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Christopher Underwood,
NSF Graduate Fellow

NSF GK-12 Project: University of Tennessee
GK-12: Enriching Earth Science in Rural Tennessee Middle Schools Through Research-Based Activities on Climate and Environmental History
URL: http://web.utk.edu/~gk12/index.html

Thesis Title: A Century-Scale Climate Reconstruction from Western Juniper Tree Rings
College/University: University of Tennessee

Research Advisor: Henri Grissino-Mayer, Sally Horn

Degree Sought
Ph.D. in Geology

University Department and/or Lab
Department of Geography, Laboratory of Tree-Ring Science and Laboratory of Paleoenvironmental Research

Research Focus
I am conducting tree-ring analyses of climate history, fire history, and forest stand dynamics, and fire history reconstruction from soil charcoal..

Description of Research
I have just completed my M.S. thesis on climate history of south central Oregon as revealed by western juniper tree rings. The tree-ring chronology I created is one of the longest western juniper chronologies ever constructed in North America. The study documents shifts in precipitation regimes, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, and the El Niño-Southern Oscillation from A.D. 797–2000. By reconstructing previous climatic shifts that have affected this region, we can better predict future climatic oscillatory episodes that might affect the Pacific Northwest.

My Ph.D. research focuses on forest fire reconstructions in stands of fire-dependent pines in Great Smokey Mountains National Park. I will use radiocarbon-dated soil charcoal to create fire histories for pine stands that complement and extend reconstructions based on tree-ring analysis of fire-scarred trees. This research will contribute to understanding of environmental history in the Southern Appalachians as influenced by climate change and human impacts, and has practical importance in the development of plans for active use of fire as a management tool.

Example of how my research is integrated into my GK-12 experience
Our GK-12 project has partnered with the Paleontological Research Institution and Cornell University to use samples of sediment matrix from their mastodon excavations in New York in our science classes. This “Mastodon matrix” dates to the late Pleistocene and contains plant remains, shells, and other fossils that indicate climates and environments markedly different from those of the present. Working with my 7th grade classes to extract and sort these remains gives me an opportunity to share my expertise on the topic of past climate, and my experience with macrofossils in soils and sediments from other types of environments. My students are excited to be contributing to real research as they study the mastodon matrix. What we find will be returned to the Paleontological Research Institution to be examined by their experts and added to their scientific databases.

Profile date: September 2007
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