Current Projects

QRC members lead and participate in a wide range of disciplinary and interdisciplinary research projects from the study of past earth climates and glaciations to shifts in the geographic distributions and evolution of vegetation and faunal communities, to the evolution and dispersals of the genus Homo and the increasing scales of human modification of earth environments through the Holocene. QRC provides a venue for meeting and collaborating with scholars across Quaternary disciplines. We are also fortunate to be able to provide seed funding and small grants for member research projects. We are especially happy to support grad student and junior scholar research activities, much of which leads to larger, external funding from agencies like the National Science Foundation.


  • 2015-16 Awarded Project | |
    • Jonathan Beyeler, Student
    • Dave Montgomery, Member

    Transient river response to headwater deglaciation, Mount Rainier, WA

    This work seeks to test an idea counter to conventional wisdom regarding the nature and magnitude of glacial fluxes and their role with respect to downstream landform development (e.g., glaciofluvial fans and terraces) as well as climatic oscillations on the timing of landscape evolution (i.e., aggradation versus degradation). Glaciogenic sediment is stored in large moraine complexes built by dynamic alpine glaciers and released when ice retreat debutresses the unstable landforms. Paraglacial sedimentation following deglaciation is the process yet meltwater hydrology is often invoked as the driver of alpine landscape evolution but for unknown durations, with little consideration of flux characteristics (i.e., melt, runoff, and sediments), and with unknown lag times. Little quantitative, mechanistic knowledge exists regarding the processes, controls, timing, and duration of paraglacial sedimentation. By comparing two major glacier-fed rivers at Mount Rainier, WA, this study proposes to elucidate whether meltwater discharge or available glaciogenic sediment fluxes drive downstream transient landform development/degradation through a combination of topographic survey methods, historic discharge and photograph analysis for river response, as well as geophysical methods to quantify sediment supply and storage characteristics. Preliminary data collected in September 2015 from a fixed-wing aircraft for Structure-from-Motion will function as a basemap for geomorphic change detection as well as quantitative rates of change.

  • 2015-16 Awarded Project | |
    • Landon Burgener, Student
    • Kate Huntington, Member

    Spatial Patterns in Terrestrial Paleoclimate Conditions of the Late Cretaceous

    Predicting the response of Earth’s climate to elevated levels of atmospheric CO2 has become an important focus of academic and governmental research (e.g., IPCC, 2013). Development of new paleoclimate reconstruction techniques (e.g., carbonate clumped isotope thermometry) has begun to resolve some of these contradictions between proxies and models, but the application of such proxies has been largely limited to the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM). Further work is needed to determine if these proxies and methods are applicable to other greenhouse settings. Reconstructions of Campanian paleoclimate conditions will provide an important contrast to the work done on the PETM, and provide an opportunity to compare and contrast different Greenhouse periods.

    The goal of this project is to advance our understanding of temperature seasonality and precipitation patterns under steady-state greenhouse climate conditions. The results of this project will help resolve long-standing differences between paleoclimate proxy records and model simulations of greenhouse climates. Additionally, by increasing our understanding of climate patterns during Greenhouse climates, this project will have important implications for understanding past climate variations during the Quaternary, and future changes due to anthropogenic climate change.

  • 2015-16 Awarded Project | |
    • Ben Fitzhugh, Member

    The Future of the Past: Capturing a 5000 year record of Human‐>Environmental variability on the North Coast of Alaska

    QRC funds provide travel support to take a small group of UW graduate students to Barrow, Alaska in July 2016 to participate in a rescue excavation of the Walakpa archaeological site. This project will support the strategic sampling of a repository of archaeological and environmental information spanning the past 3500‐5000 years at a location of critical importance for understanding the cultural change and movements of Arctic people through late Holocene. The work will preserve vital data and give UW students potential future research projects. The site is full of well‐preserved organic artifacts (marine and land hunting implements, boat and sled parts, food processing and clothes making tools, clothing, baskets, toys, jewelry), house foundations, and burials that the Inupiat community of Barrow wants moved to safer ground. The site includes paleo-environmental data on changes in marine and terrestrial ecology, sea ice history and polar climate from the mid to late Holocene, but the site is highly vulnerable to erosion and may not last another warm winter. The site has the potential to reveal new insights about the development of Arctic maritime adaptations, human responses to climate changes, the causes of both the pre-Dorset and Thule (ancestral Inuit) migrations from Alaska across the Eastern High Arctic (ca 2200 B.C. and 1200 A.D., respectively).

    For the QRC and UW, this rescue operation presents a unique opportunity to further the Arctic legacy that was initiated by QRC founders Linc Washburn, Steve Porter, and others and that manifests today in the QRC engagement in the Future of Ice Initiative.  Perhaps most importantly, the chance to introduce a new generation of students to the Arctic at a site that will generate significant research opportunities is especially valuable when Arctic researchers are few and the Arctic is losing archaeological sites at an unprecedented rate.

  • 2015-16 Awarded Project | |
    • Alan Gillespie, Member

    Evaluation of paleoflood evidence, Matanuska Valley, Alaska

    There are two interpretations of the surficial geological evidence in the lower reaches of the Matanuska River in Alaska: the last significant event was the retreat of the Matanuska Glacier (“glacier only” model) or the retreat was followed by a megaflood that reshaped the landscape (“flood” model). The purpose of this proposal is to resolve this conflict.

    We intend to (1) map geomorphic features in the contentious areas of the Matanuska and Knik valleys with newly available high-resolution LiDAR DEMs; (2) to conduct fieldwork to assess stratigraphy and lithology of geomorphic features; (3) to model hydrologic processes of various flood flows down the Matanuska Valley.

    We will test the following 3 hypotheses: (1) the discrepancy between the “glacier only” and “flood” models can be resolved if the Knik Glacier readvanced over the previously flooded Matanuska lowlands, leaving the glacial features in the path of the earlier Atna flood, or (2) some areas of glacial ice survived the Atna flood, shielding glacial landforms from erosion by the floodwaters; and (3) the glacier dam at Tahneta Pass was destroyed nearly instantaneously. H3 is an interesting problem reaching well beyond the Atna floods (cf. Batbaatar and Gillespie, 2015) and we intend to test it by quantifying discrepancies between flood depths inferred from geological evidence and from hydrologic modeling.

    This proposal will build on work previously published in Quaternary Research. The existence of Glacial Lake Atna has been recognized for well over a century (Schrader, 1900), but other than our previous paper, no reports have discussed in detail the lake’s relation to four large adjacent drainages (Matanuska, Susitna, Tanana/Yukon, and Copper rivers) or the modes in which this very large ice impounded lake drained. The project area is one we know very well, and by Alaska standards is highly accessible and has many sites with existing exposures (e.g., gravel pits, road cuts)—so our ability to accomplish necessary field tasks is greatly enhanced.

  • 2015-16 Awarded Project | |
    • Sara Gonzalex, Member

    Preserving the Past Together:
A Seminar in Cultural and Environmental Heritage Management

    This year long seminar will bring together archaeologists at the University of Washington with a diverse group of heritage professionals outside of academia. Seminar participants will discuss the current challenges and future possibilities for developing inclusive approaches to heritage management that integrate the needs of multiple stewards and stakeholders within the Pacific Northwest. Organized as a series of public lectures with discussion panels, workshops and a capstone conference, the seminar will include participants and representatives from tribal governments, local, federal, and state institutions and agencies, and professionals employed within private cultural resource management (CRM) firms. Our objectives are to build new networks of knowledge sharing among these diverse stewards and stakeholders that will result in a series of pilot community-based partnerships that address critical needs associated with preserving and protecting history and heritage within our region. From these dialogues and projects we will create an archive of best practices and guidelines for community-based approaches to archaeological practice and heritage management.

    The University of Washington is uniquely positioned to host and facilitate this dialogue. Combined with the campus’ ongoing commitment to strengthening its relationship with local tribal nations and campus initiatives designed to retain and train Native American and other indigenous descendent students, UW faculty in Anthropology, History, and AIS are currently engaged in a number of community-based heritage partnerships with tribal nations in Washington and Oregon. This seminar will draw upon these strengths, using them to provide national leadership in this critical aspect of heritage management and archaeological practice.

  • 2015-16 Awarded Project | |
    • Kate Hunting, Member

    Paleoenvironmental constraints from paleosol-loess sequences: evaluating clumped (∆47) isotopic records in biogenic and pedogenic carbonate

    The goal of the proposed work is to advance understanding of how the geochemistry of biogenic and pedogenic (formed in soil) carbonates record surface environmental temperatures and soil water compositions relevant to the interpretation of proxy records in Quaternary loess-paleosol sequences and cultural layers. Reconstructing Quaternary paleoenvironments is important for a broad range of paleoclimate, geology, biology, anthropology and archaeology studies. To this end, the geochemistry of carbonate minerals formed at and near the Earth surface can provide quantitative environmental constraints including the δ18O values of water, δ13C-based information about vegetation, and most recently, estimates of Earth-surface temperatures from clumped isotope (∆47) thermometry. Early efforts to develop clumped isotope thermometry in modern-Holocene soils raise many questions about how to interpret not only ∆47 temperatures but also conventional δ18O and δ13C values in soil and loess carbonates. Specific issues include seasonal bias in carbonate growth and vital effects in biogenic carbonate. We must address these issues in order to understand and exploit these valuable archives of environmental information preserved in paleosols and cultural layers.

    The project will benefit Quaternary research by refining and developing new methods for reconstructing terrestrial Quaternary climate change from loess-paleosol sequences and environmental context from cultural layers, and benefit the intellectual life of the QRC through enhanced international visibility and exchange, support of facilities and research that benefit QRC members, and training of future Quaternary scientists.

  • 2015-16 Awarded Project | |
    • Julia Kelson, Student
    • Kate Huntington, Member

    Quantifying Climate Change During The Petm In Continental North America

    The goal of this project is to characterize terrestrial climate change during the Paleocene Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM). The PETM was a period of rapid warming during a greenhouse climate regime that best resembles the rate of warming occurring in the present, and therefore is a valuable analog to understand Quaternary climate dynamics and future climate change (e.g., Norris & Rohl, 1999; Beerling, 2000; Wing et al., 2005; McInerney & Wing, 2011; IPCC 2013). Paleoclimate proxies that measure how surface temperature and precipitation changed in response to increased atmospheric CO2 in the past are critical to understanding present climate dynamics. By measuring these paleoclimate parameters in paleosols in southwestern Texas with multiple proxies, this project will help resolve longstanding discrepancies between models of greenhouse climates and paleoclimate proxies that have poor spatial and temporal resolution.

  • 2015-16 Awarded Project | |
    • Ashley Maloney, Student
    • Julian Sachs, Member

    Radiometric Dating of Lake Sediment Cores from the South Pacific Convergence Zone for Late Holocene Paleoclimatology

    The South Pacific Convergence Zone (SPCZ) is the Southern Hemisphere’s most prominent rain feature, however a full understanding of its structure and behavior is lacking, predictions of how it might respond to future warming are uncertain, and few studies have addressed its behavior in the past. Tropical atmospheric circulation is a major driver of Earth’s climate yet little is known about the extent of natural variability during the late Holocene including the Medieval Warm Period (MWP) (950-1250 AD) and the Little Ice Age (LIA) (1400-1800 AD). Organic geochemistry is a promising tool for improving our understanding of the SPCZ. To determine past variations we use hydrogen isotope ratios (2H/1H) of specific lipids from lake sediments collected in 4 target regions of the SPCZ with different average modern rainfall rates (including the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Wallis, and Fiji). Lipid 2H/1H measurements can reveal past change because environmental water 2H/1H is linked to fluxes of water though the hydrologic cycle and lipid 2H/1H is almost perfectly correlated with source water 2H/1H. Since growth rate, growth stage, salinity, and irradiance can influence lipid 2H/1H fractionation, duplicate records from unique freshwater lakes in each distinct region of the SPCZ will be developed. However, it is crucial to continue to develop age models for these sediment cores in order to properly interpret the climate records we generate. The objective of this project is to improve preliminary age models of several sediment cores from the SPCZ region. Completely dating (with 6-10 14C and 6-10 210Pb samples for a profile) cores that currently have sound preliminary age models is our priority. Developing age models for currently undated cores will be pursued as needed from the most promising sites to ensure duplicate records from each target region are completed. Generating records from 2 unique lakes from each of the 4 regions is the best way to ensure our interpretation of the climate signal is not influenced by local parameters (i.e. growth and light). Due to high accumulation rates in many of the SPCZ lake sites, age models based solely on 14C dates are not appropriate for many our cores, which have a significant amount of sediment that accumulated after 1900 AD. Therefore, in addition to using 14C dates, sediment chronologies will be augmented by modeling the decay profiles of unsupported lead-210 (210Pb) in the upper ~20-100 cm of sediment. Typically lipid 2H/1H analysis can yield qualitative information about wetter versus drier periods. Once strong age models are obtained and compound specific 2H/1H measurements are complete, this project will result in the 1st quantitative late Holocene hydroclimate reconstructions from this understudied region of the maritime tropics. In order to generate quantitative records of rainfall rates in the SPCZ region we have analyzed surface sediment samples from 18 lakes in 13 locations and found that the isotopic composition of the biomarker dinosterol is well correlated with modern rainfall rate. Generating records from multiple distinct sites in and around the SPCZ will allow us to characterize how this major precipitation feature changed in the past.

  • 2013-14 Awarded Project | |
    • Dave Montgomery, Member

    Tibet Moraines Project

    Project summary
    From dating of lake sediments from a QRC trip to NE India, it is clear there were historical floods (e.g., 750 AD), and from the Chinese dating it is clear there were several earlier ones during the Pleistocene. In 2004, samples were collected that allowed dating the times during which there may have been major ice dams across the Yarlong Tsangpo, but most of these samples have not been analyzed as the chronology of glacial damming was outside of the scope of the project that supported the fieldwork. The QRC trip to NE India collected samples of flood deposits that have been dated to the time of the most recent Tibetan lake sediments. This project proposed to date the remaining samples from Tibet using cosmic ray exposure analysis with Be-10 for boulders sampled from moraines and OSL for sands from lake sediment exposures. These data will provide a much-enlarged chronology of ancient glacial river damming (and thus outburst flooding) events that will be of great use for an ongoing project (Huntington/Montgomery) dating the Tsangpo flood deposits in NE India. The goal is to combine our existing dates on Tibetan lake sediments and dated moraine dams collected by Gillespie, Montgomery, and Henck, with downstream flood deposits collected by Larson, Montgomery, and Huntington to write a group QRC paper that ties these observations together (through the dates) and sets the stage for further work in the region.

  • 2015-16 Awarded Project | |
    • Sarah Schanz

    River incision driven by changes to woody debris and sediment retention

    The proposed project uses field observations, dating, and numerical dating to investigate the short- and long-term effect of sediment retention on river incision and landscape evolution. River incision is thought to be controlled by the balance of sediment supply and transport capacity, with the largest changes in incision rates occurring at glacial-interglacial transitions (e.g., Hancock and Anderson, 2002; Turowski et al., 2007; 2008; Yanites and Tucker, 2010). However, the current framework only considers the transport of sediment and does not take into account any impediments to transport – such as large woody debris (LWD) jams and rockfall – that retain sediment on the riverbed. During enhanced sediment retention, bedrock is protected from erosion by a thick sediment cover (Sklar and Dietrich, 2001); reduced retention will have the opposite impact and promote incision. Such an effect has been noted in streams containing LWD wherein bedrock streams are converted to alluvial by the added retention (Montgomery et al., 1996; Massong and Montgomery, 2000; Faustini and Jones, 2003). Although the conversion of bed-cover has been noted, it is unclear how sediment retention will affect river incision rates. Can a sudden decrease in sediment retention result in significant incision? If so, is the effect of varying retention strong enough to leave a morphologic signature over the Quaternary? We are particularly interested in sediment retention’s impact on strath terrace formation. Strath, or bedrock, terraces are often used to infer Quaternary rates of tectonic deformation (e.g. Personius, 1993; Merritts et al., 1994; Lave and Avouac, 2001); if sediment retention can affect incision rates, then we need to consider changes to sediment retention before making inferences regarding tectonic strain.

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