Welcome to GeoUnion, the graduate student body of the Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences. GeoUnion strives to supplement the overall graduate student experience at Rice and DEEPS. GeoUnion represents DEEPS in the overall Rice grad student community, acts as a liaison between students and faculty and organizes a number of intra- and inter-departmental events throughout the academic year.
|September 6-8||Overnight Camping at San Marcos|
|September 13||Welcome Barbecue|
|Cancelled because of Imelda||Pre-GSA talk|
|October 12-15||Field Trip to Big Bend|
|October 25||Halloween Kickball Tournament|
|November 26||Multicultural Thanksgiving!|
|Dec 6||Pre-AGU practice session|
Here’s a list of the resources that you would need to use frequently as graduate students at Rice. The websites of the Rice Graduate Student Association (GSA), Office of International Students and Scholars (OISS), Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies (GPS) are platforms which graduate students can use to keep track of upcoming events, funding opportunities, changes in rules and regulations, etc.
Living in a vast city like Houston and exploring a new place can also be challenging, and so we have compiled a list of recommendations for housing and fun things to do in the Space City!
– SEPTEMBER 7, 2021
Paleo storm hunters at Rice need data to refine the record of history’s hurricanes
Atlantic hurricanes don’t just come and go. They leave clues to their passage through the landscape that last centuries or more. Rice University scientists are using these natural archives to find signs of storms hundreds of years before satellites allowed us to watch them in real time.
Postdoctoral fellow Elizabeth Wallace, a paleotempestologist who joined the lab of Rice climate scientist Sylvia Dee this year, is building upon techniques that reveal the frequency of hurricanes in the Atlantic basin over millennia.
Paleoclimate hurricane data (or ‘proxy’ data) is found in archives like tree rings that retain signs of short-term flooding, sediments in blue holes (marine caverns) and coastal ponds that preserve evidence of sand washed inland by storm surges. These natural archives give researchers a rough idea of when and where hurricanes have come ashore.
In a new paper in Geophysical Research Letters, Wallace, Dee and co-author Kerry Emanuel, a climate scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, take hundreds of thousands of “synthetic” storms spun up from global climate model simulations of the past 1,000 years and examine whether or not they are captured by the vast network of Atlantic paleohurricane proxies.
Reconstructing the past will help scientists understand the ebb and flow of Atlantic hurricanes over time. Previous studies by Wallace and others have demonstrated that a single site capturing past storms cannot be used to reconstruct hurricane climate changes; however, a network of proxies might help refine models of how these storms are likely to be affected by climate change going forward.
“These paleo hurricane proxies allow us to reconstruct storms into the past, and we’re using them to figure out how basin-wide storm activity has changed,” said Wallace, a Virginia native who earned her doctorate at MIT and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution last year and connected with Dee when the professor spoke there in 2017.
“If I have a sediment core from Florida, it’s only capturing storms that hit Florida,” she said. “I wanted to see if we can use the full collection of records collected from the Bahamas, the East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico over the past few decades to accurately reconstruct basin-wide storm activity over the last few centuries.”
The synthetic storms they built helped illustrate what Wallace already knew: There’s a bias toward the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, and a need for more proxies along the east coasts of North and Central America. The Rice team’s quest going forward will be to refine their climate simulations and add more sites to the networks to better reconstruct past hurricane activity.
“In particular, there aren’t really any sites from the Southeast U.S., places like the Carolinas,” she said. “One of the goals of this work is to highlight where scientists should go to core next.”
Wallace has first-hand experience drilling cores. “During a storm event, you get high winds and waves that take the sand from the beach and essentially just throw it back into a coastal pond,” she said. “Only during storm events do these sand layers get deposited in the pond, and in the sediment cores you can see them interspersed with the fine mud that’s typically there. We can date these sand layers and know when a hurricane struck the site.”
She noted there has not yet been an “intensive” effort to compare sediment and tree ring records. “The tree record is still an uncertain proxy,” Wallace said. “We’re looking for tree ring records with rainfall signatures that correspond to storms going over the past 200 or 300 years that match the sediment records for that same interval.”
Dee said the work is fundamentally different from the paleoclimate models she most often studies. “Here we’re taking climate models and generating hundreds of pseudo-tropical storms,” she said. “We’re ‘playing Gaia’ by making a plausible version of reality and combining it with our knowledge of available proxy sites.
“This tells us how many records from how many places we realistically need to capture a climate signal,” Dee said. “It’s really expensive to go out and drill cores, and this helps give us a way to prioritize where to drill.
“This research is crucial as we accelerate into a climate mean state with ever-warmer Atlantic Ocean temperatures,” she said. “Understanding how these storms have evolved over time provides a baseline against which to evaluate tropical cyclones with and without human impacts on the climate system.”
A Pan Postdoctoral Research Fellowship and Rice Academy Fellowship to Wallace and a Gulf Research Program grant to Dee supported the study. Dee is an assistant professor of Earth, environmental and planetary sciences. Emanuel is the Cecil & Ida Green Professor of Atmospheric Science and co-director of the Lorenz Center at MIT.
Elizabeth J. Wallace, Sylvia G. Dee, and Kerry A. Emanuel
Geophysical Research Letters (2021) e2021GL094891.
Paleohurricane reconstructions extend the observational record of tropical cyclones back thousands of years. However, these records are subject to biases – capturing only close-moving intense storms at varying resolutions. We devise two pseudo proxy networks drawing from the full suite of published paleohurricane studies in the North Atlantic. We run synthetic storms forced with two global climate model simulations of the past millennium through each pseudo network to assess the theoretical skill of paleohurricane proxies at capturing low frequency variability in North Atlantic basin-wide and intrabasin tropical cyclones. We find that basin-wide and paleohurricane compiled tropical cyclone counts are significantly correlated with one another for the past millennium on annual to multi-decadal timescales, but compilation skill is limited by proxy temporal resolution. Current paleohurricane proxy networks predominantly capture storms moving in the Caribbean/Gulf of Mexico. Increasing the quantity of paleohurricane records from the North American coastline substantially improves reconstruction skill.
Because of COVID-19, the field trip is being postponed to later (date TBD) this year. The seminar will continue via remote meetings through the end of the Spring 2020 semester.
As earth scientists we seek to understand the natural processes that have shaped the world around us through time. The most fundamental requirement to acquiring a deeper understanding of these mechanisms is through observation. EEPS has a strong heritage in field-based research that when combined with analytical excellence, produces skilled scientists with a broad view of Earth as a system. While Rice University is well placed to take advantage of a broad array of research resources, students in Houston do not always have immediate access to nearby geological sites that represent Earth as a system.
A generous gift from Mike Johnson enables EEPS students the opportunity to observe classic and fundamental geologic concepts in the field. Students are in charge of proposing, selecting and managing a field excursion that will benefit everyone in the department. A year-long seminar-based class run by the students prepares them to visit the locality they have selected. Papers are selected, presented and discussed, followed by activities that educate the students on how to run a field-based project. During the field excursion, elected stops will be led and presented by individual students. The knowledge gained before and during the field trip will cumulate into a multi-media field guide that will be made available to the department and public following the trips conclusion.
A significant benefit of a department-wide field excursion is the interaction of students with scientists from various disciplines. Many earth scientists only carry out field work with specialists in their own field. The real discoveries in modern earth science occur when the different disciplines are part of a collective discourse. This trip will have scientists with different backgrounds observe the same outcrops; fostering fruitful discussion that results in the generation of new and unique questions. In addition, this trip may inspire fellowship among EEPS graduate students that will hopefully create life-long collaborations and a cohesive department.
General route starting in Albuquerque, New Mexico
This year, EEPS elected to utilize Mike Johnson’s gift to lead graduate students on a 7 day field expedition to observe some of the most diverse and economically important geologic terrains in the United States.
In early June of 2020, EEPS will travel through New Mexico, Colorado and Utah, which have easily accessible exposures of metamorphic, sedimentary, and igneous rocks. Starting from Albuquerque, New Mexico they will explore the Rio Grande Rift, the San Juan Volcanic field, and the well exposed Mezozoic stratigraphy on the Colorado Plateau. Observing these diverse geologic terrains will give EEPS graduate students a chance to see how their research interests dovetail with what they observe in nature and provide opportunities to create new ideas.
Pre-Trip planning seminars
Fall semester: The graduate student of the winning field trip proposal organizes a weekly reading group focusing on the regional geology of the four corners region and come up with potential stops.
Spring semester: The weekly reading group continues. Students pick the final outcrops that they would like to visit. Each student is assigned to be an expert on 1-3 stops. Before the field trip, each student will submit their description(s) of their stop for the field guide.
Spring 2020 Seminar Papers
Fall 2019 Seminar Papers
Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences
6100 Main Street
Houston, TX 77005 USA