Tag Archive for Royer

Royer Finds Climate Could Soon Hit a State Unseen in 50 Million Years

Dana Royer

Dana Royer

New climate research by Dana Royer, professor and chair of earth and environmental sciences, finds that current carbon dioxide levels are unprecedented in human history and, if they continue on this trajectory “the atmosphere could reach a state unseen in 50 million years” by mid-century, according to an article in Salon.

The carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere today are ones that likely haven’t been reached in 3 million years. But if human activities keep committing carbon dioxide to the atmosphere at current rates, scientists will have to look a lot deeper into the past for a similar period. The closest analog to the mid-century atmosphere we’re creating would be a period roughly 50 million years ago known as the Eocene, a period when the world was completely different than the present due to extreme heat and oceans that covered a wide swath of currently dry land.

“The early Eocene was much warmer than today: global mean surface temperature was at least 10°C (18°F) warmer than today,” Dana Royer, a paleoclimate researcher at Wesleyan University who co-authored the new research, said. “There was little-to-no permanent ice. Palms and crocodiles inhabited the Canadian Arctic.”

Royer’s paper was published April 4 in Nature Communications and widely covered in the mainstream press. The implications, writes Salon, “are some of the starkest reminders yet that humanity faces a major choice to curtail carbon pollution or risk pushing the climate outside the bounds that have allowed civilization to thrive.”

According to an article in U.S. News & World Report:

 CO2 levels in the atmosphere have varied over millions of years. But fossil fuel use in the last 150 years has boosted levels from 280 parts per million (ppm) before industrialization to nearly 405 ppm in 2016, according to the researchers.

If people don’t halt rising CO2 levels and burn all available fossil fuels, CO2 levels could reach 2,000 ppm by the year 2250, the researchers said. CO2 and other gases act like a blanket, preventing heat from escaping into space. That’s known as the greenhouse effect, the researchers explained.

But the researchers note that CO2 levels are not the only factor in climate change; changes in the amount of incoming light also have an affect, and nuclear reactions in stars like the sun have made them brighter over time. Royer says this interplay is important:

“Up to now it’s been a puzzle as to why, despite the sun’s output having increased slowly over time, scant evidence exists for any similar long-term warming of the climate. Our finding of little change in the net climate forcing offers an explanation for why Earth’s climate has remained relatively stable, and within the bounds suitable for life all this time.”

Royer also is professor of environmental studies, professor of integrative sciences. See more coverage in Science Daily and International Business Times.

7 Faculty Promoted, 1 Awarded Tenure

In its most recent meeting, the Board of Trustees conferred tenure on Hari Krishnan, associate professor of dance. He joins seven other faculty members who were awarded tenure earlier this spring.

In addition, seven faculty members were promoted to Full Professor: Mary Alice Haddad, professor of government; Scott Higgins, professor of film studies; Tsampikos Kottos, professor of physics; Edward Moran, professor of astronomy; Dana Royer, professor of earth and environmental sciences; Mary-Jane Rubenstein, professor of religion; and Gina Athena Ulysse, professor of anthropology.

Brief descriptions of their research and teaching appear below.

Associate Professor Krishnan teaches studio- and lecture-based dance courses on Mobilizing Dance: Cinema, the Body, and Culture in South Asia; Modern Dance 3; and Bharata Natyam.  His academic and choreographic interests include queering the dancing body, critical readings of Indian dance and the history of courtesan dance traditions in South India. He is a scholar and master of historical Bharatanatyam and also an internationally acclaimed choreographer of contemporary dance from global perspectives.

Professor Haddad teaches courses about comparative, East Asian, and environmental politics. She has authored two books, Building Democracy in Japan and Politics and Volunteering in Japan: A Global Perspective, and co-edited a third, NIMBY is Beautiful: Local Activism and Environmental Innovation in Germany and Beyond. She is currently working on a book about effective advocacy and East Asian environmental politics.

Professor Higgins teaches courses in film history, theory, and genre, and is a 2011 recipient of Wesleyan’s Binswanger Prize for Excellence in Teaching.  His research interests include moving-image aesthetics, feature and serial storytelling, and cinema’s technological history. He is author of Harnessing the Rainbow: Technicolor Aesthetics in the 1930s and Matinee Melodrama: Playing with Formula in the Sound Serial (forthcoming), and editor of Arnheim for Film and Media Studies.

Professor Kottos offers courses on Quantum Mechanics; Condensed Matter Physics; and Advanced Topics in Theoretical Physics. He has published more than 100 papers on the understanding of wave propagation in complex media, which have received more than 3,000 citations. His current research focuses on the development of non-Hermitian Optics. This year, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research has recognized his theoretical proposal on optical limiters as a high priority strategic goal of the agency.

Professor Moran teaches introductory courses such as Descriptive Astronomy and The Dark Side of the Universe, in addition to courses on observational and extragalactic astronomy.  His research focuses on extragalactic X-ray sources and the X-ray background, and his expertise in spectroscopic instrumentation combined with an insightful conceptual appreciation of galaxy formation have positioned him as a leader in observational black hole research.

Professor Royer offers courses on Environmental Studies; Geobiology; and Soils.  His research explores how plants can be used to reconstruct ancient environments, and the (paleo-) physiological underpinnings behind these plant-environment relationships.  His recent work on the relationship between atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and climate over geologic time has had significant impact on the field of paleoclimatology.

Professor Rubenstein teaches courses in philosophy of religion; pre- and postmodern theologies; and the intersections of religion, sex, gender, and science.  Her research interests include continental philosophy, theology, gender and sexuality studies, and the history and philosophy of cosmology.  She is the author of Strange Wonder: The Closure of Metaphysics and the Opening of Awe, and Worlds without End: The Many Lives of the Multiverse.

Professor Ulysse offers courses on Crafting Ethnography; Haiti: Between Anthropology and Journalism; Key Issues in Black Feminism; and Theory 2: Beyond Me, Me, Me: Reflexive Anthropology. Her research examines black diasporic conditions. Her recent work combines scholarship, performance, and exposition to ponder the fate of Haiti in the modern world and how it is narrated in different outlets and genres.  She is the author of Downtown Ladies: Informal Commercial Importers, A Haitian Anthropologist and Self-Making in Jamaica, and Why Haiti Needs New Narratives.

Royer’s Study Suggests that the Meteorite That Wiped Out Dinosaurs Changed Forests

Dana Royer, associate professor of earth and environmental sciences.

Dana Royer, associate professor of earth and environmental sciences, is the co-author of a study that suggests fast-growing deciduous plants replaced slower-growing evergreen plants after an impact of a meteorite 60 million years ago. (Photo by Olivia Drake)

Sixty-six million years ago, a meteorite struck the Earth with enough force that the ensuing environmental changes, including floods, earthquakes, variable temperatures and light-obscuring dust clouds, possibly wiped out dinosaurs and other pre-historic life. Scientists believe this opened a path for mammals, and ultimately humans, to evolve.

A new study by Dana Royer, associate professor of earth and environmental sciences, and colleagues from the University of Arizona and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science suggests that the chaos in the wake of the space rock’s impact changed the Earth’s plant life as well. Deciduous plants survived and flourished to a much greater extent than flowering evergreens, the scientists believe, probably because their properties made them much better able to respond to climate conditions post-impact. The deciduous plants, not needing to maintain their leaves year round, essentially needed less energy for survival.

Royer’s Study Published in PLOS Biology

Dana Royer

Dana Royer

Dana Royer, associate professor of earth and environmental sciences, is the co-author of “Plant Ecological Strategies Shift Across the Cretaceous-Paleogene Boundary,” published in PLOS Biology on Sept. 15.

The study reveals that a meteorite that hit Earth 60 million years ago – and may have led to the mass extinction of the world’s dinosaur population – also led to a shift in the landscape of plants, particularly deciduous plants.

Royer and his colleagues showed how they applied bio-mechanical formulas to fossilized leaves of flowering plants dating from the last 1.4 million years of the Cretaceous period and the first 800,000 of the Paleogene. Read more about Royer’s study in this News @ Wesleyan article.

Chernoff, Royer Co-Author Paper on Diversity, CO2 in Neotropical Forests

Barry Chernoff and Dana Royer are the co-authors of “Diversity in neotropical wet forests during the Cenozoic linked more to atmospheric CO2 than temperature,” published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, B, in 2013. Proceedings B is the Royal Society’s flagship biological research journal, dedicated to the rapid publication and broad dissemination of high-quality research papers, reviews and comment and reply papers. The scope of the journal is diverse and is especially strong in organismal biology.

Chernoff is the director of the College of the Environment, the Robert Schumann Professor of Environmental Studies, professor of biology, professor of earth and environmental sciences. Royer is associate professor of earth and environmental sciences, associate professor of environmental studies.

Ocean Acidification Paper by Royer, Thomas Published in Science

Ellen Thomas examines a core of sediment from some 56 million years ago, when the oceans underwent acidification that could be an analog to ocean changes today. (Photo by Steve Schellenberg)

Dana Royer and Ellen Thomas are among the 21 authors of a review paper, “The Geological Record of Ocean Acidification,” published in Science, March 2012: Vol. 335, no. 6072, pages 1058-1063.

In the paper, the authors review events exhibiting evidence for elevated atmospheric CO2, global warming, and ocean acidification over the past 300 million years of Earth’s history, some with contemporaneous extinction or evolutionary turnover among marine calcifiers.

Ocean acidification may have severe consequences for marine ecosystems; however, assessing its future impact is difficult because laboratory experiments and field observations are limited by their reduced ecologic complexity and sample period, respectively.

Royer is an associate professor of earth and environmental sciences, and Thomas is a research professor of earth and environmental sciences.

Science News and The Earth Institute at Columbia University published press releases on the study.

In addition, Thomas’s study titled, “Ocean Acidification – How will ongoing ocean acidification affect marine life?” appeared in a 2011 edition of PAGES, in a special volume with the title Paired Perspectives on Global Change.

The ocean acidification study was funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation.

Faculty, Students Present at International AGU Conference

Graduate student Austin Reed presented his first results for his MA thesis at the American Geophysical Union conference. Reed and his advisor, Johan Varekamp, are examining the evolution of two large explosive volcanic eruptions in the Greek arc.

Three faculty members from Earth and Environmental Sciences, as well as two graduate students and two undergraduate students, presented their research at the annual conference of the American Geophysical Union (AGU) in San Francisco, Calif., Dec. 5-7. The conference drew more than 20,000 scientists and policy makers from around the world.

Associate Professors Suzanne O’Connell and Dana Royer, Assistant Professor Phillip Resor, and Austin Reed MA-candidate, Rosemary Ostfeld BA ‘10/MA ‘12, and Julia Mulhern ’12 all attended. In addition, a poster by Katherine Shervais ’13, was also presented.

“Our research in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences is so diverse, and it is exciting to see Wesleyan faculty, students, and alumni contributing to technical sessions spread across many of the AGU sections,” Resor says.

Post Quake Haiti Topic of Panel Discussion



Gina Ulysse introduces a panel discussion on “One Year later: Assessing Disaster and Community in Post Quake Haiti” Feb. 9 in Usdan University Center. Ulysse is associate professor of African American Studies, associate professor of anthropology, associate professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies.



Royer Receives Donath Medal at Geological Meeting

Dana Royer.

Dana Royer, assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences, assistant professor of environmental studies, accepted the gold Donath Medal at the Geological Society of America’s (GSA) annual meeting in Denver, Colo. Nov. 1.

The award came with a cash prize of $10,000.

The award recognizes a scientist, aged 35 or younger, for outstanding original research marking a major advance in the earth sciences.

On a GSA press release, Peter D. Wilf of Pennsylvania State University said, “Dana is a true innovator who successfully tackles extremely important questions in paleoclimatology and paleoecology, in part using paleobotanical proxies calibrated with a remarkable series of careful modern analog studies. He often connects the deep-time climate and CO2 record to the present day in highly societally-relevant ways that are widely cited in the ‘modern’ climate change literature.”

“Without Dana’s contributions we would know much less about Earth’s climate history and its great importance to today’s world,” Wilf said.

Leo Hickey, professor of geology and Curator of Paleobotany at Yale University, said, “In the rapidly developing field of plant paleoecology and ecophysiology, Dana Royer stands out in terms of innovation and sheer breadth and depth of knowledge. He is truly an emerging leader in the geological sciences.”

Phil Resor, assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences, also attended the annual GSA meeting, which focused on “Reaching New Peaks in Geoscience.”

Gus Seixas ’10 and Greg Hurd ’10 also presented results of their Wesleyan thesis research at the meeting.

Royer Awarded Donath Medal for Geological Research

Dana Royer, assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences.

Dana Royer, assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences, has been awarded the Donath Medal by the Geological Society of America (GSA).

The Donath Medal is presented to “a young scientist (35 years or younger) for outstanding achievement in contribution to geologic knowledge through research which marks a major advance in the earth sciences.”

Royer’s research interests include global change, paleoclimatology, carbon cycle, paleoecology, paleobotany, plant physiology and light stable isotope geochemistry. He has done extensive studies which have established evidence on how plants affected ancient ecosystems, drawing parallels and evidence from current plant life and conditions.

The presentation of the Donath Medal will be made during the 2010 GSA annual Meeting in Denver, Colo.

Royer Author of Fossil Leaf, Fossil Soil Articles

Dana Royer, assistant professor of environmental studies, assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences, is the co-author of “Quantification of large uncertainties in fossil leaf paleoaltimetry,” published in Tectonics, doi:10.1029/2009TC002549, 2010; and “Fossil soils constrain ancient climate sensitivity,” published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107: 517-518, 2010.

5 Questions with . . . Dana Royer

Dana Royer, assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences.

In this issue we ask 5 Questions to…Dana Royer, assistant professor of earth and environmental sciences, who has a new study in the American Journal of Botany that examined flowering plant fossils in hopes of uncovering clues about the growth characteristics of some of these ancient angiosperms.

Q. Your study looks at the structure of fossil flowering plants, also known as angiosperms, from more than 100 million years ago. What were you hoping to discover?

A. Flowering plants are ubiquitous in most areas on Earth today. Over 90 percent of all plant species today are angiosperms. Given how important these plants are today, it is surprising how little we know about their origins. We sought to better understand the ecology of early angiosperms. In what kinds of environments did flowering plants rise to dominance? What was their growth strategy: were the slow-growing or fast-growing?

2. What is the basis for the theory that angiosperms from 140-100 million years ago were fast-growing?

A. It has been known for several decades that many of the earliest angiosperm fossils are found in river deposits. Plants growing today along river corridors are usually fast-growing. This is true not just for the weeds but also for the trees such as cottonwood.