After ocean journey, Notre Dame professor studies ancient life and climate change

There is a bunch of mud sitting around at Notre Dame that can teach about the past and the future.

One professor is hoping it leads to new discoveries about climate change.

Dr. Melissa Berke is an assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular paleoclimatology.

She traveled across the world to collect the mud from the bottom of the Indian Ocean.

Along with 28 other scientists, Berke lived on a boat for two months in 2016 with the International Ocean Discovery Program.

While aboard, Berke helped extract mud from the ocean floor, which has remnants of plants that lived millions of years ago.

“We call them kind of chemical fossils,” Berke said.

Berke brought several samples back to the University of Note Dame, where the research continues.  

“We reconstruct what the past environment might have looked like in Africa or the U.S.,” Berke said.

Berke says weather from outside Africa can make its way to North America.

By studying ancient life, Berke can track climate change, and the future of the planet.

“People always kind of reference,’well climate changed a lot in the past. How do we know that what’s coming in the future isn’t just like what happened in the past?’ Well, you need to know then what happened in the past to be able to say anything,” Berke said.

While it may not look exciting on the surface, Berke says the samples could give key clues to future weather patterns, by revealing the past.

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