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Jessica Oster '03 One of Three Oberlin Fulbright Winners

by Sue Angell

Cambria Hamburg and Ethan Bair, both seniors, were also awarded the presitigious Fulbright Scholarship this year. Read more.

Lead Image: Katie Solander APRIL 23, 2003--After one of the worst winters in recent years, meteorologists and other weather aficionados are looking for clues to answer the question on everyone's lips: was this weather normal? Or are we heading toward a period of extreme weather conditions?

To help answer this question, scientists are looking to the past. Enter the paleoclimatologist, a specialist who studies the history of Earth's weather systems as a way to understand fluctuations in the Earth's climate.

Jessica Oster '03 has been examining these questions for the past two years. A geology major, she was recently awarded a Fulbright Scholarship, which will finance a year of graduate study at Lund University in Sweden, where she will be working on various projects with members of the university's Quaternary Department.

"Sweden's landscape is interesting because it is was covered by glaciers as recently as 10,000 years ago," Oster says. "By studying this topography, we can learn a lot about the Earth's climate patterns."

During her research at Oberlin (which began as a summer REU, or Research Experience for Undergraduates, at the University of Minnesota), Oster has been studying a stalagmite that contains unusual amounts of the element strontium. She has been working to define the cause of the strontium signals, which will hopefully reveal a picture of the the weather in central North America during the era that the stalagmite formed.

"The strontium record in this stalagmite could reveal patterns in mid-continental rainfall," says Oster. "I'm trying to determine whether these patterns occurred on a seasonal or yearly scale. Once I figure that out, I hope to compare these cycles to today's weather patterns."

Working with the stalagmite is challenging; Oster is attempting to identify high-resolution, small-scale changes rather than changes that have occurred over a millenium. However difficult, studies of this kind can help scientists understand global warming in a broader sense and identify changes in the Earth's climate that are cyclical, rather than those that are caused by humans.

"Jessica is one of the few students I've met while teaching here who came in knowing that she wanted to be a geology major," says Assistant Professor of Geology Karla Parsons Hubbard. "She's had the ability to take the information from the program's core courses, branch off, and apply it to her own research."

While Oster's research at Oberlin has been significant, she is interested in learning even more about paleoclimatology. Her research up until now has focused exclusively on trace elements that can be found in cave materials, but she is eager to begin studying other techniques.

"There are so many ways to study paleoclimatology," Oster says. "I think I will always remain interested in studying cave materials, because so little has been done to flesh out the terrestrial paleoclimate record. But for now, I'm eager to broaden my knowledge and solidify my plans for graduate school."

The Fulbright Scholars Program enables U.S. students, artists, and other professionals to conduct independent research in more than 140 nations, funding their studies for up to one year after graduation. Congress has provided funding for the Fulbright Program since 1946, fostering mutual understanding among nations through educational and cultural exchanges and providing an alternative to armed conflict.

Christian Warner '02 received the Fulbright Grant last year. Oberlin had two Fulbright recipients in 2001: Tami Blumenfield '00 traveled to China's Yunan Province, where she studied bilingual education among the Moso people; and Sabrina Rahman '01 studied Jewish contributions to art, literature, and culture in early twentieth-century Austria at the University of Vienna, and taught English at a secondary school. There have been 38 Oberlin winners of the Fulbright Grant since 1980.




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