Kimberly Bowman: Geology Major Focuses On Climate Change

Kimberly Bowman

Here, in her own words, geology major Kimberly Bowman '20 describes how she discovered her passion for studying climate change.

Living in California for my entire life has given me an appreciation for how varied its environment is. I always wanted to learn more about the world around me; how did all these things that I could see and touch come to be? As a child, I loved learning about geology, meteorology, and astronomy, as they were both fascinating and easy to experience. I always knew that I wanted to go to college and study science, though it wasn’t so simple in reality. I have always been employed while in college to support myself and had generally struggled with choosing a major/focus. Before transferring to UC Davis, I spent seven years at junior colleges as I divided my time between work and school and learned what I wanted to do. Five of these years were spent at Santa Rosa Junior College in my longtime home of Sonoma County, where Bodega Marine Laboratory (BML) is also located. By the end of these seven years, I had gone through my own journey of self-discovery and found myself drawn to climate change.

Undergraduate Research at Bodega Lab

I discovered the Bodega Marine Laboratory and Professor Tessa Hill’s paleoclimate research shortly before transferring and knew right away that I wanted to be involved. Coming back to my home in Sonoma County this past summer to study oceanography at BML was very rewarding. The class informality and discussion-based learning encouraged us to think critically, but freely, about our studies. Conversations with anyone, whether it was staff, faculty, or other students, felt collaborative and comfortable. The purpose of being at BML wasn’t to find all the correct answers, but instead to be curious, explore interesting ideas, and to think about why we observed the phenomena we saw. The instructors showed that the oceanography was highly interdisciplinary and did not fit neatly into any one subject. By nature, this subject emphasizes collaboration and interaction with people from different backgrounds. As a lone geology major amongst a class of environmental scientists and biologists, I saw how we each had much to learn from each other. We cannot be expected to know everything as we each move forward in our educations and careers, however our specializations and collaboration help to broaden our understanding of what it is that we each do. For me, I was curious to know how climate change was studied across disciplines and not just in the areas of greatest interest for me.

Like oceanography, climate change as a subject is very interdisciplinary and comes in many different, but related, forms. Our understanding of climate change comes from geochemical, atmospheric, and of course, oceanographic, studies, to name a few. I had some understanding of how these things were related, as I had taken paleoclimate and oceanography courses at UC Davis before coming to BML, but I wasn’t quite sure how I wanted to focus on climate change to meet my own academic goals. My goals at BML were mainly exploratory, to learn how I could apply what I had learned to research and refine my academic goals moving forward. Doing research in the Hill Lab gave me an opportunity to see how research in paleoceanography links to climate change.

Deciphering Climate History From Tiny Shells

My research project consisted of studying the relative abundances of foraminifera, or forams, to reconstruct paleoceanographic change off the coast of southern California during the Holocene. Studying forams is one of the major ways in which paleoceanographic and paleoclimate research is conducted, as they provide clues to environmental changes in their shell chemistry or relative abundances. Forams use materials from the water to create calcium carbonate shells, preserving the state of the ocean at that time. When they die, their shells are preserved as microfossils in the seafloor sediment and become an important natural record, or proxy, for environmental change. Studying past climates and environments provides context for modern climate change and Holocene paleoclimate research in general can help us know what to expect in the future.

 These forams, and the paleoclimate work that I love so much, remind me that all things change and that there is always more that we can learn and do. It is by understanding our past that we know why we are where we are now and from which we may have insight for the future. I am grateful to the BML community for the opportunity to learn more about oceanography, to take what I had learned to conduct a research project, and for allowing me to grow as an aspiring researcher.

— Kimberly Bowman, geology, '20, for the Ocean Climate Lab student blog