Learning Beyond the Classroom

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,

The Ohio State University


Geography: An Integrative Science and Springboard to a Fantastic Career

Hello everyone! I am pleased to share with you the impact that coming to OSU and joining the Atmospheric Sciences Program in the Department of Geography has had on my career and my personal life. I joined OSU as a masters student in the Atmospheric Science Program (ASP) in 1973. I had just made my first big career decision which was to relinquish a fellowship in the Department of Physics at Miami University (Oxford, OH) because I realized that I lacked the passion or what is often call “the fire in the belly” required to spend 5-years on a PhD. I then spent two years working in the IT section of a medical bookkeeping firm in Columbus and considering my options. Eventually I accepted a fellowship at OSU in ASP which, at that time, was housed in the Department of Electrical Engineering. Soon thereafter, ASP was transferred to the Department of Geography under the direction of Dr. John Rayner. This provided an excellent situation for me and was also a very formative event for ASP. The move to a department that values diverse forms of scholarship and encourages collaboration across multiple areas of inquiry provided a much broader canvas on which I was able to develop my career.  Three other very important occurrences during my first year were the choice of Dr. John Rayner as my academic advisor,  my new affiliation with the Institute of Polar Studies, forerunner of the Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center (BPCRC), and meeting two of my closest friends and colleagues, Claire Parkinson and Keith Mountain, also ASP students, with whom Lonnie and I have maintained 45+year friendships.

My B.S. from Marshall University (Huntington WV) was in physics and math and I never had the opportunity to take a class in climatology or meteorology and I was never required to write a research paper. Fortunately, once I was ensconced in geography I had the opportunity to take a course on Geographic Thought taught by Edward (Ned) Taaffe. In addition, my advisors John Rayner and John Arnfield were excellent professors and skilled writers and from them I developed a deep interest in climate science and gained very strong writing skills. Over the years, my students have commented regarding how much “red ink” I have placed on their theses and research papers; however, they were unaware of the volume of “red ink” my advisors had placed on mine.

As a student affiliate in the Institute of Polar Studies (IPS) I was quickly immersed in the excitement of all things “polar”, and my interest in Antarctica grew. Simultaneously, I joined Lonnie Thompson, my spouse and fellow graduate student (Earth Sciences), in the development of our research program focused on ice core paleoclimatology, a relatively new area of scientific inquiry.

Job # 120504
Ellen Mosley-Thompson and Lonnie Thompson
Scott Lab
Photo by Jo McCulty
The Ohio State University

Again I was fortunate that Drs. Rayner and Arnfield were very supportive as I developed an “individualized’ multidisciplinary graduate program to include classes in paleoclimatology, glacial geology, geochemistry, isotope geochemistry, and scanning electron microscopy taught by Professors Goldthwait, White, and Faure (Earth Sciences). This was a busy and exciting time as Lonnie and I continued developing the ice core paleoclimate research program, writing proposals to support our research, and publishing our first papers. The most important event occurred in 1976 when we welcomed our daughter, Regina.

By 1980, we had completed our PhD studies (Lonnie in 1976 and me in 1979), obtained research positions in the IPS, and developed a growing research program attracting national and international interest. Regina was now 6 years old, so I decided it was time to take the plunge and engage in my first Antarctic field season. An opportunity arose to join a team of Swiss and American scientists and ice core drillers at South Pole Station (SPS) in 1982 to collect a 300-m long ice core for paleoclimate studies. Scientifically this experience was magnificent, but it was an eye opener when I realized how few women were engaged in Antarctic research . There were only two women at SPS that year, and the other was a construction contractor. I soon realized that most of the U.S. ice core drilling projects were being conducted at or near established bases. At that time the U.S. only had three stations located in areas of the ice sheet where cores could be drilled and this limited our opportunities to examine the “spatial” aspects of our ice core-derived climate histories. At the same time I was very engaged in the NSF’s Polar Programs’ Advisory Committee which positioned me to address two systemic issues. These were securing greater support for scientists who wanted to conduct research at remote locations where no previous ice cores had been drilled and promoting greater opportunities for women to not only participate in field programs, but to serve as team leaders at remote field camps.

Fortunately, in 1985 I was funded to lead a drilling project at Siple Station, Antarctica and thus, my second goal was achieved. The photo (left) includes two OSU alums. On the far left is Keith Mountain (PhD, ASP, Geography) and immediately left of me is John Paskievitch (B.S. Earth Sciences). The following year, 1986, my first goal was achieved when I lead a field team of six to drill two 200-meter deep cores at our ”Plateau Remote” camp, a site in East Antarctica located near the “Pole of Inaccessibility” which means the location that is furthest inland from the coast in all directions .

Fast forward 21 years during which I led multiple projects to drill ice cores at other remote sites in Antarctica and Greenland and you will see the progress that we have been able to achieve. The photo to the left is from our remote drill site at Crawford Point, Greenland (2007). Shown is my field team that includes two female OSU alums, Lijia Wei (PhD, Geography, ASP; second from the right) and Natalie Kehrwald (PhD, Earth Sciences; far right). Although there have been a number of accomplishments in my 48 years at OSU, I am so proud to have opened the door to enable more women scientists to lead remote field projects in both Polar Regions. I also served from 2009 to 2018 as the first (and still only) female Director of the Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center (BPCRC).

But this story is incomplete. During the 11 years after my graduation, John Rayner and others including Larry Brown encouraged me to teach classes in Geography on an as needed basis. This kept me engaged with the faculty and students in Geography until 1990 when I joined the department as an Associate Professor and began developing courses focused on paleoclimatology, Earth system science, climate science, and climate and environmental change. I am so indebted to my advisors, Drs. Rayner and Arnfield, and my past and present colleagues in both the Department of Geography and the BPCRC  who continue to broaden and deepen my interest, understanding, and appreciation of the rich and complex relationships among Earth’s climate system, its environment, and its inhabitants, both human and otherwise. If I had not taken the risk of leaving basic physics and eventually pursuing climatology and atmospheric science, especially through the broad lens provided by geography, I certainly would not have had so many diverse experiences and worked with so many talented and interesting people both national and international and from within and outside academia. Moreover, I would not have been able to enjoy such beauty during a stroll home from work or engage in signing O-H-I-O from the “remote” Bruce Plateau drill site in the Antarctic Peninsula (see photos).

Ellen Mosley Thompson

Professor, Department of Geography

The Ohio State University

Glaciers, Exploration, & Geography: Geomorphology Redefined

Book cover for Environmental Geoscience: interaction between Natural Systems and Man

Hamilton Pub. Co; First Printing, Fep Torn edition (1973)

I have a number of textbooks on my shelf, many old and out of date, picked up from piles left behind by retiring faculty. One is by a rather famous father-son pair of physical geographers, Strahler and Strahler called, “Environmental Geoscience: Interaction between natural systems and Man,” published in 1973. In the preface, the authors reflect that an “unprecedented explosion of public and academic interest in environmental problems within the last three years has stimulated the birth of a new discipline: environmental science.” How profound; Earth Day and Environmental Science got started in 1970…kinda like me! As Strahler and Strahler recognized, environmental science as a discipline is not a wholly new science, but rather a mix of traditional ones of biology, chemistry, physics and the geosciences. Instead, the novelty is in the “viewpoint – its orientation to global problems, its conception of the earth as a set of interlocking, interacting systems, and its interest in Man as part of these systems.” Notwithstanding the antiquated phrasing, this “Earth System Science” perspective has been the basis of my entire trajectory into Geography, and frames a reflection on where we are now, and more specifically where I am, since this chronology also neatly spans my entire life.

Photo courtesy of Byrd Polar Research Center

My path to Geography was as serendipitous and unintended as any undergrad who has no formal exposure to Geography until university –or as in my case, not until graduate school. I initially declared a Physics major in college, mostly because it was my favorite class in high school, but I lost passion for it after a frustrating bout with differential equations, and so reverted to History. Had I known of a discipline like Geography, or had it existed in my undergraduate institution, my course may have been different;  instead, I had to first find my way to Geology and realize it was more than minerals and oil prospecting.  During my senior year, in a Geology graduate seminar called, “Meteorological Aspects of Climatic Change” taught by Professor Thompson Webb[1], I first caught a glimpse of what Physical Geography held in store. We not only collected observations to appreciate basic dynamics of weather, but puzzled over long-term climate variability. This was it. This was the moment that would define my path. It was the implicit coupling of water and ice to society by the glacial shaping of the landscape that really fascinated me, and I wanted to learn more. The only problem was, it was too late for me to switch majors. Instead, my prof nudged me to consider Geography as a grad school option. Thanks, Tom!

I’ve now come to appreciate that human connections to the environment not only integrate our diverse discipline but also sustain our society. For me, this human-natural coupling manifests vitally in the Andes, where we have researched various aspects of the reality of glacier loss, water and society. Yet it has been through very specific human relationships and personalities that I have experienced it.

I first got to the Andes in college during a winter break climbing trip. I was amazed. In a two week transect from the Pacific coast to the highest point in the western hemisphere, the diverse geography claimed a piece of my heart, even though I was unaware I’d ever return. While prepping for another climb in Alaska, I met Bradford Washburn and Barbara Washburn[2], the adventurous couple who climbed many Alaskan mountains together including Denali, Barbara becoming the first woman to reach the summit. After the evening lecture about his Everest map-making adventure, Barbara by his side, I asked them how I might do things like that; he said he thought Ohio State had a decent program. With only that comment to guide me, I applied to graduate school at OSU. There, under the advising of another female pioneer, Distinguished Professor Ellen Mosley Thompson, I completed a thesis on snow accumulation at South Pole[3] while specializing in climatology. I met Geoffrey Seltzer[4], a Byrd Postdoctoral Fellow, who was teaching Hydrogeology. Geoff had earned his PhD under Herb Wright, a legendary figure in Quaternary studies[5], and was establishing prominence for his expertise in the glacial geology of tropical Central Andes of Peru and Bolivia. I was inspired and had finally found my tribe. Not only was I drawn in by the prospect of getting back to the Andes, but also by Geoff’s field-based style of research. So, I went to Syracuse University to be among Geoff’s first PhD students. He had been funded to examine more closely the ages of low-latitude tropical Andean glacier advances during the last glacial maximum (LGM) along with collaborators Don Rodbell, another Byrd Fellow, and Mark Abbott.

My dissertation research in the Andes began by considering the history of climate told by ancient glaciers, but never got too far from the people living below them. These glaciers housed eons of history but the people living below them relied on them for theirs existence, their culture, and their future. The last chapter of my dissertation emerged after I got a Fulbright to live in Peru and begin to assess the importance of modern glacier melt to stream flow. There, I tracked down the Peruvian co-author on a paper with Stephan Hastenrath, Alcides Ames[6]. Alcides had photographed and surveyed many glaciers starting in the 1960’s, and his meticulous photogrammetry allowed for invaluable mass change values to be computed and analyzed. Nevertheless, post-Fujimori Peru was not favorable to stable employment in glacial studies; Alcides ended up with unreliable income and pension, so he opened a guesthouse. He welcomed me to his home, and family, and I’ve now returned nearly annually with crews of students, collaborating professors and postdocs; exposing them to the people and places that have become a second home to me. I can only hope that their experiences are as awe-inspiring and as life-changing as mine were.

Shallap Glacier, Cordillera Blanca, Peru. Photo credit for left (1966), Alcides Ames; Photo credit for right (2019) Bryan Mark

We’ve followed in Alcides’ footsteps to quantify the volume loss of glaciers with geodetic methods that have extended from backpacked GPS point surveys to aerial LiDAR[7] to drones[8]. Byrd Polar’s own trained photogrammetrist, Henry Brecher, assisted in mapping 1962 base levels to compare. We’ve found an accelerating retreat of glaciers and an alteration in the seasonality and quality of streams below — and risks to water access in these systems are heterogeneous, dynamic, and interlinked[9]. Our Glacier Environmental Change group finds varied opportunities to ‘trace’ glaciers: whether it be the literal trace of their past presence on the landscape in the form of moraines, wetlands and glacial lakes, or the computation of their 3D mass loss, or the flow of melt-water emanating from them. I am motivated by seeking transdisciplinary[10] insights into the unprecedented changes we are facing in our interconnected yet fractious world. 50 years post Earth Day, we have many more vivid portraits of how our society-altered biogeochemistry interlinks our livelihoods with Andean glacier fate, underscoring needs for change. If and how knowledge translates to social change remains a daunting unknown, and a personal challenge. For example, if we know that our energy conversion is redistributing carbon to alter the hydrological fluxes…and melt the glaciers in the Andes…how should this alter what we do as researchers, and how we do it? I’m not sure. But it is my experience of Geography that our motivation needs to consider our interconnectedness and that it translates to very real relationships, and not abstractions.

Bryan Mark

Professor, Geography

State Climatologist of Ohio

[1] Thompson Webb, Professor Emeritus, Brown University: https://vivo.brown.edu/display/twebbiii

[2] Short reflections on long lives of Barbara http://publications.americanalpineclub.org/articles/13201213112, and Bradford http://publications.americanalpineclub.org/articles/12200747600.

[3] Van der Veen, C. J., E. Mosley-Thompson, A. J. Gow, and B. G. Mark.  Accumulation at South Pole: comparison of two 900-year records.  Journal of Geophysical Research, 104 (D24), 31,067-31,076.

[4] Geoff died too early; Mark, B.G., D.T. Rodbell, J. Brigham-Grette and J.A. Smith. Dr. Geoffrey Owen Seltzer: In Memorium. Quaternary International 138-139, 1-4.

[5] Birks, H.J.B. (2017). Herbert E. Wright Jr. (1917-2015): A Biographical Memior. National Academy of Sciences Biographical Memoirs: http://www.nasonline.org/publications/biographical-memoirs/memoir-pdfs/wright-herbert.pdf.

[6] Hastenrath, S. & A. Ames (1995) Recession of Yanamarey Glacier in Cordillera Blanca, Peru, during the 20th century. Journal of Glaciology, 41, 191-196.

[7] PhD dissertation of Kyung In Huh (2014); Huh, K.I., B.G. Mark, Y. Ahn and C. Hopkinson. Volume change of tropical Peruvian glaciers from multi-temporal digital elevation models (DEMs) and its volume surface area scaling. Geografiska Annaler: Series A, Physical Geography 99(3), 222-239.

[8] PhD dissertation of “Ollie” Wigmore (2017); Wigmore, O., B. Mark, J. McKenzie, M. Baraer & L. Lautz (2019) Sub-metre mapping of surface soil moisture in proglacial valleys of the tropical Andes using a multispectral unmanned aerial vehicle. Remote Sensing of Environment, 222, 104-118.

[9] Mark, B. G., A. French, M. Baraer, M. Carey, J. Bury, K. R. Young, M. H. Polk, O. Wigmore†, P. Lagos, R. Crumley†, J. M. McKenzie & L. Lautz (2017) Glacier loss and hydro-social risks in the Peruvian Andes. Global and Planetary Change 159, 61-76. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gloplacha.2017.10.003.

[10] Our multidisciplinary group came up with an apt abbreviation, TARN: https://glacierlab.uoregon.edu/our-research/tarn/