popular books about human evolution over the past hundred years. The science of human evolution is fascinating, but I also am intrigued by the ways in which our ideas about nature and society are used to shape our ideas of human evolution, and the ways in which these ideas about prehistory are then used to shape our ideas of human nature. With Dr. Mansfield, I explored how the dichotomy between human and Neanderthal has been maintained despite changing ideas of Neanderthals, and how our conceptions of Neanderthals have been developed in conjunction with colonial ideas of race. This paper is currently under review.
Research has been a fantastic opportunity for me to learn beyond the classroom, explore ideas I’m interested in, and to see how the scientific process works! Not only has undergraduate research helped me learn so much about ice core paleoclimatology and science studies, but it has also helped me understand my interests and how pursue them beyond my degree. I am currently pursuing an MPhil in Holocene Climates at the University of Cambridge.
Laurel Bayless, BS Geography 2021,