Growing up and living in the coastal town of Falmouth, Me., Katherine Allen, a graduating senior from Case Western Reserve University, developed a strong interest in environmental science. While at Case, that interest in nature has led to a prestigious graduate scholarship and a discovery about Lake Erie.
Allen's love of nature now extends beyond Maine's ocean waters, rivers, and mountains to include paleoclimatology research. She will have the opportunity to study at Churchill College at Cambridge University in England as one of the 11 American recipients of the prestigious Winston Churchill Foundation Scholarship in 2006.
The $40,000 award provides Allen with full tuition, books, fees, living expenses and an international travel stipend during her year at Cambridge where she will earn a master's degree in earth science.
The Churchill Scholarship also provides an avenue for students in the sciences, engineering and mathematics to exchange knowledge through research opportunities. She plans to conduct a research thesis related to climate and earth sciences.
Upon returning to the United States, Allen plans to pursue graduate studies in paleoclimatology. She eventually hopes to obtain her doctorate degree and research, teach, develop public policy and write about the environment.
"I became fascinated with earth sciences and passionate about improving the human relationship with the environment," said Allen, adding that "it seems to me to be one of the most important pursuits of our time."
Allen has begun to develop her understanding of past climates through a project in the lab of Beverly Saylor, Case associate professor of geological sciences.
By examining sediment cores from Lake Erie, Allen found evidence for a climate warming event peaking around 2,900 years ago, which caused large amounts of calcite to precipitate from the lake waters.
Geological evidence of this warming was left behind in the form of fine-grained calcite deposits, and carbon and oxygen isotopes in Lake Erie sediments that are surprisingly not seen in the nearby Lake Huron, Lake Ontario or the Finger Lakes in the state of New York.
According to Allen, Lake Erie and its ecosystem were particularly impacted because of the lake's shallow depth, which is more sensitive to temperature changes.
She hypothesizes that the presence of calcite deposits in the core reflects this greater sensitivity, as other, deeper lakes were not as strongly impacted and did not develop the conditions needed for calcite precipitation.
Allen speculates it could have been a number of factors—from increased solar energy, shifts in the jet stream that brought warmer air masses to the Great Lakes region or changes in lake level due to outlet erosion. Allen added that the specific reasons for the warming need further investigation.
One of the benefits of this research is that it will help predict how Lake Erie will respond to modern rising temperatures and environmental changes.
She reported on her project "Environmental Changes Recorded by Lake Erie Sediment" at Research ShowCase and also at this year's annual North Central Geological Society of America meeting in Akron, Ohio on April 20. She eventually hopes to publish her research results in a science journal.
In addition to her science-related activities at Case, Allen has rowed for four years on the Case Crew team, has been a peer advisor with CaseFAM, an active member of the Geological Society (CWRUGS) and a reporter for student newspaper, The Observer. In her free time, she continues to row, hike and play the guitar.
Allen will receive her bachelor's of science degree in geological sciences during Case's Commencement ceremonies on Sunday, May 21.
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