Geology professor gets $98,000 NSF grant

Rhawn Denniston, associate professor of geology, has been awarded a $98,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to study pre-historical hurricane activity in tropical northern Australia. This research continues Denniston’s work on stalagmites and involves field work in caves in the remote Kimberley region of Australia, as well as laboratory work at the University of New Mexico and the University of Michigan. 

The project is centered on Denniston’s field observations that hurricanes passing over the Kimberley flood the region’s caves, coating the cave formations such as stalagmites with mud.  By determining the age of mud layers trapped at different depths within the stalagmites, the timing and activity of hurricanes can be reconstructed.  This information, in turn, may help improve our understanding of climate-related changes in hurricane frequency and intensity.

Denniston and two students spent three weeks obtaining samples in Australia and four weeks analyzing them at the University of New Mexico this past summer.  Denniston is presenting his initial findings at the annual Geological Society of America conference this October in a special session titled “Extreme Climate and Weather Events: Past, Present, and Future”.

The research will be used to help develop materials for K-12 teachers on hurricanes and climate change, as well as serve as the subject for undergraduate theses for Cornell students.

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