McMicken Fulbright Scholar to Begin Research in Canada

McMicken doctoral student Christopher Aucoin is one of UC’s five Fulbright Scholars. Aucoin is a stratigraphic paleobiology doctoral candidate in the McMicken College of Arts and Sciences. 

While in Canada, Aucoin will study stratigraphical correlations between the U.S. Mid-Continent and southern Ontario in order to understand how climate, tectonics and sea level changes during the Ordovician age (450 million years ago) affected the paleoecology and paleogeography of the area.

This research project began as a part of Aucoin’s Masters Thesis, which he defended this past September. While working on his master’s degree, Aucoin studied the local Waynesville Formation because of its unique shale deposits, called butter shales, which are known for their exquisite trilobites, including Isotelus, the state fossil of Ohio. Aucoin recently published his first paper on the subject in the Estonian Journal of Earth Sciences in March. The Waynesville Formation also contains an ecological event known as the Richmondian Invasion, a period of time where marine organisms from different parts of the world moved or invaded into the Cincinnati region. 

While studying the Waynesville Formation for these purposes, Aucoin came across evidence that this interval may have undergone significant climatic fluctuations. As a result, his Doctoral Dissertation will be focusing on trying to tear apart this story and understand how it might relate to the original things he was interested in—the butter shales and the Richmondian Invasion. 

From this research Aucoin is hoping to find evidence for the same climatic fluctuations in coeval strata in Ontario. This past summer he spent two months in Europe where he believes he has found similar evidence in Sweden and Estonia. 

 

Geologists are interested in understanding the story of deep time, how the earth has changed over hundreds of millions, even billions of years. They research how organisms have evolved and gone extinct, how mountains have risen and eroded back to sea level, how climate has changed and how continents have come together and split apart. In order to be able to understand all these events, it’s important for geologists to be able to confidently know that they are looking at the same aged material from location to location.

“Stratigraphy is essential to understanding all these changes,” Aucoin said. “It is hard to read a book if you don't know what order the pages are supposed to go in. Stratigraphy puts those pages in order.”

Aucoin will be assisted in his research by a variety of people from UC including his advisor Prof. Carlton Brett, graduate students Allison Young and Cameron Schwalbach, and undergraduate student Shannon Neale. Aucoin will be leaving for Canada at the end of July and plans to spend about 10 months working on the Canadian Ordovician geology as well as doing outreach with the public. In fact, Aucoin has already begun some of his outreach projects, developing mobile teaching sets of local fossils that he can bring to schools and lectures.

“This research has allowed to me to connect with prominent geologists and paleontologists from around the world as well as explore a variety of different techniques, equipment and concepts,” Aucoin said. “All of these things are invaluable for me to be able to successfully establish myself as a researcher and a future educator.”

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