Professor Erik GulbransonEnvironment, Geography, and Earth Sciences Department Faculty
Posted on November 22nd, 2022 by

“In one of the coldest places on Earth—and 250 million years in the past—he predicts the future of our planet.”

Oppressive cold. Deafening silence. Never ending day (or night). Low atmospheric pressure that warps the human body.

Nevertheless, Professor Gulbranson and his international colleagues have ventured to Antarctica five times over the past decade to study its ancient history in the hopes of predicting our future under climate change.

“We call Antarctica ‘the ice,’” he says. But turn back the clock 250 million years, and the glaciers we know today give way to forests of wildlife. Gulbranson’s mission is to find fossil records of that bygone age, in often daring fashion. Whether he’s working at 13,000-foot elevations or jumping out of moving helicopters, every day is an adventure.

“I completely fell in love with working down there; there’s no experience that parallels it,” he says.

Gulbranson’s team is the first group in the world to use tree ring dating on fossilized trees from Antarctica. Before, scientists had to generalize climate data across centuries or millennia, but tree rings provide “an unprecedented perspective on paleoclimate,” he says.

He and his colleagues spend months collecting fossils from a lone campsite. In a place cold enough to freeze cooking oil, everyday tasks take on new challenges. One surprising comfort: SMS messaging.

Aside from texting friends and family, Gulbranson’s teammates are his only human connections. “We’re totally reliant on each other,” he says, which has led to close bonds even in the most isolating place on Earth.

The same can’t be said for Gustavus, where he’s discovered “a really unique cohort of students and wonderful undergraduate researchers.

“I couldn’t imagine a better climate to work in.”


Comments are closed.