|Predicting the Future
From the Bottom
of a Lake
is an Unavoidable Priority
January 11, 2007 :: No. 109
It is undisputed that Southern California survives in its
current state for one reason: Water.
Without enough water, the economy, the population, the agriculture
could not be maintained at this level. That makes water management
an unavoidable priority.
But something can’t be managed if how much of it there
is to manage isn’t known. That’s why Cal State
Fullerton’s Matthew Kirby, assistant professor of geological
sciences, is digging into the bottom of Lake Elsinore, with
the help of a $39,950 grant from the National Science Foundation.
He’s the lead researcher for “Assessing Multi-Scale
Holocene Climate Variability in Western North America Using
Sediments from Lake Elsinore (Southern California).”
Translated for non-scientists, the long title of the research
project means he is using a drilling barge to take core samples
from the bottom of the lake, the oldest natural non-playa
lake in Southern California. A playa lake is one that dries
up in the hot season; Lake Elsinore doesn’t.
The core samples will show him and the scientists he works
with how much water has flowed into the lake — visible
from Interstate 15 just south of state Route 74 — since
the last ice age. The 10,000-year geologic period since the
last ice age until now is known as the Holocene.
Layers of sediment are washed into the lake by annual precipitation,
bringing mineral and organic material with it, layer-by-layer,
like pages in a book telling a story about rain cycles, changes
in the influence of the ocean on the other side of the mountains
bordering Lake Elsinore, and even seismic movement.
“We want to reconstruct the Holocene hydrologic, that is, the record
of precipitation and drought, in Southern California,” Kirby said. “A
better understanding of what the natural baseline is in our region will help
us understand what to expect and, therefore, what to plan for.”
Kirby and his colleagues — Steve Lund of USC and Michael
Anderson from UC Riverside — want to go even further.
They plan, ultimately, to drill at least 500 meters down
into the ancient Lake Elsinore lakebed, or “several
hundred thousand years, which will include multiple interglacial
cycles,” and he wants to continue
research on abrupt climate change in Southern California,
as recorded in sediments in Baldwin Lake, another target
of his research.
Kirby said he and research colleagues are planning their
grant requests now.
He is also looking at humans’ effect on the level of
Lake Elsinore, and he is conducting similar research at other
lakes in Southern California, including Big Laguna Lake,
Hog Lake, Dry Lake and Crystal Lake.
Also participating in the research at various points were:
Chirstopher J. Poulsen, now an assistant professor at the
University of Michigan, who was the climate modeler on the
project; Roger Byrne, an associate professor at UC Berkeley
and a pollen and climate expert; Liam Reidy, also a climate
and pollen expert and now a doctoral student at UC Berkeley;
Fullerton student Jenny Arkle, a lab assistant who graduated
last year with a bachelor’s degree in geography and
is now pursuing a degree in geology; and Fullerton student
Jenn Schmidt, who was also a lab assistant on the project
and is a senior geology major.
A Buena Park resident, Kirby joined the CSUF faculty in 2002
and earned his Ph.D. from Syracuse University.
Photos: Available at www.fullerton.edu/newsphotos
Matthew Kirby, Geological Sciences, 657-278-2158
Russ L. Hudson, Public
Affairs, 657-278-4007 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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