Luther Professor Laura Peterson receives $120,000 research grant

Originally posted: November 16, 2011

Laura Peterson, Luther College assistant professor of environmental studies and chemistry, has received a $120,197 grant from the National Science Foundation to support the acquisition of laboratory instruments for paleoclimatological research.

Peterson’s research is focused on reconstructing the Earth’s past climate behavior to further understand current climate system dynamics. An important tool in this research is alkenone paleothermometry, a methodology for estimating past sea surface temperatures through compounds preserved in ocean sediments.

“With the funding from this grant, along with additional funding I’ve received from Luther College, I’ll be able to get my research laboratory up and running,” said Peterson. “I look forward to being able to involve Luther students in paleoclimatological research.”

The one-year grant will fund the purchase of an accelerated solvent extractor and a gas chromatograph, the instruments necessary to perform alkenone analysis in Peterson’s research laboratory at Luther.

Peterson will serve as the principal investigator for the research, and she will mentor and lead research with undergraduate students.

With the new instrumentation Peterson will explore the symmetry or asymmetry of northern and southern hemisphere climate changes from the late Miocene geological epoch to the present, a period of approximately five million years.

Her research will also examine the development of the cryosphere and the connections between atmospheric carbon dioxide and climate evolution.

Additional research will contribute to a better understanding of the alkenone paleothermometer itself, through investigation of the preservation of alkenone compounds in sedimentary sections lithified, uplifted and exposed on land.

The instrumentation purchased through the grant will provide the opportunity for undergraduate students to have hands-on experience in primary research.

Students participating in Peterson’s upper level courses will also have the opportunity to directly witness how paleoclimatologists reconstruct past climate behavior.

Peterson will also lead educational outreach activities with K-12 students and educators.

Peterson holds the bachelor of arts degree from Carleton College and the master of science and doctoral degrees from Brown University.

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