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New York State Museum Scientists Conduct Fieldwork in Tompkins County this Fall

This fall State Museum scientists will join staff from the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and Cornell University to conduct fieldwork into the Ice Age landscape of the Ithaca, NY area.

The scientists will core as deep as 700 feet underground and collect samples of sediment. These sediment samples are the record of glaciers advancing and retreating into New York during the Pleistocene (Ice Age). But what is core? Cores are cylindrical samples of rock and sediment that can be collected using a hollow drill bit. By collecting core, geologists can see the type of sediment and rock they are drilling through and have sample material to use in laboratory research.

The core is important because the existing subsurface data from the area is based on drilling conducted in the 1800s with now-outdated tools. The new cores drilled this fall are part of an ongoing surficial geologic mapping project and a collaborative research project with State Parks to learn more about the Ice Age glacial history of Buttermilk Falls State Park. The coring site location is near the end of West Buttermilk Falls Road on State Park property.

This coring project is an important and unprecedented opportunity for the New York State Museum and our partners to learn about the geology of the Finger Lakes. Scientists will collect important data on the geologic framework of the area with the potential to recover materials that could be suitable to radiocarbon dating. Upon completion, this core and others collected in Tompkins County will provide high resolution geologic data for officials to utilize when making decisions about how to manage and protect groundwater and natural resources. The data collected in this project will also provide a critical anchor point in developing a regional stratigraphic model on the glacial history of central New York.

The core retrieved will be added to the Museum’s Quaternary Landscape Materials (QLM) collection initiated in 2015 that currently contains more than 15 continuous cores of Pleistocene stratigraphy from central New York. The New York State Museum is the only scientific repository for a collection of this kind in the northeastern United States. Core is a valuable asset to geologists and scientists around the world because it represents a physical record of the natural history of the region and can help create stratigraphic diagrams and geologic maps. One of the most important elements of the core is the recovery of plant fossils that can be radiocarbon dated. Due to multiple glaciations across the Great Lakes Region over the last 2 million years, the geologic record is very complex. The plants can tell us about the climate and ecosystems during interglacial periods (ice-free warm periods) that occurred between glacial periods. The fossils also can be used by future researchers using new techniques still in development.