Teaching & Outreach

UB faculty and students collecting a sediment core from a frozen bog in western New York. We're studying pollen and biomarkers in these sediments to determine past temperature, precipitation, and ecosystem changes.

Image of varves (annually laminated sediments) from a proglacial lake on Baffin Island, Arctic Canada. Red ticks are 1 mm. At this site, we used varve thickness to infer temperature for the past millennium.

Chironomid head capsulesChironomid (non-biting midge larva) head capsules photographed at ~40x power. We use these insect fossils, preserved in lake sediments, to reconstruct past climate.

Undergraduate Student Opportunities with the UB Paleoclimate Dynamics Research Team

We're looking for an undergraduate student researcher to join our team!

Application review will begin April 19, 2024, with decisions by early May.

Ideal schedule is: full-time in summer 2024 (~late May to late August).
We are especially interested in bringing in someone who can be a member of our team for a full year or more.
Apply even if your schedule doesn't fit this perfectly!

This is a paid opportunity, with the expectation that the student researcher will work 30 to 40 hours per week, between the hours of 8am and 5pm (exact times and training to be arranged with Nancy Leon, lab manager and Dr. Thomas, lab director).

The undergrad researcher will join our weekly group meetings and will work closely with a graduate student on a research project of their own. Most of our student researchers present their findings at a conference, and some are coauthors on manuscripts resulting from their research. You don't need prior experience in this field.

Traits we look for when hiring undergrad team members include:
initiative, comfort with asking questions, strong time management and communication skills, and excitement and interest to learn more about the science (climate change! the Arctic! isotopes! atmospheric circulation! lakes! biology! coding!)

Undergrad research tasks may include water sample collection and analysis, organic geochemical sample preparation and analysis, data analysis and interpretation, and running sensitivity tests of lake water and energy balance models (in python).

To apply for this undergrad researcher position:
Send an email to Nancy (nleon@buffalo.edu) by 5 pm on Friday, April 19, 2024 with the following information:
a 100-word description of why you're a great fit for this position,
a 50-word description of what you'd like to learn from this experience,
your CV or resume,
your planned major and graduation date,
the dates when you would be available to work.

We're hiring a Postdoc!

The Paleoclimate Dynamics Lab in the Department of Geology at the University at Buffalo is seeking applications for a Postdoctoral Associate to join an NSF-funded interdisciplinary project to explore rapid climate change in Southeast Alaska by combining paleoclimate proxies and models. The Postdoctoral Research Associate will be based in the Geology Department at the University at Buffalo and will collaborate closely with grant partners. UB is a global leader in interdisciplinary polar climate research and in climate action. Application review is ongoing.

Job duties and responsibilities include:
Generate and interpret, using traditional frameworks and proxy system models, lipid biomarker and compound-specific stable isotope records from lakes in Alaska and Greenland.
Along with the rest of the project team, the postdocs will improve understanding of the mechanisms behind Arctic climate, ice sheet, and ecosystem responses to rapid warming.

Apply here: https://www.ubjobs.buffalo.edu/postings/45745
plications accepted now, position open until filled.

Graduate Student Opportunities

I'm seeking a PhD student to join my team in Summer or Fall 2025.

If you're interested in studying Arctic and mid-latitude paleoclimate and the water cycle, especially via field work, biomarkers, light stable isotopes, and/or models,
apply to join my team here: arts-sciences.buffalo.edu/geology/apply.html
UB Geology does not require GRE for graduate admissions!
Apply by November 15 for consideration for University at Buffalo Fellowships (PhD applicant only)

When you apply, let me know you've done so via email: ekthomas at buffalo dot edu. In your email, please describe your interests and background, and attach your CV.

I seek highly motivated team members with excellent communication skills in English (written and oral), and with experience with, or a strong interest in developing skills in, geochemistry, climate dynamics, and numerical modeling and scientific programming skills.

I encourage candidates from groups underrepresented in the geosciences (including, but not limited to, black, indigenous, and people of color) to apply; I am committed to creating an inclusive environment where all team members can learn and excel.

When evaluating graduate applications, I focus primarily on a student's written statement and on the reference letters. Here are some criteria that can be good predictors of success in graduate school, and that I look for evidence of in applications:

  • perseverance
  • independence
  • curiosity
  • creativity
  • making the most of available opportunities (broadly speaking: work, research, courses, clubs, coaching, etc)
  • work ethic
  • engagement
  • ability to complete tasks
  • time management
  • ability to work in teams
  • writing efficiency
  • writing capability
  • analytical skills/experience
  • strong performance and/or demonstrated improvement through time in science & math courses

New team members (postdoc, grad, & undergrad) would work on some combination of the following funded projects:

Project 1:
Integrating paleogenomics, ecology, and geology to  predict organism-environment coupled evolution during rapid warming and ice sheet retreat
This highly interdisciplinary and collaborative project is funded by a 4-year National  Science Foundation, Understanding the Rules of Life - Emergent Networks award. The project  will study Late Pleistocene-Holocene climate and ecological change during rapid warming  events in Southeast Alaska. Students and postdocs will join a team of two biology  (Charlotte Lindqvist and Corey Krabbenhoft) and two Earth Science (Jason Briner and Elizabeth  Thomas) professors at the University at Buffalo, New York, with cross-disciplinary expertise in  evolutionary biology, paleogenomics, ecology, geology, and paleoclimatology. All participants will be involved with extensive lab work, field work, and outreach in Southeast Alaska and cross-disciplinary project activities through project team meetings, journal  seminars, and workshops.

I am seeking to hire a postdoc and a PhD student to start in summer 2024 to:

  • develop age-depth models for lake sediment cores collected in Southeast Alaska
  • to reconstruct climate using geochemical and stable isotope proxies in lake sediments
  • conduct proxy system modeling to translate paleoclimate proxies in this region into variables native to climate models
  • synthesize and contextualize climate and ecosystem change in this region, using data gathered for this proejct and paleoclimate and paleoecology databases

Experience with pollen analysis is a plus. The PhD student will be trained as part of a cohort with two other PhD students on the team. The postdoc will collaborate closely with a postdoc doing sedimentary ancient DNA analyses in the same samples, and will take part in coordination and mentoring students, research and outreach activities, and course planning.

Project 2:
Exploring ancient Beringia to provide context for rapidly warming circumpolar regions
A National Geographic Society Explorer Grant provided a team from UB and The University of Alberta, led by Dr. Britta Jensen, a chance to study and collect samples from loess sections in central Alaska in summer 2019. These sections contain long records of past climate spanning multiple Plio-Pleistocene interglacial periods. I am seeking an MS student to analyze, interpret, and summarize results from these samples.

Research for this project includes:

  • collaboration with Dr. Jensen to interpret the stratigraphic framework of these samples,
  • lab work to generate temperature and precipitation records,
  • proxy system modeling to interpret proxy records,
  • potential for field work to collect sediment, plant, and water samples

Project 3:
CHARMinG: Climate, Hydrology, & Action for Rapid climate Mitigation in the Great lakes
CAREER: Back to the Future-Integrating Research on the Mid-latitude Climate Response to Rapid Warming with Experiential Curriculum that Turns Knowledge into Action
UB team: Rebecca Topness, MS student
This NSF-Paleoclimate-funded project aims to better understand the feedbacks, patterns, and processes associated with rapid warming in the Great Lakes Region AND that trains UB students in a project-based course to help local businesses reduce their carbon footprint. I am seeking an PhD student to join our team.

Research for this project includes:

  • monthly field work to collect sediment, plant, and water samples,
  • lab work to generate high-resolution temperature and precipitation records during periods of rapid warming,
  • set up and validation of a lake water and leaf wax proxy system model,
  • proxy system modeling to interpret proxy records,
  • synthesizing & analyzing existing proxy records,
  • working with the education team to implement & improve project-based curriculum for UB's Carbon Reduction Challenge course

Ongoing projects:

RAW: Rapid Arctic Warming
Patterns and processes of rapid Arctic warming based on paleoclimate observations and models

UB team: Sam Mark, Postdoc; Harleena Franklin PhD student; Michaela Fendrock NSF postdoctoral '22-'23; Hannah Holtzman MS '23
This NSF-ARCSS-funded interdisciplinary team at the University at Buffalo (UB) and Northern Arizona University (NAU) aims to better understand the feedbacks, patterns, and processes associated with rapid warming in the Arctic.

Research for this project includes:

  • lab work to generate records of temperature and precipitation change at six sites throughout the Arctic,
  • proxy system modeling to interpret proxy records,
  • collaboration with NAU team who will be synthesizing & analyzing existing proxy records and climate models,
  • semester-long exchanges between UB and NAU
  • outreach with UB's EarthEd Institute, a continuing education summer program for high school science teachers

GRate: Integrating data and modeling to quantify rates of Greenland Ice Sheet change, Holocene to future
UB team: Gerard Otiniano, Postdoc
We are part of an NSF-ARCSS-funded interdisciplinary team that aims to better understand past and future Greenland Ice Sheet change. The UB team is generating new Holocene paleoclimate records at sites around Greenland and synthesizing existing paleoclimate records for Holocene paleoclimate data assimilation by our collaborators at the University of Washington.

Research for this project entails a range of activities, including:

  • summer field work to collect sediment, plant, and water samples,
  • lab work to generate Holocene temperature and precipitation records,
  • set up and validation of a lake water and leaf wax proxy system model,
  • proxy system modeling to interpret proxy records,
  • collaboration with University of Washington team to synthesize & assimilate existing proxy records with climate models

From Nunavik to Iceland: Climate, Human and Culture through time across the coastal (sub) Arctic North Atlantic (NICH-Arctic)
UB team: Harleena Franklin, PhD student
A highly interdisciplinary and international team led by Anne de Vernal (UQAM) has been funded by the Belmont Forum to investigate the interactions between Arctic climate, human populations, and culture during the past several thousand years. The UB team is synthesizing existing paleoclimate proxy records for the North Atlantic region and using the resulting database to better understand late Holocene climate in this region.

PACEMAP: Predicting Arctic Change through Ecosystem MoleculAr Proxies
Ecosystem Response to a Warming Arctic: Deciphering the Past to Inform The Future

UB students: Kurt Lindberg, PhD student; Abigail Stressinger, BS '23; Devon Gorbey, PhD '23; Kayla Hollister MS '21
An interdisciplinary team from UB, CU Boulder, and University of Alaska Fairbanks is funded by NSF-ARCSS to understand the interactions between Arctic plant ecology, temperature, and precipitation during the Holocene and previous interglacials. We collected extensive modern samples and temperature data to calibrate the geochemical proxies that we use to reconstruct past climate. The UB team is using compound-specific isotopes to reconstruct past temperature and precipitation on Baffin Island & northern Québec. The UB team did field work in spring 2019, summer 2021, and summer 2022.

Precipitation Isotope patterns in a lake effect region
UB students: Haben Berhe, BS '23; Katie Lovell, BS '21; Kayla Hollister, BS '19; Megan Corcoran, BS '17
Lake effect precipitation is an important source of water for cities in the Great Lakes region, but large snowstorms can also wreak havoc and be extremely costly for cities. We collect event-based precipitation samples at several sites in New York State and are using the isotopic 'fingerprint' of recycled lake moisture to better understand what causes lake effect events.

Past projects:

SnowOnIce: Multi-proxy reconstruction of Greenland Holocene climate
Project website and a Blog post by Margie, our outreach coordinator
UB team: Allison Cluett, PhD '21; Megan Corcoran, MS '19; Amy Grogan, MS '20; Kayla Hollister, BS '19 MS '21
We worked with an NSF-ARCSS-funded interdisciplinary team of glacial geologists, glaciologists, climatologists, and ice sheet modelers from UB, Lamont, University of Washington, University of Montana, University of California Irvine, and NASA JPL to understand the interactions between Arctic sea ice, precipitation, and Greenland ice sheet mass balance. My group's portion of the project used compound-specific organic geochemical proxies to reconstruct past temperature and precipitation on western Greenland. Field work to collect lake sediment and rock samples with our interdisciplinary team took place summers 2016, 2017, and 2018. Photos of our field work.

Reconstructing environmental and biological changes during the Ordovician mass extinction
UB team: Nathan Marshall BS '18, Arden Croft MS '21, Jiawei Jiang MS '21
We are collaborating with paleontologist and SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor Dr. Chuck Mitchell to use biomarkers to determine the environmental changes that occurred in the surface ocean during major ecological turnover events in the Ordovician, 450 Million years ago.

Multi-proxy reconstruction of Eurasian climate for the past 30 kyr
UB team: Owen Cowling MS '18
In collaboration with Norwegian and German colleagues, my group used leaf wax isotopes and biomarkers from lake sediments to reconstruct temperature and precipitation in Norway and Russia.

Leaf wax hydrogen isotope seasonality
With funding from the Great Lakes Research Consortium, we collected samples from ponds in Central New York to understand the modern systematics of leaf wax hydrogen isotope proxies.

Precipitation and its seasonality in the Asian monsoon region
Precipitation in Asia is incredibly complex. For my PhD work, I studied how precipitation seasonality along a latitudinal gradient in East Asia changed on orbital timescales.


UB Geosciences offers an excellent graduate program with a long history in paleoclimatology. Buffalo is a great place to live: a bike-friendly city, with fun bars, restaurants, arts, and lots of outdoor activities.

South China Sea Leaf Waxes

A gas chromatogram of a 100,000 year old sample from the South China Sea containing leaf waxes. The peaks represent compounds with different chain lengths (this sample has leaf waxes ranging from 20 to 33 carbons long). We can use the chain lengths to infer plant ecosystem changes, and hydrogen isotopes of the specific compounds to infer past precipitation changes.