Category Archives: Alan Cooper

PhD opportunity: “Paleoclimate analysis using ancient microbial DNA: The history of Antarctic melting”

A PhD project is available at the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA using ancient Antarctic microbial records to reconstruct the impacts of past climate change. Microbial DNA preserved in ice cores will be used to reconstruct the history of Antarctic ice sheet behaviour over the last full glacial cycle (from 130 kyr), with major implications for understanding past periods of rapid sea level change and for providing baseline measures for global climate change models. The project has strong potential to make major contributions to our understanding of past climate change, and for informing predictive models for the next century.

The project is a collaboration with Prof. Chris Turney, and Dr Chris Fogwill, of UNSW in Sydney, and there is the potential for Antarctic fieldwork during the project.

A highly motivated candidate with strong initiative and organisational skills is required, with a background in environmental microbiology and climate change. A publication record would be a distinct advantage, and the position is open to both Australian and international candidates.

Contact Prof. Alan Cooper,, with a letter of interest, background information addressing the above criteria, and a CV by 21st October 2015.

Descending into Natural Trap Cave – A Scientist’s Day in the Office

By Alan Cooper and Laura Weyrich

Caving (rappelling), fossil finds, bone grinding, DNA sampling and fieldwork all in a day’s work.  Here Alan Cooper descends into the Natural Trap Cave, Wyoming to collect unique animal fossils for sampling, to be subsequently analysed at ACAD.

Natural Trap Cave: First instalment of year 1 of the field project.

by Alan Cooper

Having rigged the cave on the first day, I guess it was appropriate that I was the one to take the first descent into the chasm below. It’s caving lore something along the lines of the Captain going down with his ship – if you rigged it, you should be first to ‘test’ it out! Backing over the ledge and unlocking my brakebar, I descended about 3 m against a series of ledges – before dropping into open space. Looking around I could see several enormous nests, around a metre wide and made of big branches – eagles had obviously lived under the overhang of the cave entrance for many years, presumably until the grid was placed over the entrance. I’ve not seen eagle nests up close before and it was impressed how large they were. Pack rats were also nesting around these ledges – 100ft over space, and we saw several snake skeletons down in the cave attesting to the effective security systems surrounding their home! Continue reading

How do you get 10 scientists (safely) down a 100 ft vertical shaft?

By Alan Cooper

Natural Trap Cave (NTC) has an impressive entrance pitch – which is concealed immediately below a large innocuous looking slab of limestone, in the middle of a gently sloping ridge overlooking Bighorn Lake on the border between Wyoming and Montana. As you walk across the slab you can see why anything with hooves, or running at speed, would have had no time to react when the cave entrance came into view – suddenly all the edges slope inwards steeply, and you’re looking straight down a hole, about 30ft wide, 100ft onto rocks at the bottom of a large chamber. As a result, over the last 100,000 years or so, a very large accumulation of skeletons has built up in the sediments below – standard herbivores such as bison, horse, and mountain sheep but also large numbers of carnivores including American Lion and cheetah-like cat (really a puma on steroids), many wolves, and even giant short-faced bears  and mammoths. Continue reading