Campus News

UGA graduate student to study ancient climate patterns in native Madagascar

Ny Riavo Voarintsoa

Athens, Ga. – University of Georgia geology doctoral student Ny Riavo Voarintsoa has been selected for the Faculty for the Future Fellowship Award, an award sponsored by the Schlumberger Foundation to support talented women from developing and emerging countries who are pursuing advanced degrees in science and engineering at leading universities worldwide.

Recipients are chosen based on their leadership qualities, academic ability and engagement toward science and education as a development tool in their home country.

Voarintsoa, a native of Madagascar, studies paleoclimate, the changes in climate throughout history. Her current research focuses on the use of cave deposits, particularly stalagmites, to understand these changes in southern Africa and Madagascar.

“I use geochemistry, petrography and mineralogy as approaches to reconstruct paleoclimate records in southern Africa and Madagascar, two regions of the Earth that have received the least attention in paleoclimate studies,” she said. “Stalagmites provide excellent paleoclimate records because they can be accurately dated and climate data from them can be carefully investigated at very high resolution, at annual or seasonal scale. This improves our understanding of land-ocean-atmosphere interactions at shorter time intervals.”

Voarintsoa will receive $50,000 to fund her research for the 2015-2016 academic year.

“Paleoclimate studies are fundamental to understanding climate variability and abrupt climate changes in the past,” she said. “Major changes in the ecosystem can be explained by past climate changes.”

Paleoclimate information can be integrated into computerized-based modeling to better predict the likely state of the Earth’s future climate, she explained. Understanding the climate state of the Earth in the future allows scientists to take appropriate precautions to reduce the risks in the affected regions.

Madagascar’s ecosystems and biodiversity are endangered, and there is major uncertainty in interpreting the ecosystem changes in Madagascar, as either driven by climate or caused by human activity, Voarintsoa said. Modern facts and narrative stories suggest humans have ravaged the island, but recent scientific investigations have argued for climate-related causes.

“My interest is thus to improve the scientific community’s understanding on climate versus human influences on the Madagascar ecosystem,” she said. “I expect to contribute the data collected in this paleoclimate study to be used in future climate prediction and climate simulations by government agencies.”

Voarintsoa obtained both her Maîtrise, equivalent to a bachelor’s degree in geology, and her Diplôme d’Etudes Approfondies, equivalent to a Master of Science in geology, at the University of Antananarivo in Madagascar. In 2010-2011, she was selected to conduct GIS-based research with Rónadh Cox as a visiting scholar at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts.

Upon pursuing graduate studies at UGA in 2014, she received an Outstanding Graduate Teaching Award from UGA’s geology department and was selected to participate in the yearlong Future Faculty Program, organized by the UGA Center for Teaching and Learning.

“I am so thankful that the Schlumberger Foundation considered my application and awarded me this Faculty for the Future Fellowship grant,” she said.

For more information on geology graduate programs at UGA, visit

The Schlumberger Foundation is a nonprofit organization that supports STEM education. Recognizing the link between science, engineering, technology and socio-economic development, as well as the key role of education in realizing individual potential, the Schlumberger Foundation’s flagship program is Faculty for the Future. For more information, visit