CIMA Climate investigations with Mexican Archives

The project

Researchers from the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico (UNAM), University of California Irvine, University of Texas Austin, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are working together to study past climate changes in northeast Mexico. Our focus is on San Luis Potosí and southern Tamaulipas, a region with very few paleoclimate records.

We named our project Climate Investigations with Mexican Archives (CIMA) after the Spanish word cima, which means summit or peak. The name was inspired by one of our field sites, Cueva Bonita. The cave can only be reached by driving uphill for an hour on a dirt road, followed by a strenuous 45-minute hike.

The tools: Caves and TreEs

We are using two main data sources for this project: cave rocks (stalagmites) and tree rings.

Stalagmites are extremely valuable for reconstructing past climate change because they hold records spanning tens of thousands of years. But in order to understand how the stalagmites respond to climate changes, we need to know what the modern cave environment is doing. That's where cave monitoring comes in.

We are collecting drip water samples and cave microclimate measurements (like temperature and humidity) from all the caves involved in our study. Information from the modern environment will put the stalagmite data into context.

We also collect precipitation samples so that we can study how the cave drip water composition responds to different rain conditions. Because most of the researchers live far away from the cave sites, residents who spend time near the caves collect the water samples. We have established rain water collection partnerships in four locations so far.

In addition to cave deposits, trees can also hold records of climate change. Researchers at UNAM are using tree rings to learn about rainfall changes in the recent past. More to come soon on this topic!

Photos by Miguel Castellanos

The Team

This project is a collaboration between an international team of geoscientists, people who live near the field sites, and recreational cavers. Each member of the team brings different expertise and experience, but we all work together to ensure that we have great results.

Project Leads:  Dr. David McGee (MIT), Dr. Laura Beramendi-Orosco (UNAM), Dr. Kathleen Johnson (UCI)

Collaborators: Dr. Jay Banner (UT Austin), Dr. Tripti Bhattacharya (Syracuse University), Jean-Louis Lacaille Múzquiz (Pro Biosfera A.C.), Juan Cancino (Asociación Potosina de Montañismo y Espeleología A.C.), Sergio Sanchez-Armass (Universidad Autonoma de San Luis Potosi; Asociación Potosina de Montañismo y Espeleología A.C.)

Students and Postdocs: Kevin Wright (PhD Candidate, UCI), Gabriela Serrato Marks (PhD Candidate, MIT), Gabriela Cazares (Undergraduate, MIT), Sarah Weidman (Undergraduate, MIT), Dr. Genaro Gutierrez-Garcia (UNAM)

Learn More

If you have questions about this project, please email Kathleen Johnson (kathleen.johnson@uci.edu). This site is also available in Spanish.


This project has several sources of support, including a grant from MIT's MISTI Mexico program and the University of California MEXUS program. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1806090 and 1804512, as well as a Graduate Research Fellowship award to G. Serrato Marks.

Site designed and written by Gabriela Serrato Marks. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.