CC student gets his feet wet

CC student’s geological research gains national attention

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“There’s no better way to find out about a career than doing it.”

When science professor Pat Pringle presented this challenge to Running Start student Garret Marlantes, Garret took these words to heart. What followed was a fascinating journey into the wilds of the Olympic Peninsula, hunting for clues in tree rings, piecing together geological evidence and solving the mystery of Irely Lake’s formation—a dendrochronology “case” that would ultimately lead to Garret’s invitation to present at the Geological Society of America.

Garret was not just studying about geology—he was doing it.

Last year, when Garret thought about what he wanted to do in life, he knew it would be something to do with earth or natural sciences. After taking Pringle’s oceanography class, Garret was intrigued with the geology portion of the course and wanted to know more about it. Arranging a meeting with Pringle, Garret shared his interest with Pringle, who related his own career journey from researcher to professor. When Garret asked about doing some research of his own, Pringle went to the college’s tree ring lab, dusted off an unfinished research project started by his colleague Karl Wegmann (now at North Carolina State University) over a decade ago, and handed Garret a unique opportunity to get his feet wet in the field. Literally.

The research project centered on Irely Lake—a lake with a mysterious origin. Solving the puzzle of the lake’s formation would require the application of dendrochronology, the study of a tree’s annual growth rings to date past events and determine climates and geologic history. It would also require of pair of sturdy hiking boots.

After spending time in the tree lab reviewing tree ring samples gathered from the same area, Garret joined Pringle on two separate field trips to Irely Lake near Lake Quinault. Tromping through the woods, he was able to extract tree and soil core samples, identify key geological features, and look for evidence of fire scarring on trees—all clues that would help reveal when and how the lake was formed. The initial discoveries of Garret, Pringle, and Wegmann point to the possibility that the lake may have been formed in the early 1700s, although they will need more evidence to be certain.

In October, Garret was invited to present this research at the Geological Society of America during its annual meeting in Vancouver, B.C. Impressed with Garret’s initiative in the project and also his skillful presentation at the meeting, Pringle says, “Garret is one of the most self-motivated students I’ve had. He worked on every aspect of this research project (both field and library research), playing an active role in writing the abstract and also in writing and compiling the poster. He was so poised and professional when interacting with scientists who stopped to read the poster.”

Not surprisingly, at the meeting, Garret was asked to present this research at a workshop sponsored by the National Association of Geoscience Teachers and the National Science Foundation. The workshop was focused on encouraging research in two-year colleges and was attended by a number of two-year college faculty members for which Garret’s project provided a great example. Garret says the whole process was “wonderfully exciting!”

Garret, who plans to finish his associate degree this year at Centralia College, has already started two other research projects. Working with the US Geological Survey, he and Pringle are now studying subfossil trees that are submerged in Crescent Lake, a small lake atop the Red Bluffs landslide west of Stevenson in the Columbia Gorge. They will go down this spring to sample living trees atop the landslide. This project is a collaboration with geologist Tom Pierson of the US Geological Survey Cascades Volcano Observatory and other researchers who sampled the trees in Crescent Lake with Pringle more than a decade ago.

Garret is also assisting in a research project in the Chehalis watershed, helping to determine how and where the river changed its course over time. He hopes to present, write, and publish this research as well.

Spending time doing the work of a geologist has given Garret confirmation this is the career for him. After graduating from CC this year, he plans to pursue his bachelor’s in geology. Ultimately, Garret wants to earn his PhD so that he can research and someday teach geology at a community college or university—inspiring other students the same way Centralia College professor Pat Pringle inspired him.

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