Laura Peterson co-authors ocean-temperature paper published in Science

July 12, 2010

Laura Peterson, Luther College assistant professor of environmental studies, is the co-author of "Tropical Ocean Temperatures Over the Past 3.5 Million Years," a research paper published in the June 18 issue of the journal Science.

The paper explains the findings of a research project led by Brown University in which Peterson participated. The research team's discoveries that suggest that fluctuating carbon dioxide levels explain why temperatures in tropical oceans and arctic waters have changed together for the past 2.7 million years.

 The research team analyzed cores taken from the seabed at four locations in tropical oceans: the Arabian Sea, the South China Sea, the eastern Pacific Ocean and the equatorial Atlantic Ocean.

Analysis of the cores showed that climate patterns in the tropics have mirrored Ice Age cycles for the last 2.7 million years and the researchers propose that carbon dioxide has played a leading role in determining global climate patterns.

Researchers zeroed in on tropical ocean surface temperatures because these vast bodies, which make up roughly half of the world's oceans, orchestrate the amount of water in the air and rainfall patterns worldwide, as well as the concentration of water vapor, according to a Brown University release.

The research team consisted of scientists from Luther College, Brown University, Lafayette College and the University of Hong Kong.

The U.S. National Science Foundation and the Evolving Earth Foundation funded the research. The cores came from the Ocean Drilling Program, sponsored by the NSF and the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program.

Peterson holds the bachelor of arts degree in geology from Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., and the master of science and Ph. D in geological sciences from Brown University in Providence, R.I.

Before teaching at Luther, Peterson was a teaching assistant in Carleton College's Department for Geology and for Brown University's Department of Geological Sciences.