Junior journeys to Germany, uses geology in everyday life

Hannah Nusser and Hannah Nusser

What started out as a love for traveling turned into an academic research endeavor for junior geology major Allison Bryan. Bryan has taken her travels abroad for a higher purpose — assisting with groundbreaking geological research in Germany.

Bryan said her interest in geology started as a child, when she traveled with her family across the United States, visiting most of the continental states including Florida, New York and the Western states.

“I’ve seen a lot of different land features and I’ve learned that what really interested me are more geological cycles,” she said. “It’s the one thing that I was like, ‘Wow, geology’s a really cool field.'”

Bryan said the more she traveled, the more she wanted to learn about geology.

“Being born in Ohio definitely doesn’t breed geologists — it’s rather flat and boring,” she said. “But if you get out of Ohio … you see more active geology and that’s more exciting.”

A geology major and chemistry minor, Bryan earned an internship in Germany last summer through the Research and Internships in Science and Engineering program; the internship was funded by the American Chemical Society.

She said her summer overseas helped her in many ways.

“Berlin is a very insane but culturally enriching area,” she said. “It’s an amazing place. It was a really, really great experience for sure.”

Working in an international laboratory was also a learning process, Bryan said.

“I got to see just how they run,” she said. “They do things a little differently … but they were really friendly and very welcoming.”

As a research laboratory assistant in Germany, Bryan assisted graduate students from all over the world with their research on sediment layers of Lake El’Gygytgyn in Siberia, Russian Federation. Bryan was assisting with examining the paleoclimate record of the 3.6 million-year-old lake.

Bryan said the more researchers understand about past climate changes, the better, because significant factors like tsunamis, rises in sea levels and the amount of icebergs affect overall climate changes. Another factor is the impact of carbon dioxide levels, she said.

“That’s kind of the big question, [the] impact on CO2 from humans or a regular cycle,” she said. “A lot of times in science, people are just like, ‘That’s great, but it really doesn’t apply to my life,’ …But this really does.”

Bryan has worked closely with associate geology professor Jeff Snyder on this research. Snyder said he has traveled to Germany a few times to conduct research on Lake El’Gygytgyn.

Lake El’Gygytgyn is a relatively undisturbed lake, Snyder said, ideal for studying sediment layers aging as far back as 3.6 million years. It’s also a good area for this type of research because the Antarctic is more sensitive to changes in climate.

“We can use past climate as an indicator of what can happen with future climate change, in a nut shell,” Snyder said. “That’s the main objective of our study of past climate … using it as a guide.”

Bryan examined sedimentary layers 10,000 years old. She said she studies the oxygen isotopes and diatom compositions, which indicate water temperature from thousands of years ago.

“What’s really cool about the paleoclimate record is … we can tell what the temperature of the lake was thousands of years ago,” she said. “We can say it was cold and it was hot, then cold, then hot again.”

Junior Trina Dennison said she and Bryan became friends as they bonded over long geology classes and labs. She said Bryan is a hard worker, and the paleoclimate research is a valuable adventure.

“I think it’s really cool – it’s great they’re finding new research,” Dennison said.

Bryan said she plans to go to graduate school, and while she hasn’t decided on a specialization, she enjoyed working on the Lake El’Gygytgyn project and may want to continue the pursuit.

“Grad school will definitely be the next step,” she said. “[Doing research] has been really fascinating and enjoyable.”

Snyder said Bryan is motivated for success and is likely to succeed in whatever she decides to do.

“I think she’s promising for a future career in research,” Snyder said.