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Geography professor awarded Fulbright Senior Scholarship

Amy Hessl will travel to Australia to study the southern hemisphere’s climate history


Warm water flowing through a deep channel under East Antarctica’s largest glacier is driving rapid melting and a rise in global sea level. This is one of a number of developments in the southern hemisphere that could trigger more frequent and extreme weather events, and hold widespread climate-related implications for the northern hemisphere.

Amy Hessl, professor of geography at West Virginia University, will travel to Australia in 2018 as a recipient of the Fulbright U.S. Senior Scholarship program where she’ll study the southern hemisphere’s climate history and its potential global impact.

Hessl is one of five U.S. senior academics to receive the scholarship award from the Australian-American Fulbright Commission. 

Hessl studies climate variability, ecosystem process and human activities over the last 2000 years by observing the information stored in the growth rings of trees.

While in Australia, she will work with Tessa Vance, an ICE Core Paleoclimatologist at the University of Tasmania. Vance’s research helps develop high-resolution palaeoclimate records with a view to understanding long-term climate change. 

“She [Vance] has an ice core that’s from a part of Antarctica close to Tasmania that stores information about the climate at the annual scale,” Hessl said. “We can compare that to the tree growth in Tasmania to understand what past climate has been like in the southern hemisphere for the past 2000 years.” 

Their research will examine what properties in the southern hemisphere have changed and how these changes could trigger ice sheet melts, droughts in southern Australia or floods in South Africa.

The Southern Hemisphere is more than 80 percent water, compared with roughly 61 percent water in the case of the Northern Hemisphere, and it contains nearly 33 percent of Earth's land.

The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to build lasting connections between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. The Fulbright Program is funded through an annual appropriation made by the U.S. Congress to the U.S. Department of State. Participating governments and host institutions, corporations and foundations around the world also provide direct and indirect support to the Program, which operates in over 160 countries worldwide.