Tag Archive for College of Integrative Sciences

Thomas’s Microfossil, Climate Change Research Published in 2 Journals

Ellen Thomas

Ellen Thomas

Ellen Thomas, the University Professor in the College of Integrative Sciences, research professor of earth and environmental science, is the co-author of two recently published papers. They include:

Microfossil evidence for trophic changes during the Eocene–Oligocene transition in the South Atlantic (ODP Site 1263, Walvis Ridge),” published in Climate of the Past, Volume 11, pages 1249–1270 in September 2015 and “Changes in benthic ecosystems and ocean circulation in the Southeast Atlantic across Eocene Thermal Maximum 2,” published in the journal Paleoceanography, Volume 30, pages 1059-1077 in August 2015.

“Microfossil evidence” describes changes in organisms living in the oceans during a major change in the earth’s climate, a period of global cooling about 33.7 million years ago, when the Antarctic ice sheet first became established. The seven co-authors are all women, including former Wesleyan graduate student Raquel Fenero.

The researchers examined the biotic response of calcareous nannoplankton to environmental and climatic changes during the Eocene–Oligocene transition at Ocean Drilling Program (ODP) Site 1263 (Walvis Ridge, southeast Atlantic Ocean). During this time interval, global climate, which had been warm under high levels of atmospheric CO2 during the Eocene, transitioned into the cooler climate of the Oligocene.

In the Paleoceanography article, Thomas and her co-authors describe changes in benthic ecosystems in the oceans during a short period of global warming about 53.7 million years ago, and the effects of loss of oxygen and ocean acidification. The researchers include climate and geochemical modeling to indicate that changes in ocean circulation due to warming triggered more profound effects on living organisms at some depths than at other depths, and that the response of life forms to global warming (including feedback effects) thus may be complex. This article is the result of research done during Thomas’s stay as Leverhulme Visiting Professor at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, where she co-supervised graduate student Suzy Jennions.

“Our combined ecological and modeling analysis illustrates the potential role of ocean circulation changes in amplifying local environmental changes and driving temporary, but drastic, loss of benthic biodiversity and abundance,” Thomas said.

NSF Supports Thomas’s Study on the Impact of Rapid Carbon Emissions on Global Climate

Ellen Thomas

Ellen Thomas

Ellen Thomas, the University Professor in the College of Integrative Sciences, received a grant in August from the National Science Foundation to support her research on “Evaluating Deep-Sea Ventilation and the Global Carbon Cycle during early Paleocene Hyperthemals.”

The $105,000 award is part of a combined $619,000 grant shared with Yale University and the University of Texas at Arlington.

Rapid, short-term global warming events in the Early Paleogene (~65-45 million years ago) were caused by massive greenhouse gas release into the ocean-atmosphere system. These warming events, called hyperthermals, had far-reaching effects on the evolution of life on Earth, ecosystems and the carbon cycle. The most extreme of these events was the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (~55.5 million years ago). Hyperthermals resemble what could happen during anthropogenic climate change, and provide analogs for the effects of greenhouse gas emissions and their long-term effects on life on Earth.

By testing earth system interactions during the Paleogene hyperthermals, this interdisciplinary project will provide new insight into the impact of rapid carbon emissions on global climate—carbon cycle feedbacks and extremes in climate.

In this three-year collaborative project, new biotic, isotopic and trace element proxies will be integrated with existing data into a state-of-the-art, high-resolution, comprehensive earth system model to test the hypothesis that deep-sea ventilation released a massive amount of carbon from the refractory dissolved organic matter (DOM) pool during hyperthermal events, increasing atmospheric CO2 levels, thus amplifying climate change through carbon-cycle feedback.

“We will investigate the environmental response (e.g., ocean acidification and deoxygenation) and its impact on pelagic ecosystem structure for three Paleogene hyperthermals with different magnitude and duration,” Thomas explained. “The project will focus on a key mechanism involving remineralization of organic matter and oxidation of the DOM pool in the ocean, with potentially major implications for future climate evolution.”

College of Integrative Sciences to Offer Researched-Based Approach to Learning Science

Beginning next year, students majoring in the natural sciences or mathematics will have the option to pursue a cross-disciplinary, research-based course of study through the new College of Integrative Sciences (CIS), which was approved by the faculty on May 21.

According to a proposal for the new College developed by Dean of Natural Sciences and Mathematics Ishita Mukerji in consultation with faculty colleagues: “CIS aims to be an intellectual home for students interested in exploration at the boundaries of scientific disciplines, and to provide a welcoming and supportive environment for students of all disciplines who are interested by a research-based approach to learning science.”

Mukerji, who is also director of technology initiatives and professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, added: “The College builds on the idea that tomorrow’s scientists will face challenging problems in the diverse areas of energy, public health, the environment, among others, that will require a broad knowledge base, and a synthesis of different research methodologies and creative problem solving skills. Thus, a key feature of the CIS is the integration of different fields to address complex problems.”