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  • Writer's pictureBecca Dzombak

Rackham International Award!

I’m so excited to announce that I have received a Rackham International Research Award! This is a University-wide grant to fund extended fieldwork/internships/collaborations for graduate students. I wrote this grant to work in Iceland, the Faroe Islands (tiny islands between Iceland and Scotland), and Scotland, for some rather diverse research interests. The overarching theme is biogeochemical cycling in high-latitude soils that have received less research attention than, say, the North Slope in Alaska or the boreal forests of Eurasia. (I also applied to Nat Geo to support this same trip – fingers crossed for that one! I’ll find out in May whether or not that got funded.)

Vast swaths of basalt are covered in thick moss; on misty grey days like this one, it feels like early Earth (or Lord of the Rings!).

Returning to Iceland, I plan to sample more wetland/bog environments, focusing in northwestern Iceland. I’m also really excited to do targeted sampling of soils proximal to hot springs as early Earth analogues! Last time I was there, I saw a range of hot (and warm) spring environments with a mix of microbial communities around and in them, everything from typical biological soil crusts to rust-orange streamer bacteria in the springs themselves. Doing more work in those spots would be (will be!) really neat, and something I could also explore more in the continental U.S.

The Faroes are exciting because there’s so much potential. Very little has been done there, leaving the door wide open to answer many different questions. Their stratigraphy is pretty straightforward; they’re a little group of Eocene volcanic islands with some (unstudied) paleosols between basalt flows, similar to what I worked on in India. I’ll be mapping and sampling those for high-latitude Eocene paleoclimate reconstruction. Modern soils will be sampled as well to study high-latitude basaltic weathering and nutrient cycling.

Finally, Scotland! And I’m not just going for the scotch… Scotland has some interbasaltic paleosols of a similar age that I can sample, but it also has even older stuff that will be relevant for some of my longer-term, geologic-timescale work. Scotland has a more robust soil science field than either Iceland or the Faroes, with lots of active carbon monitoring. I’m interested in biogeochemical cycling in the peatlands and bogs of high northwest Scotland, and how that links to carbon burial in fjords (which are weird, neat environments).

So – lots to think about! All in all, it’ll be about a month abroad, probably my last big international sampling trip of my thesis work. I’m excited and grateful to have this opportunity to collaborate with international geologists and soil scientists, explore new countries… and yes, drink some good scotch.

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