By |  Ilian DeCorte ’15
Southampton, Pa.

I went down expecting to examine carbonate rocks and found myself studying sharks, turtles, rays, manatees, fish, and much more.

As part of a team of Keck Consortium researchers, I spent two-and-a-half weeks on the island of San Pedro, off the coast of Belize, living at a small research station and commuting daily by boat to the second largest barrier reef in the world. We were investigating why elkhorn coral, which has been dying off in the Caribbean since the 1980’s, seems to be thriving at locations in Belize.

My fieldwork consisted of twice-daily scuba dives as part of a team of 11 student researchers and three professors, including Macalester geology professor Karl Wirth. I went down expecting to examine carbonate rocks and found myself studying sharks, turtles, rays, manatees, fish, and much more.

My personal research is a paleoclimatological, geochemical analysis of coral cores to learn more about how regional climate patterns affect coral micro-environments. I am using stable isotope and elemental analyses as proxies for recording climate patterns over the past 15–20 years at three separate sites in Belize.

Upon leaving Belize, we spent 10 days at Washington and Lee University doing further analysis. I will be continuing this project as a yearlong honors thesis with Professor Wirth as my primary advisor.

This research is important because it may give clues to the conditions that important framework corals need to survive. In turn, this can help restore prosperous conditions for the local human and nonhuman animal populations that rely on this crucial coral species.

I would never have had this opportunity without the support of my professors at Macalester. First, I took the class Paleoclimate with Professor Louisa Bradtmiller. This gave me the foundational knowledge for my research project and introduced me to a new field. Professor Kelly MacGregor was instrumental in encouraging me to apply for the internship and helping me secure the necessary funding. Professor Karl Wirth helped lead the fieldwork in Belize and will serve as my senior honors thesis advisor based on the project. I am deeply grateful to them all for providing me with this incredible opportunity.

At Macalester, professors do everything possible to give you the opportunity to achieve your goals. Macalester also has an extraordinarily cooperative learning environment. Science majors depend on one another in the learning process, which produces higher quality work and sets students up to be productive scientists in the research teams of the future.


November 18 2014

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