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UAlbany Paleoclimate Lab Research Receives Nearly $800,000 in NSF Funding

By Vince Gasparini | September 18, 2023

The University at Albany’s Paleoclimate Lab, located at the Emerging Technology and Entrepreneurship Complex (ETEC), received nearly $800,000 in funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) this past summer. The lab, led by Sujata Murty and Aubrey Hillman, looks to study climate change throughout Earth’s history.

UAlbany’s Emerging Technology and Entrepreneurship Complex (ETEC).

Murty, an assistant professor in the Department of Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences (DAES), received $339,771 from the NSF towards analyzing coral samples from the Red Sea. Hillman, who is also an assistant professor in the DAES received $417,242 towards research to create a 50,000 year record of the Indian summer monsoon, using lake sediment from Loktok Lake in Northeast India to collect the data.

Murty and Hillman look to be able to use the data they collect with the help of the grant to better understand both present and future patterns of climate change.

“Good observational data sets have only existed for maybe 30 or 40 years,” Murty said. “So how do we put what’s happening now with human induced warming in the context of natural climate variability? We need to have a different source of data other than satellites to give us that long term context, and so that’s where the corals and the lake sediments come in.”

Murty will be using her grant to reconstruct how climate is influencing ocean circulation in the Red Sea, which is connected to the Indian Ocean. Murty says this will help better understand oceanographic processes and how climate is influencing the Indian Ocean, where there is currently no foundational or fundamental data about that ocean basin. This data will also help researchers better understand rainfall and evaporation patterns in the Middle East.

Hillman looks to use her grant to research how the Indian summer monsoon has varied over long time scales.

“About 80 to 90 percent of annual precipitation falls in the months of June, July, and August in India and a wide portion of Asia,” Hillman said. “We know that that monsoon is probably going to change in the face of increased greenhouse gasses and increased global temperatures, and so the question is how is it going to change and what is the magnitude?”

Hillman’s research team for this project includes collaborators from University of Pittsburgh, Washington University in St. Louis, and Manipur University in India, which she says will bring about opportunities for international collaboration for her graduate students. Hillman also said that the grant will now help her to be able to pay her students to do their work in the lab full time.

“We’re exchanging a lot of ideas,” Hillman said. “And I think it’s going to be really important for the growth of not just students here but also in India that we exchange ideas and we learn from each other and we understand a lot more about what each of us knows about the monsoon.”

Murty’s grant has helped her to support her PhD student, and she says that her grant will also support undergraduate students to get hands-on research experience before they graduate. She is also collaborating with researchers from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, which is one of the largest oceanographic institutions in the world.

“It’s a really great connection for my students to have if they want to stay in oceanography moving forward,” Murty said.

The funding from the NSF has also gone towards paying for supplies and materials that will be used by researchers in the lab. As climate change is a global problem, the research that Murty and Hillman are doing will be extremely important going forward in order to better understand our planet’s climate.


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