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September 2014: ICDP funding success to drill Lake Challa on Mount Kilimanjaro to investigate megadroughts

Lake Challa

The DeepCHALLA project has secured nearly £0.5 million from the International Continental scientific Drilling Program (ICDP) towards drilling costs in order to conduct an unrivalled suite of state-of-the-art investigations into equatorial climate change using environmental proxies, chronological tools and climate modelling. The objectives are: to collect long cores from Lake Challa (encompassing an estimated 250,000 years); to establish a chronology for the new cores through a range of state of the art techniques; and to better understand climate and ecological change in equatorial East Africa using a variety of methods. A major target is to investigate the existence of so-called ‘megadroughts’; periods of millennial-scale aridity around 100,000 years ago. Such long and intensely dry events in the monsoonal African climate history are an unexpected phenomenon, and their precise timing, origin and extent, have yet to be established. The sensitivity of Lake Challa to climate variability, and the potential to develop an excellent uninterrupted chronology for its sediment record, makes it an ideal site to investigate these megadroughts.

The multi international team of researchers is overall led by Professor Dirk Verschuren (Ghent University, Belgium). The UK team comprise Prof Philip Barker (University of Lancaster), Prof Melanie Leng (BGS/University of Nottingham), Dr Christine Lane (University of Manchester), Dr Maarten Blaauw (Queens University Belfast), Prof Barbara Maher (University of Lancaster), Dr Rob Marchant (University of York) and Dr David Ryves (University of Loughborough).

February 2014: International Drilling Panel for Professor Melanie Leng

Dr Chris VaneMelanie Leng has been nominated to represent the International Continental scientific Drilling Program (ICDP) on the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP)/European Consortium for Ocean Research Drilling (ECORD) outreach task force.

Working together, the ICDP and IODP have organised an outreach task force to facilitate joint outreach activities that might include conference booths/sessions and town hall meetings etc., which develops on from the combined 'Scientific Drilling' journal.

The task force will have a remit to develop new outreach tools and strategies for the long-term. Please contact Melanie if you are interested drilling outreach.
Follow ICDP on Twitter: @icdpDrilling and Mel: @MelJLeng

August 2013: Top spot for Quaternary Science Reviews article on isotopes in climate change research

Quaternary Science ReviewA review article on the use of isotope geochemistry in lake sediments as a means of understanding past climates remains one of the top down loaded articles in, the environmental change journal, Quaternary Science Reviews. The paper by Professor Melanie Leng (BGS/University of Leicester) and Professor Jim Marshall (University of Liverpool) has been consistently one of the journal’s most down loaded articles since its publication in 2004. As a reward for it’s popularity the journal have made the article open access till 31st October 2013. The paper has been cited over 350 times (Google Scholar).

The full article reference: Leng, M.J. and Marshall, J.D. 2004. Palaeoclimate interpretation of stable isotope data from lake sediment archives. Quaternary Science Reviews, 23, 811-831.

July 2013: NERC £1.2 m grant: Climatic change and human evolution

Lake sedimentThe Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) has approved a grant of £1.2 m to a UK team including researchers at the British Geological Survey (BGS) to investigate the influence of past climatic changes on human evolution in Africa.

In November 2013, working with partners from Germany, the US, and Ethiopia, the team will drill a 400 m-deep sediment core from Chew Bahir, an ancient lake basin in south Ethiopia, close to some of the world's most famous human fossil sites.

Over the next three years, the cores will yield a high-resolution record of changes in rainfall, temperature and vegetation spanning at least the last 500 000 years, a period that covers the evolution of our species, Homo sapiens, and dispersal of our distant ancestors from Africa into Asia and Europe.

Until now, there have been no such long environmental records from the African centre of human origins, so ideas about how climatic change may have influenced the emergence and dispersal of modern humans have remained largely speculative. By placing the fossil and archaeological data against a detailed record of regional climatic variation, and by modelling the likely effects of changing local environments on ancient human populations, the project will develop the first rigorous tests of hypotheses about how climate drove the genetic and cultural evolution of our species, and our eventual spread to every part of the globe.

The Chew Bahir project is part of the Hominin Sites and Paleolakes Drilling Project, a multi-national research effort to obtain core records of climatic change from five key palaeoanthropological sites in east Africa, covering the last four million years of human evolution.

The UK part of the project is headed by Professor Henry Lamb (Aberystwyth University) who leads a strong research team, including Professor Melanie Leng (BGS/University of Leicester) as well as scientists from Bangor, Liverpool, Newcastle, Oxford, and St Andrews universities.

The research is also supported by grants from the National Science Foundation (USA), the German Research Foundation (DFG), and the International Continental Scientific Drilling Programme.

Cores, from Kenya and Chew Bahir will be analysed initially at the US National Lake Core laboratories (LacCore) at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. Samples for dating, microfossil, and geochemical/isotope analysis will then be studied at the team's specialist laboratories (including the BGS stable isotope laboratory) in the UK and Cologne, Germany.