Buried beneath the frozen tundra of Canada’s northwest lies a prehistoric lake, once lush with palm trees and tropical sponges. It is Connecticut College professor Peter Siver’s mission to learn what happened to it.
The key to understanding that, he says, is a 163-meter spear of solidified magma that an Australian mining company dug up in search of diamonds. Last week, Siver received a a $226,763 grant from the National Science Foundation to continue studying the rock core, which is riddled with fossilized algae that Siver believes could tell the story of the lake and the region’s past climate.
This is the third National Science Foundation award that Siver, the director of Connecticut College’s environmental studies program, has received to study the core, totaling more than $900,000 in grants. The most recent grant will help six Connecticut College students spend a summer working with Siver on the core.
In the 1990s, a quest for diamonds brought Australian mining giant BHP Billiton to the frostbitten reaches of Canada’s Northwest Territories, where they extracted a 163-meter cylinder of kimberlite rock from deep below the Earth’s surface. Long ago, the kimberlite was molten and floating in the mantle, Siver said, but some of it seeped through a crack in the Earth’s crust, thrusting the molten rock up to the surface.
BHP was hoping the kimberlite contained diamonds. But the cylinder was solid rock; it was, in their estimation, worthless.
Siver didn’t hear about the kimberlite core until 2005, when Alex Wolfe, a paleobiology professor at the University of Alberta, approached him at a conference in Florida. He told Siver he’d…
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