A team of researchers that included several INSTAAR scientists received the prestigious Kirk Bryan Award from the Quaternary Geology & Geomorphology Division of the Geological Society of America (GSA). The prestigious award honors the authors of a recent paper that advances the science of geomorphology.
Led by former INSTAAR PhD student Simon Pendleton, now an Assistant Professor of Practice at Plymouth State University, the team of researchers included INSTAARs Gifford Miller, Scott Lehman, Sarah Crump, and Robert S. Anderson and colleagues Nathaniel Lifton from Purdue University and John Southon from the University of California, Irvine.
Their paper in Nature Communications, “Rapidly receding Arctic Canada glaciers revealing landscapes continuously ice-covered for more than 40,000 years,” was published in 2019. The study looked at the ages of ancient plants preserved by now-receding ice caps in Arctic Canada. It found that the summer warmth of the past century now exceeds any century in within the past 115,000 years.In an acceptance speech at the GSA annual meeting, Pendleton described a long and collaborative process that led to the paper’s publication, involving, “the chance collection of preserved plants nearly 60 years ago, some not insignificant improvements in radiocarbon dating, the invention of an entirely new surface dating technique (cosmogenic exposure dating), and the perseverance of individuals in the pursuit of understanding these landscapes and the climate secrets they hold.” The researchers spent hours walking ice margins on Baffin Island and processed hundreds of preserved plants in labs to date the plants and place them in a context stretching for thousands of years. He added, “In many ways, this paper encapsulates the theme of the Kirk Bryan award: the innovations made by others over past decades enabled our team to continue to advance the field and our understanding of these glacier-climate systems.”
“It was only recently that I fully appreciated the irony of this particular project,” said Pendleton. “The irony that the warming of the climate—the very thing we are attempting to quantify and characterize—is revealing to us, through ice recession, the data we need to do it. These newly exposed materials are ephemeral, and once they are gone, the record is lost forever.”
The award comes with a monetary prize, which the authors will donate to the Sarah Crump Graduate Fellowship. Sarah Crump was an author on the paper who contributed significantly to the field and lab portions of the study. She passed away in 2022 after a battle with cancer, leaving a legacy of outstanding paleoclimate science paired with a strong commitment to inclusion and community building.