When Climate Made Us: African Climate and Human Evolution
Tuesday January 26th
Room 417 Schermerhorn Hall
Summary: The fossil record of early human evolution in Africa is punctuated by bursts of exceptional evolutionary change that eventually produced uniquely human traits - bipedality, large brains, and tool use. With new and diverse paleoclimate data, we'll test the hypothesis that these biotic changes were related to progressive shifts in African climate toward drier and increasingly variable conditions.
Professor Peter deMenocal's major areas of research are paleoclimatology and paleoceanography. In particular, he studies marine sediment to reconstruct past changes in ocean circulation and terrestrial climate. The group with which he works at Lamont primarily uses stable isotopic and trace metal (Mg/Ca) analyses of foraminifera and terrigenous sediment geochemistry to investigate how and why climates have changed in the past. Current research projects include deep-sea sediment core investigations into the timing and abruptness of the African Humid Period between 10,000-5,000 years ago, a time when North Africa was much wetter than today.
Peter received his Ph.D. from Columbia in 1991, and has been at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory since then. He joined the department of Earth and Environmental Sciences in 1999, and last October the graduate students awarded him the 2008-2009 Best Teacher award. The departmental honor followed one year after the University awarded Peter a Distinguished Columbia Faculty Award for exceptional teaching in the Arts and Sciences. The awards are given annually to faculty of unusual merit across a range of professorial activities - including scholarship, University citizenship, and professional involvement - with a primary emphasis on the instruction and mentoring of undergraduate and graduate students.
Future talks are scheduled for Tuesdays from 12:15-1:00pm in Room 417 Schermerhorn Hall. Attendees are welcome to bring their lunch.
All are welcome to attend!