Bergen County Student Contributes to Study of Changing Sea Levels

Liliette Quintana is getting an early start on her college science courses by serving as an intern at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Science Observatory.

Officials say this member of the Academy of the Holy Angels Class of 2020 has been working with a team that is studying a 12,000-year-old, sand-covered peat bog in the Atlantic Ocean, off Long Island’s coast. The team is researching sediment cores to determine previous sea levels and climate conditions.

“I am interested in how paleoclimate, sea level, and environmental science in general because of how significant it is that we can use science to model the past as well as the future,” the Midland Park resident explained.

“I find it so interesting that, in science, you can find out so many aspects of the world through analyzing parts of life we often overlook, like clay, or elements of nature we can’t even see clearly with a naked eye, like microfossils.

I’m fascinated by the way this field is also relevant in today’s climate crisis and how increasingly pertinent environmental issues have become.

Although I plan on becoming a physician, environmental issues are relevant in public health terms as well, and I think this is a field that benefits everyone.”

This spring, Quintana was due to present her research at the Northeastern Geological Society of America Conference. When the event was canceled due to the coronavirus outbreak, the information was posted on a live Twitter event.

Quintana is the only high school student involved in this study. Collaborators include Clara Chang, Sean Kinney, Dorothy Peteet, Linda Heusser, and Jonathon Nichols from Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory and Columbia University. Peteet is also affiliated with NASA/GISS.

Quintana became an intern after she contacted graduate student Clara Chang. The two discussed Chang’s work and Quintana expressed an interest in getting involved. Quintana then met with Chang and Ph.D. candidate Sean Kinney at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, New York, to review some options.

Quintana found her project when Chang introduced her to the study of Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management’s cores.

Although the peat deposits had not been closely examined since the 1970s, the samples allow scientists to develop models of how sea level has changed over time.

According to Quintana’s presentation, fishermen who have been trawling for scallops near Long Island have been aware of the peat deposits since the beginning of the 20th century.

Scientists say some of the peat contains mammoth teeth and tree trunks, which indicate that sea level was once significantly lower.

Quintana performed loss on ignition experiments, which involve drying and heating samples to a particular temperature to burn off the organic content.

The mass lost from the sample after the test indicates the organic content of the material. In this case, LOI testing showed the peat is close to 80% organic matter. Grain size analyses show the sand deposits are homogenous.

“There is further study required, such as macrofossil radiocarbon dating and pollen analysis,” Quintana said. “This is to get a more accurate idea of the paleoenvironment for the core and more exact dates for the peat layers.

The sea level was once lower in this area and fluctuated, but further study is needed in order to figure out what caused this change, such as evidence of a significant storm.” The latest examination of the BOEM cores could help to improve sea level and flood models for both North America and Europe.

This fall, Quintana will attend Barnard College. She plans to double major in neuroscience and either environmental science or biology.

“I will be on the pre-medicine track and plan on going to medical school after college. I will be continuing my position at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory during my time at Barnard College.”