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QUantitative paleoEnvironments from SpeleoThems

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - QUEST (QUantitative paleoEnvironments from SpeleoThems)

Reporting period: 2018-01-01 to 2019-12-31

Speleothems are unique terrestrial archives that allow for highly resolved and long climate reconstructions. These are vital for understanding climate change and environmental responses at all timescales.
Current studies can only make qualitative inferences about climate parameters – i.e. they can tell us the direction of change, but not the amount of change. Quantification is vital to make palaeo-data more useful to modellers & policy makers.
QUEST (QUantitative palaeoEnvironments from SpeleoThems) developed new techniques for quantifying past changes and linked field and laboratory experiments on water/mineral chemistry with innovative physical and numerical analyses. The combination of these techniques, based on physical and chemical properties and statistical methods, helps deliver (semi-)quantitative records of key environmental parameters.
We test our methods using samples from Australasia and other regions affected by El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO). ENSO governs Pacific circulation and affects global weather systems. Understanding ENSO dynamics is vital to assess risks posed by near-future ENSO changes.
Our team came from a variety of backgrounds including environmental chemistry, mineral magnetism, or numerical data analysis. Each group develops new methods within their own subfield, but this project combined and applied them collectively to speleothems. Our interdisciplinarity, state-of-the-art instrumentation, and novel techniques placed us ideally to develop quantitative climate records.
The QUEST project has now ended, but collaborations continue. We have a number of papers in review or near submission, and our PhD students are still active in field and laboratories. This project has been a great opportunity for the team to exchange ideas, interact in different work environments, and to build unique synergistic links that now allow for innovative proposals and follow-up projects. Involved Early Scientific Researchers reported outstanding experiences, and we are confident that the QUEST project supported their careers in fruitful ways. QUEST continues its research into Pacific climate, and development of quantitative methods.
RISE project 691037 “QUEST” began in March 2016 with the first meeting held at Cambridge. Hands-on training was provided in the UCAM laboratory and experiments were planned in bilateral discussions amongst all beneficiaries and partners. This meeting helped internal knowledge transfer, aligning the goals of QUEST and initial lab and field experiments. Multiple virtual training and discussion sessions were conducted (using Skype) subsequently. Breitenbach took a post at Ruhr-University Bochum (RUB) from April 2016, which resulted in the amendment to include RUB into the QUEST consortium. RUB has expertise with carbonate geochemistry and petrography, adding a great pool of information to QUEST.
Breitenbach visited Waikato in October 2016 for field-sampling and experiments. This secondment also included knowledge transfer between QUEST team and technical staff; fieldwork in Waipuna Cave including a detailed survey and installation of monitoring equipment in and above the cave. A meteorological station was established to record important climatic parameters. Inside the cave, loggers were downloaded and new equipment installed, water collected for stable isotope and element analyses, and various readings taken (e.g. temperature, drip rate). The cave was surveyed for field-based experiments and a soil profile was dug above the cave for soil analyses. Waters were analysed at UCAM to construct a robust stable isotope baseline. The autosampler was tested & improvements scheduled with experts from the Mechanical Engineering Department at UOW. Breitenbach presented QUEST goals at UOW, and archive work identified unique samples that we incorporated in our collection. Further, Breitenbach (RUB) and Marwan (PIK) published 6 scientific papers in high-ranked journals.
During secondments from UOW, Hartland & Fox conducted DGT & magnetics experiments. Speleothems have been tested by Lascu and Fox (UCAM) for suitability for QUEST and for quantitative reconstructions of past conditions, some of which suggest potential as high quality archives.
The QUEST project received a good amount of public interest and has been explained to non-experts via various channels. Hartland (UOW) appeared in the local TV and presented the climate study, while Fox (UOW) took responsibility as science commentator for Radio NZ. Breitenbach (RUB) presented QUEST to the caving community and to the general public via a popular science articles in the Speleo-Berlin Newsletter. Platforms like the RUB GMG Science Day, helped convey the goals of QUEST to specialists and non-experts alike. With positive feedback from participants & organizers, we continued participation in such events.
Many presentations have been submitted to conferences. These interactions with the science community resulted in new leads and proposals for external funding. More publications and outreach events are planned for Period 2.

Results and Exploitation
In Period 2 activities accelerated, due to i) new students, ii) results from Period 1 experiments, and iii) outreach events. Monitoring at Waipuna and other caves in New Zealand continued into year 4. Waipuna data are now summarized in a first paper by Cinthya (in review). Hartland, Kwiecien & Breitenbach published a multi-proxy record for Termination II - an important time window c. 130 ka ago. This was a test of the suitability of Ca isotopes in tandem with other proxies for deciphering seasonality in palaeo-records. This test initiated a study (by RUB, UCAM, UOW, PIK) that uses multiple methods to reveal seasonality changes.
The JGU team developed & applied new methods to inform on vegetation changes quantitatively. First studies have been published, and more manuscripts are in preparation as joint QUEST effort. Progress has been made with calibrating our methods. The PIK team developed innovative versatile techniques for detecting abrupt transitions, which have been well received and led to high-impact papers. UOW & RUB made significant prog
The impact of QUEST to the scientific community was already felt in Period 1, and several papers resulted from collaborations between the beneficiaries. The impact for both society and scientific communities will continue after QUEST is concluded.
The public takes lively interest in QUEST, with newsletters in Germany and New Zealand, radio interviews and TV broadcasts linked to our work in New Zealand. Great interest in cave climate research is felt during public lectures; most people are interested in climate change and how we can measure it in caves.
After fixing final issues, the autosampler will be produced on demand at UOW, in collaboration with a Hamilton-based company, and exploited by internal and external customers.
We participate in more public outreach events to keep the interested community updated on our progress.
We actively develop follow-up proposals; these joint projects will be submitted to national funding bodies.
Adam and Seb collecting samples in Waipuna Cave, New Zealand