Paleomagnetism and Student Research at Okanagan College

Groundbreaking research often results from an unpredictable combination of circumstances. For Okanagan College students Julia Thielmann and Arianna Lapham, answering a call for student assistance in a research project had the unexpected results of participating in a study of international significance and getting the opportunity to give a presentation at the Western Division of Canadian Association of Geographers conference at the University of Victoria last month.

“It was such a great experience and I learned so much,” said Thielmann, a second-year Okanagan College student. “I really enjoy research work now and I’m hoping to be able to do more presentations. Talking with the other conference participants and learning about their work was really interesting.”

Led by Dr. Terence Day, College Professor of Geography & Earth and Environmental Science, the idea for the research study began with the College’s purchase of magnetic lab equipment from Lakehead University in Ontario.

Using soil samples collected by Day from a nine-kilometre stretch of coastline in North Norfolk in the United Kingdom, the research team sought to establish a relationship between levels of coastal erosion and magnetic materials left by waves. Coincidentally, the research study samples were taken from an area heavily damaged in December 2013 by severe storms and storm surges that swept a number of beach-side homes into the sea.

“There are clear environmental implications,” said Day. “There is more magnetic material in areas where there is more erosion. We can identify rates of coastal erosion even in places where they are not routinely monitored.”

Day will be using the magnetic lab equipment in two summer research projects – one in collaboration with UBC Okanagan which will measure properties of rocks from the Himalayas, and another in conjunction with the Royal British Columbia Museum and the University of Lethbridge examining sediment samples from the Merritt area.

“We were the only undergraduate students giving a presentation and we were definitely nervous,” said first-year student Lapham. “But we did really well, and the audience was very supportive. We got lots of compliments.”

For Thielmann and Lapham, the excitement of the past year is taking them in different directions. Having completed two years of university transfer studies at the College, Thielmann is moving on to complete her undergraduate degree at UBC Okanagan.

Lapham is looking forward to her second year at Okanagan College and is planning to take more geography classes.

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