State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

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More Dust, Lago Potrok Aike

Searching for Lake
Searching for Lago Potrok Aike with the help of GPS. Credit: Ale Borunda.

Jay and Barbara took off this morning in a rugged-looking truck while Mike and I followed in a Honda CR-V that looks more appropriate for Route 9W than Patagonia’s gravel roads. We’re hopeful that nothing terrible will go wrong. Wish us luck!

I was totally entranced by the geomorphology of this place: I must have taken 100 photos through the car windows. Everything is so flat! Even when there are basalt plateaus, they were flat on top. The view reminded me of Eastern Oregon, with its wide plateaus, basalt outcrops and gentle, sloping remains of braided rivers.

After a few hours of driving we pulled off the main road, towards Potrok Aike (“Aike” means “place” in Tehuelche, the native language of Patagonians). We didn’t know exactly where the lake was, but Jay had scoped the area out on Google Earth and plugged the lake’s coordinates into his GPS. On Google Earth, it looked as if a small road passed close to the lake. We found it.

Lago Potrok Aike. Credit: Ale Bojundra
Lago Potrok Aike. Credit: Ale Borunda.

I hadn’t realized how lucky we are in the U.S. to have reliable, highly-detailed topographic maps in most places. Apparently, in Potrok Aike and other places in Argentina, the maps are not as detailed or up to date.

So, why am I here, clunking down gravel roads and scrambling through dust? Yesterday I explained what Mike and Jay are doing. I am along for the ride, hoping to collect dust samples laid down during times in the past when the climate was different. My master’s project at Lamont, with my advisors Gisela Winckler and Mike Kaplan, is about dust deposition in Antarctica through different climatic stages.

The dust that drifted down to Antarctica at the peak of the last ice age appears to have come from southern South America, while the dust that arrives in Antarctica during warmer times, such as the last 10,000 years, seems to come from elsewhere. There was also a lot more dust deposited during the last ice age and earlier glacial periods.
I’m going to be analyzing geochemical isotopes found in dust collected in Patagonia and Australia to see if those samples match the dust found in ice cores from Antarctica. So that’s why I’m here, to find out if ancient dust collected in Patagonia is similar to dust found thousands of miles away, from thousands of years ago. This will help us understand how the climate of the Southern Hemisphere worked in the past.

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