Member since: April 30, 2012
When I tell someone I study climate and environments of the past, one of the first things I am usually asked is about the future. The idea that the past can inform the present and future is an intuitive one that people sometimes even unconsciously accept. My interest in past climate and environments grew out of questioning how the landscape of a place has looked at different points in time. We tend to view the natural world as being in a static state or configuration. In reality ecosystems and environments are in a state of constant change, responding to an infinite number of influences on a time scale many times that of a human lifespan. Our own individual existences are just too brief to perceive this conventionally. Growing up, not only did I marvel at how big the world is-- it was old, too.
I am fascinated by the role climate and environmental change has had on human civilizations and culture. Virtually all of what we think of as "human history" has occurred during the relatively brief interglacial known as "the Holocene." For hundreds of thousands of years prior, human existence changed little. What changed in the environment? What does the climate story tell us?
I am also interested in how forests and plant communities coped with climate change in the past. During major and minor shifts in climatic regimes, the landscape was only divided by physiographic and climatic barriers. With the relatively recent tremendous success of humans has come widespread and intense modification of the landscape around the world. Environments are fractured, and wild spaces are geographically confined. How might these ecosystems respond to changes in climate? How have they changed in the past?
These are important and meaningful questions about the past and future of our planet, and I hope to contribute to their answers.