10: The Questions We Ask (with Prof. Jennifer Korosi)

“”We live in the world our questions create” – David Copperfield

To celebrate the 10th episode of Core Ideas, we welcome a guest to help us delve Into the Weeds of the questions posed in paleolimnology. Jennifer Korosi is an assistant professor in the Department of Geography at York University (Toronto, Canada), where she uses paleolimnological methods to answer a range of research questions related to environmental change across Canada. As a relatively new faculty member building a research program, Jenny devotes a lot of her time to thinking about research questions and getting students started on thesis projects, and has great insights on how research questions are framed. Whether they are focused on establishing deviations from baseline conditions, dealing with conditions that have poor or no analogous environments to compare against, or addressing “bigger picture” perspectives. 

Our discussion begins with how crafting interesting research questions is something of a learned skill, and a critical point for all scientific investigations. 

Many paleolimnology projects focus on understanding or reconstructing the baseline or historical conditions of a lake or catchment, and addressing questions such as: 

  • When did conditions change?
  • What were pre-impact conditions like?
  • Has the system exhibited any recovery?

These are critical questions that often can’t be addressed in any other way. However, in some situations, modern environments may be inherently different from anything available for comparison. Climate change effects fall into this category, where do we look for environments comparable to what we are seeing now, let alone future conditions? Jenny (and Josh’s) permafrost work is an example of where these kinds of questions may be relevant, as these lakes didn’t exist during the Holocene Thermal Maximum.

Our discussion ends with a look at integrative “Big Picture” questions, by referring to some posed in the 2016 Journal of Ecology article by Seddon et al. “Looking forward through the past: identification of 50 priority research questions in palaeoecology”. Many of these questions will require synthesizing multiple research projects worth of research, due to the large spatial scales and number of stressors involved.

Episode 10 can be found here.