QUEST workshop at Waikato University

From 9 to 11 September 2019, the Waikato University QUEST partner organized a workshop on Quantitative palaeoclimate reconstructions using speleothems in the Avantidrome, Cambride (New Zealand). QUEST project partners as scientists from the field were invited to share progress and prospects beyond the timeline of the existing QUEST funding. Up to 15 scientists participated and presented and discussed updates of their research. Highlight was the presentation of a new prototype of an auto-sampler. The last day of workshop led to the Waipuna cave, with intensive sampling and in-situ measurements of drip water.

A night of fun-filled exploration: Project QUEST at the long night of science

On Saturday 15th June, the QUEST team (Norbert Marwan, Sebastian Breitenbach, Ola Kwiecien, Bedartha Goswami, Cinthya Nava Fernandez and Adam Hartland) contributed to the “Lange Nacht der Wissenschaften” or “Long Night of Science” at the Postdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. Members of the public, young and old, enjoyed a series of interactive activities; learning about speleothems, cave science, exploration and climate, as well as the broader objectives of our interdisciplinary effort to quantify past environmental change from speleothems. Children had the opportunity to dress up as a caver, see a stalagmite forming before their eyes, handle real speleothems and an array of other activities; earning a stamp in their workbooks and a bat-shaped cookie for their efforts! The team put in a huge effort and by the close of the night (midnight), were thoroughly tired but pleased with the interest and response from visitors. Aside from the QUEST exhibit, which seemed particularly popular, the long night afforded an incredibly diverse and interesting range of experiences for visitors to the Wissenschaftspark Albert Einstein. As the evening closed a large number of visitors still milled through the exhibits, perhaps pausing to enjoy a drink and a snack, and listening to live musical performances by moonlight.

Climate-control box at the University of Waikato

Max working at the climate-control box ‘GeoMIC’.
Max working at the climate-control box ‘GeoMIC’ at the University of Waikato.

The development of a climate-control box at the University of Waikato (based on the prototype at JGU, Mainz) has made significant progress. This box, christened ‘GeoMIC’ (Geochemistry, Mineralogy, Isotopes and Climate), is a state-of-the-art climate-control box designed to provide QUEST researchers with a chamber of strictly-controlled atmosphere in which a wide range of laboratory experiments in geochemistry, mineralogy and climate science can be run. The box has been designed and constructed primarily by Dr. Adam Hartland and two technicians, in collaboration with Max Hansen (JGU) who spent a month visiting the University of Waikato in mid-2018. Max provided useful insights and advice during the construction of GeoMIC and the design of the first experiments to be run within the box.

GeoMIC will be used primarily for calcite growth experiments, with the atmosphere inside the chamber closely mimicking natural cave conditions. It has been constructed to ensure its suitability for experiments requiring trace element and isotopic analyses. GeoMIC has the potential for stable C and O isotope experiments to be run in the future. GeoMIC has been equipped with a 4-channel high-precision Heidolf peristaltic pump, high sensitivity Vaisala probes for humidity, temperature and CO2, and an entry port for two separate gases. Manual manipulation of an experiment after the chamber has been sealed to the outside environment can be achieved through four nitrile isolator-box gloves installed on the face of the box, designed for increased dexterity.

‘GeoMIC’ at Waikato university.
‘GeoMIC’ at Waikato university.

Perhaps the most impressive feature of GeoMIC is the purpose-built Labview software program that provides automatic control of the CO2, humidity and temperature within the chamber. The software ensures these parameters are kept at the user-specified values, as well as logging all atmospheric data for the duration of the experiment. This software also controls the peristaltic pump, so that changes in flow rate throughout an experiment can be achieved without manual intervention. Sequences specifying changes in temperature, humidity, flow rate and CO2 concentrations at set times throughout the experiment can be executed automatically using the software, and remote access to the GeoMIC computer ensures that the box atmosphere and the flow rates can be monitored and adjusted from anywhere in the world. This software represents a major improvement in the climate-control box system, as researchers will be required to spend significantly less time checking on and manually adjusting the environmental parameters. Importantly, the fluctuations in these parameters are also significantly smaller than when controlled manually, therefore a more constant environment is maintained.

Inside the climate-control box ‘GeoMIC’.
Inside the climate-control box ‘GeoMIC’.

GeoMIC is expected to be fully completed in February 2019, and several calcite growth experiments have already been designed to run upon completion of the system. These experiments allow the growth of calcite in a cave-analogue environment, and will provide valuable information about partitioning and fractionation of trace elements inside speleothems. The effects of the coordination of Cu, Co and Ni to organic ligands in cave dripwater will also be assessed. These experiments will potentially aid in the development of new trace element paleoclimate proxies for speleothem analysis.

QUEST at EGU: Session CL1.22 on quantitative reconstructions

Beth Fox, Sebastian Breitenbach, Ola Kwiecien, and Jessica Oster are convening the session CL1.22 Novel and quantitative methods for continental palaeoenvironmental reconstruction in the Climate, Past, Present, Future group at the EGU General Assembly (7-12 April 2019).

We aim at providing a forum for discussion of innovative, cross-disciplinary developments in terrestrial palaeoenvironmental reconstructions. Please consider submitting your abstract to our session! The deadline for submission is the 10th of January 2019; and you can find all details below.

We especially encourage abstract submissions of studies focused on quantitative proxies and innovative methods for reconstructing land-based environmental change.

If you have any questions regarding our session, please do not hesitate contacting us.

With kind regards,
Beth, Seb, Ola, and Jessica


Novel and quantitative methods for continental palaeoenvironmental reconstruction 

Convener: Bethany Fox  
Co-conveners: Sebastian F.M. Breitenbach ,Ola Kwiecien ,Jessica Oster 

In recent decades, quantitative methods have become increasingly important in the field of palaeoenvironmental and palaeoclimatic reconstruction, due to the need for comparison between different records and to provide boundary conditions for computational modelling. Continental environmental archives (e.g. speleothems, lake sediments, ice, or land snails) are often highly temporally resolved (subdecadal to seasonal) and may provide more direct information about atmospheric processes than marine archives. The wide variety of archive types available on land also allows for intercomparison and ground-truthing of results from different techniques and different proxies, and multi-proxy reconstructions from the same archive can disentangle local and supra-regional environmental conditions.

This session aims to highlight recent advances in the use of innovative and quantitative proxies to reconstruct past environmental change on land. We welcome studies of any continental archive, including but not limited to carbonates (caves, paleosols, snails), sediments (lakes, rivers, alluvial fans), ice, and biological proxies (tree rings, fossil assemblages, plant biomarkers). We particularly encourage studies involving the calibration of physical and chemical proxies that incorporate modern transfer functions, forward modeling and/or geochemical modeling to predict proxy signals, and quantitative estimates of past temperature and precipitation amounts. We also welcome reconstructions of temperature and hydrologic variability over large spatial scales, including paleoclimate data assimilation studies. This session will provide a forum for discussing recent innovations and future directions in the development of terrestrial palaeoenvironmental proxies on seasonal to multi-millennial timescales.

Session page at the EGU website:


MindTheLab! The QUEST to reach the Public

The QUEST team is always eager to engage the public – even if that means enduring the chilly winds of the Berlin Underground! MindTheLab – Science in the Metro ( is a new communication  approach that aims to connect scientists with the general public. After the first event in Athens, MindTheLab came to Berlin on the 8th of November and we (Norbert and Seb) participated in the event by setting up a booth at the U-Bahn station Möckernbrücke. Starting in the early afternoon, we talked to all interested people about climate research. We had many interesting encounters and highly engaging discussions. Although at times we felt like Jehovah’s witnesses trying to distribute leaflets, it was exciting to be able to discuss with people about climate change, climate impacts on society, and lack of political will to respond urgently to climate change. We received nearly 100% positive feedback, with many expressing their gratitude to climate scientists in general, and also for our active engagement at Möckernbrücke in particular. The only thing we missed were a few politicians to discuss with – but then again, who would expect them to travel with the Underground…?!

We will certainly continue to engage the public – next time in 2019 at the Long Night of Science in Potsdam! See you all there!

The next QUEST workshop is coming soon at Waikato University: Workshop 2018

Flat whites, drip rates, and tramps


The excellent ‘flat white’ coffee of New Zealand is key for the success of the secondment.

By Bedartha Goswami

I arrived in Hamilton a month or so ago, around noon on 17 September. I met Adam at the University the next day and roughly speaking, a day later, on the 19th, we set out the approximate targets of my secondment: the estimation of the rates of dripping of cave drip water from speleothem measurements. Since then, Adam and I have tackled this problem from several angles. We discuss and then he sends me data sets and then I implement our ideas in code and then we discuss some more and we repeat this cycle. We make progress at times, and at times we get stuck. At all times though, we have managed to have intellectually stimulating conversations.

Adam also took me to the Waipuna cave on 26 September, which was an experience like I have never had before and has undoubtedly taken me a step closer to the topic of my codes. It has made me understand the minutiae of how drip waters form stalagmites better than before. (I will perhaps write my impressions of the Waipuna cave visit in another post). In general, my discussions with Adam have helped me get to know speleothems better, and also the processes involved in quantifying past climates using them.

Now, a few thoughts and impressions outside of work. This is my first trip to New Zealand, and I came here with a mind fairly bereft of preconceived notions. Only a rough idea of it being a paradise to almost everyone who talks about it, irrespective of whether they have actually been here before, or whether they are German or Indian. I have had an unforgettable stay thus far, and have encountered a warm and welcoming people who say “sweet man!” a lot. I’ve learnt to say “cheers ma’yt!” instead of “thanks” and have learnt to take a well made cup of ‘flat white’ coffee for granted. I’ve had Anzac biscuits and Afghan cookies  and mince pies and am looking forward to try out Manuka honey some time before I leave.

Tramping around (‘tramping’ = ‘hiking’ in local Kiwi-speak) with local tramping clubs have taken me through intense bush trails in the back country, and offered up a stark contrast to not only the North American-frontier style layout of the towns but also to undulating lush green farmland – the hallmark of the quintessential New Zealand landscape. At one of the viewpoints, I asked the man leading the tramp: “So all these meadows, do you think they were all forests before humans?” “Of course”, came the reply, “Before, it was only bush and bird.”

I’ve learnt to identify some of the native birds (Tui and Kereru) and some of the native trees (cabbage tree, Nikau Palm, Manuka, Kanuka, Rimu, Rewa Rewa). Perhaps before I leave, I will get a chance to see the skeleton of the Moa bird — killed to extinction for food by the Maori. I witnessed discussions on predatory pests being taken care of with ‘1080P’ poison pellets so that the birds don’t go extinct. I see a land precariously holding on to its natural heritage, and passionately fighting for it. I have learnt to admire the efforts understaffed “doc” (Dept of Conservation). To me, this place seems to have successfully held time at bay, slowing down its forward stride so as to enjoy life and nature for a few moments more.