Geologic Climate Research in Siberia

What Are They Doing?

An international team of researchers from the United States, Germany, Russia, and Austria traveled to northeast Russia to conduct a large-scale scientific drilling project in Lake El'gygytgyn (pronounced el'geegitgin), a crater lake created 3.6 million years ago by the impact of a meteorite measuring about 18 km in diameter. The team worked on the lake ice throughout the winter, using a customized light-weight drill rig to obtain drill cores of layered muds from two sites in the lake.

Lake El'gygytgyn possesses a unique record of prehistoric climate change in the arctic. Because this basin was never glaciated, an uninterrupted sediment sequence of nearly 400 m (1312 feet) has accumulated at the bottom of the lake. Sediment cores collected during this expedition were used to gather information about the history of the basin and were compared with similar paleoclimate records from other parts of the world, helping researchers to better understand the arctic's role in global climate change.

The team also drilled a short distance into the highly fractured rock layer below the sediments to learn more about meteorite impacts. Because of the particularly well-preserved rock structure in Lake El'gygytgyn, the team was able to learn how igneous target rocks in this area responded to impacts, potentially providing the basis for important understanding related to cratering processes on Mars.

Geologists used the data collected from the project to reconstruct past climate records on longer time scales, improve understanding of the climate system, and better inform scientists who predict future climate change.

Where Are They?

Lake El'gygytgyn (pronounced el'geegitgin) is located 100 km (62 miles) north of the Arctic Circle and 250 km (155 miles) inland from the Arctic Ocean (67.5° N and 172° E) on the remote Chukchi Peninsula in the Russian Far East. This large lake measures 12 km (7.5 miles) wide and roughly 170 m (558 feet) deep. It is positioned on the continental divide between the Arctic Ocean and the Bering Sea in the middle of Anadyr Mountains. The team lived and worked out of a temporary camp located on the west shore of the frozen lake ice.

Expedition Map


Bottle Machine
In the last several years I have seen rather dramatic examples of how people have changed the environment. In the US, as I write, one of the worst oil spills ever is changing the Gulf of Mexico, deserts grow due to water consumption in the west, while in the east, mountains are removed to extract fossil fuels. I have often wondered…Can we change for the better?  After traveling to Europe to participate with the Lake E science conference, I wanted to share a few of my observations from Germany. Can we turn off the lights? YES! Actually it took me a while to figure out how to turn on...
As I write the temperature outside is -81 F! This time I am writing from 40,000 ft … our flight has successfully crossed the Atlantic and we are flying over eastern Canada. I checked the London Volcanic Ash Advisory Center this morning before we left and I was pleased to see that the ash cloud had dissipated. As I reflect on yesterday, I can say that it was another successful day at the Lake E conference. Leading project scientists, Julie Brigham Grette and Martin Melles Scientifically the day was quite productive. The main goal of Saturday was to coordinate the further scientific work on...
Examining lake core
I spent the day yesterday learning more about Lake E science. One of the things I found very interesting about the Lake E project from day one was the variety of people who were interested in the project. This project not only involves, but depends on scientists from many different disciplines each contributing to describing the big picture of this special environment. Yesterday at the conference several presentations summarized the research that has begun on the core samples. We also had presentations about the first science results from the Impact rock research, Paleomagnetism, Pollen...
Germany morning of day three… Our luggage arrived yesterday so we have clean clothes! In the last two days I have seen more bikes and Smart cars than I have seen in a long time! Bicycles are common transportation in Cologne Yesterday I spent most of the day at the University. Throughout the day, scientists with whom I worked at Lake E arrived. It was great to see familiar faces and friends from the US, Germany, Russia, Switzerland, and Canada. It was also rewarding to meet many of the scientists with whom I have communicated but had yet to meet in person. In the afternoon I gave a...
Ash cloud
We have arrived in Germany! Unfortunately our luggage has not! Oh well… at least this time I am not dependant on lots of heavy clothing for survival. Of course with Eyjafallajokull, the Icelandic Volcano we almost did not make it. As we flew across the English Channel this AM I was able to see a high altitude brown haze on the horizon which according to the London VAAC must have been the ash plum. East coast of England with volcanic ash cloud. After our arrival we checked into our hotel then walked down to the University of Cologne. This was a wonderful time to meet a few new people and...

Expedition Resources

Project Information

21 March 2009 to 22 April 2009
Location: Crater Lake El’gygytgyn, Russia
Project Funded Title: Scientific Drilling at El’gygytgyn Crater Lake, Chukotka, Northeast Siberia

Meet the Team

Tim Martin's picture
Greensboro Day School
Greensboro, NC
United States

Although he grew up in several locations around the country, Tim Martin has always felt most at home in the natural world. His persistent curiosity led to his undergraduate study of the natural sciences and art at Goshen College and recently he completed his M.S. in teaching geosciences through Mississippi State University. Whether using recent data for weather forecasting, seismograms for mapping plate tectonics, or making real-time observations with an Internet accessible radio telescope, Mr. Martin has a passion for bringing real time science into his Earth Science classroom at Greensboro Day School. In his free time, he may be found "up close and personal" with earth science while rock climbing with his family. Mr. Martin is excited to be a Polar TREC teacher as he sees Lake El'gygytgyn as an important crossroads for geology, climatology, and planetary science. For more information about Mr. Martin, his class, and his previous earth Science adventures, visit Tim's Adventure Earth Science web site.

Julie Brigham-Grette's picture
University of Massachusetts
Amherst, MA
United States

Dr. Brigham-Grette's research interests are focused on the stratigraphy, sedimentology, and chronology of geologic systems that record the climate evolution and sea level history of the Arctic since the Pliocene. Most of her research program is aimed at documenting the global context of paleoenvironmental change across "Beringia", i.e., the Bering Land Bridge, stretching across the western Arctic from Alaska and the Yukon into NE Russia including the adjacent marginal seas. Starting in the 1980s with fieldwork on the sea level history and glacial stratigraphy of vast Arctic coastal plains and coastal environments in comparison with regional alpine glaciation, she is now focused on the integration of records from marine and lake systems.

Since 1991, her group has participated in numerous field expeditions to remote regions of Arctic Russia and she was co-chief scientist in 2002 of an expedition on the U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Healy, taking sediment cores from the Bering and Chukchi Seas. She is the US Chief Scientist of the El'gygytgyn Lake Scientific Drilling project, a multinational field program leading to the first unprecedented recovery in 2009 of a 3.6 Myr record of terrestrial paleoclimate. She has previously been involved in the IPY STEM Polar Connections project to integrate the study of polar regions and International Polar Year activities into the middle and high school curriculum from the terrestrial Arctic.

Christian Koeberl's picture
University of Vienna
Martin Melles's picture
University of Cologne
Pavel Minyuk's picture
Northeast Interdisciplinary Scientific Research Institute