Drilling through 3 million years of Earth’s history in the Mediterranean by Jack Lacey

Meet Jack. A PhD student from University of Leicester looking into 3 million years of the Earths history. His BGS sponsored PhD is part of a multi-million dollar campaign to investigate the evolution and climate of Lake Ohrid through the drilling and recovery of a 750 meter-long sediment core. Amazingly that's the length of 90 double decker buses or 37 cricket pitches!! Here Jack introduces the project and explains what he'll be up to over the next few months (and years):

The Project

Lake Ohrid is on the border between Macedonia and Albania within the central-northern Mediterranean. It is thought to be one of Europe’s oldest lakes, forming around 3 million years ago, and has over 200 species that are found nowhere else. This makes it the most biologically diverse lake in the world, when lake size is taken into account. 

Lake Ohrid is on the border between Macedonia and Albania within the central-northern Mediterranean

The lake is being investigated to look at links between evolution and climate over its extended lifetime. This is going to be done by drilling a core from the centre of the lake where thick, undisturbed sediments have built up. The core will be analysed for a number of different aspects including its isotope geochemistry, volcanic tephra and fossil content. This will enable us to reconstruct the past climate of the area and to see if any links between rapid breaks in environmental conditions and biological evolution exist. 

Furthermore, a 3 million year climate record will be one of the longest land-based data sets recovered to date. Such a record will provide valuable information towards a regional picture of the Mediterranean over the time period. This covers several warm intervals, which not only may have driven evolution, but act as analogues for a future warming world. The time frame and location also coincide with initial human migration pathways and may add detail to the ‘Out of Africa’ hypothesis.   

The SCOPSCO project (Scientific Collaboration on Past Speciation Conditions in Ohrid) is funded by several sources, including the German Research Foundation (DFG), the British Geological Survey and the International Continental Scientific Drilling Program (ICDP)  . It will involve a multi-disciplinary team of 70 scientists from 10 institutions worldwide.

The PhD

My PhD involves analysing the recovered core for its isotopic and geochemical variations. From this I will be able to reconstruct past climatic and lake conditions, feeding this information back into SCOPSCO to enable the collaboration to meet its research objectives.

As the core hasn’t actually been drilled yet (a whole other story!), since starting the PhD 6 months ago I have been working on a 10 meter “short” core recovered from Ohrid in Summer 2011. So far this has mainly involved preparing samples for several analysis techniques. In total the analysis amounts to 1390 samples – for a 10 meter core! Take a moment and remember the main core will be over 750 meters; I’ve got my work cut out over the next few years! 

The PhD is supervised by Prof. Melanie Leng and Prof. Randall Parrish (University of Leicester/BGS) and Dr. Bernd Wagner (University of Cologne). It is funded by the BGS University Funding Initiative (BUFI). 

Twitter @jackabus87)