Paleoclimatologist-sedimentary geologist, glaciers, Indiana Geological Survey
Number of years that you’ve been in your specialty
Full Career > than 15 years
Highest Degree Earned
Ph.D. Brown University
You practice one of 330 great occupations that require years of preparation. What things most helped you to succeed in training for your profession and in practice of your profession?
1) Field work in places where glacier change has been dramatic and had regional effects. In these places, it is obvious that this type of work is important.
2) Working at several institutions has brought me into contact with leaders in the field who have inspired me.
3). The need for this type of work to solve important societal problems such as global warming.
More About Michael L. Prentice Ph.D.
I am a physical scientist/geologist that studies past and present glacier and related climate change in order to improve prediction of environmental change and management of water resources. I study glacier and climate change in three regions. I have worked extensively in Antarctica because two of the three ice sheets remaining on the planet (92% of global ice) are there and their history informs prediction of their future behavior. How the Antarctic ice sheets respond to global warming is the largest uncertainty in future sea-level change. I also work in the tropics, specifically, the New Guinea highlands, where glacier extent has varied dramatically demonstrating that tropical climate has changed dramatically. This research addresses the sensitivity of the tropical troposphere to various forcings which is a first-order uncertainty in global climate model predictions of the greenhouse effect. More recently, I have started working on the extensive glacial sediment and geomorphic record in Indiana in order to understand northern-hemisphere ice-sheet and climate change history and processes. A more applied objective of this work is to understand the influence of glacial sediments on the vulnerability and availability of groundwater resources.
In practice, I reconstruct glacier and related climate history based on the sediment record using stratigraphic, geophysical, and geochemical techniques. My principal expertise is in the fields of paleoclimate, glacial geology and geomorphology, carbonate isotope geochemistry, and climatology. I also have expertise in the use of ground-penetrating radar, exposure-age dating, and paleoceanography. For a particular glacial system, I attempt to produce at least two independent reconstructions, one from the glacier sediment record using glacial geology and the other from lake or marginal-marine sediment cores that ideally contain carbonate.
I strive to align observational programs with assorted modeling experiments in order to test and refine models and their theoretical basis. Therefore, I take every opportunity to work with physical modelers. Models help us understand the physical mechanisms by which the environment changes and it is this physics that is so vital to prediction.
My Antarctic work is spread across three projects: (1) the latest Pleistocene history of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and climate based on the terrestrial ice-margin record, (2) Holocene ice-shelf and climate history along the Antarctic Peninsula from ocean-sediment cores, and (3) the response of the Antarctic ice sheet and climate to early Pliocene planetary warming using land and shallow-marine records. I am working on three New Guinea projects: (1) late Pleistocene through to present glacier fluctuations, (2) high-altitude lake sediment records of Holocene climate change, and (3) the late Pleistocene shallow-marine record of New Guinea runoff from river basins that were ice-capped. Information about these projects can be found.
Funding and Experience
My research has been funded primarily by the National Science Foundation. I have been the Principal Investigator on 15 NSF grants, totaling more than 2 million dollars. I have been PI or co-PI on an additional 8 grants from both federal and private sources, exclusive of the Indiana Geological Survey. Since my post-graduate work, I have held faculty positions at the University of Maine, the University of New Hampshire, Plymouth State University, and, currently, Indiana University. I have led 11 research expeditions to Antarctica, 3 to Papua New Guinea, and 2 to Papua Province, Indonesia. I have participated in Ocean Drilling Program and IMAGES deep-sea cruises to the western tropical Pacific.