Professor Scott Ishman and Stephanie Jarvis

Professor Scott Ishman and Stephanie Jarvis, a master's student in geology, discuss Stephanie's research project that involves microfossil samples from Alexander County.

May 31, 2013

Faculty member's research matters locally, globally

When it comes to finding answers to some of our most pressing issues, SIU faculty will travel to the ends of the earth if necessary.

That's not merely a figure of speech.  Geology Professor Scott Ishman, for example, has traveled to Antarctica 12 times as a member of international scientific teams studying climate change. Though we are far removed from the fifth largest continent, what happens there very much has a bearing on Southern Illinois, the nation, and the world.

Scott has contributed to significant discoveries, including an undersea volcano in the Antarctic Sound. He and his fellow scientists determined that between 20 million and 15 million years ago, there was vegetation on the coast of the continent. Other research prompted Scott in 2005 to co-author an article in the prestigious publication "Nature", arguing that global warming is a recent and human-made phenomenon.

I appreciate the scientific knowledge Scott shares with the world and with our students. I also have a personal interest. My husband’s late uncle, Ned Ostenso, was a geophysicist who conducted research in the 1950s that helped determine the mass of the Antarctic ice sheet.

An SIU faculty member since 1999, Scott specializes in the study of a group of microfossils called foraminifera. They are useful for providing information on what ocean temperatures and circulation patterns are and what they were like historically.  Understanding how the ocean responded to climate change in the past will help predict what lies ahead.

"We can make observations about how sea levels changed in the past as temperatures changed, and how ocean circulations changed," he explained. "As ocean circulation changes it affects weather patterns, which affect agricultural areas and have much greater impact globally."

In one area of Antarctica, Scott and his colleagues recently concluded that greater change has taken place more than at any time in the past 18,000 years.

"In the last 18,000 years, there have been warm periods,” he said. “But our results suggest we’ve reached a point that is unprecedented in the last 18,000 years in terms of warming and its impact on Antarctica and the glacial system. As you melt the ice, that water goes into the ocean, which causes sea levels to rise. As we see further increases in temperatures, we can expect further melting, so we can expect more and more rapid rises in sea levels."

The potential consequences for the millions of people living in coastal areas of the U.S. and throughout the world – especially in areas susceptible to hurricanes – are significant.

Scott's experiences, important research and his expertise are incredibly valuable in the classroom.

"You’re getting students excited about learning,” he said.  “That’s what always has caused me to want to teach.”

Scott’s commitment to students includes serving as faculty adviser to the only university chapter of Ducks Unlimited in Illinois. The 30 members help with such service projects as cleanups at the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge, the Illinois Junior Duck Stamp competition, and banding ducks in conjunction with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.

Locally and globally, our faculty members are making a positive difference through their commitment to teaching, research and service.