Public programs at UCMP : UCMP's annual short course

Global change: Connecting Earth's deep history to life today

The 2015 UCMP Short Course was dedicated to the memory of Mary Jane Holmes, a local teacher who looked forward every year to a new topic that would stimulate her thinking and energize her teaching.
New scientific research is unveiling the multitude of ways that global change processes have shaped Darwin's "great Tree of Life, which fills with its dead and broken branches the crust of the earth, and covers the surface with its ever-branching and beautiful ramifications." From the movement of the tectonic plates that form that crust, to the shifts in climate that have occurred throughout Earth's history, these sweeping changes have interacted with one another and broadly impacted the course of life on Earth. Today, of course, human activity represents an additional mechanism of global change that is poised to shape the Tree of Life in a multitude of ways. This short course explored the deep connections that tie Earth systems to changes in biodiversity throughout Earth's history.

This short course was cosponsored by the Berkeley Natural History Museums (BNHM) and Science@Cal.

Saturday, March 7, 2015
10 Evans Hall, UC Berkeley
9:00 am to 3:30 pm





Welcome, logistics, and introduction by Lisa White


Setting the stage — Charles Marshall


CO2 Life fantastic: The global carbon cycle
Inez Fung, Professor, Departments of Earth & Planetary Science and Environmental Science, Policy & Management, UC Berkeley
CO2 is both friend and foe. This talk reviews the life cycle of CO2 in the terrestrial biosphere, the oceans, the geosphere and the atmosphere, as well as recent perturbations of the carbon cycle. How do we know that the increase in atmospheric CO2 is due to human activities? A new satellite, the Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2 (OCO2), launched on July 2, 2014, is expected to provide global observations of CO2 that would be useful for informing climate treaty verification. Global observations of CO2 by increasing sophisticated instruments is critically important for long term monitoring of CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change and impact all nations. Download Fung's presentation (13.6 MB PowerPoint).


The past as the key to the present, and as a guide for the future
Charles Marshall, UCMP Director and Professor, Department of Integrative Biology, UC Berkeley
Knowledge of the drivers and consequences of deep-time climate change alters our perspective on current global change. In this presentation I will show how today's climate is unusual in comparison with most of those seen over the last half billion years and highlight how an understanding of the drivers of past change helps us better understand the current CO2 crisis. Turning attention more locally, I will then explore how relatively recent climate change created some of the characteristic Californian biomes, and demonstrate unexpected connections between the evolution of the marine and terrestrial biotas. On shorter timescales, outlining the impact ancient humans had on the biosphere with our knowledge of terrestrial ecosystems over the past 50,000 years points to just how unusual our current situation really is. Finally I ask: Are we entering a 6th mass extinction? Download Marshall's presentation (19.2 MB pdf).


Mammalian responses to climate change: Lessons learned from the fossil record
Larisa R.G. DeSantis, Assistant Professor, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Vanderbilt University
Climate change can alter species distributions, abundances, and interactions. The fossil record provides critical data to assess the effects of past climate and environmental change on mammals. Specifically, fossils data can help answer questions pertaining to competition, long-term responses to environmental change, and conditions facilitating the extinction of numerous mammals. In this talk I will discuss how past climate change has affected mammalian communities and their environments over longer time scales than accessible to ecologists, including revealing cautionary lessons of relevance to modern conservation.


Break for lunch (on your own)


Visualizing the future: Conservation in a time of rapid climate change
David Ackerly, Professor, Department of Integrative Biology, UC Berkeley
21st century climate change threatens the fabric of the natural world as we have come to know it in recent history. Conservation biology has been largely focused on preserving or restoring a 'natural world,' protected from human influence. Our challenge moving forward is to visualize and embrace a future that may be different from our recent past. I will review climate trends for California, and the experimental evidence and model projections of how these changes may impact vegetation and biodiversity. In the light of this evidence, conservation goals and strategies will be considered that can address and succeed in the face of dramatic ecological change. Download Ackerly's presentation (46.5 MB PowerPoint).


Previewing a new web resource on global change
The Understanding Global Change Team
Understanding Global Change is the subject of a new UCMP website that will provide vetted scientific content, teaching resources, and strategies for K-16 educators to effectively incorporate the complex — but critically important — topic of global change science into their existing curricula. The site broadly defines global change as the varied ways in which Earth's natural systems change over time and the site will focus on the science behind global change, the many scientific disciplines bearing on past and current global change, and interactions and feedbacks among climate systems. Join us for highlights and previews of this soon-to-be released site!


Open questions

About the speakers
David Ackerly is a Professor of Integrative Biology at UC Berkeley. He attended Yale as an undergraduate and did his Ph.D. work and a post-doctoral fellowship at Harvard. He was an Assistant Professor at Stanford, before seeing the light and moving to Berkeley in 2005. He grew up roaming the woods of New Hampshire, and has conducted research in Brazil, Mexico, Japan, and South Africa. Currently his work focuses on the potential impacts of climate change on California biodiversity, and the implications for conservation and land management with a special focus on the San Francisco Bay Area.

Larisa R.G. DeSantis is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Vanderbilt University. She uses modern, historic, and fossil records to inform ecologists and conservation biologists about plant and animal responses to climate change. Using a variety of tools and techniques, she can improve our understanding of past climates and the dietary behavior of ancient herbivores and carnivores by analyzing mammal teeth (their shape, chemistry, and the microscopic textures resulting from food consumption). Currently, she studies most mammals, big and small, from the southeastern US to South America, Australia, and beyond. She received her B.S. at Berkeley, an M.E.M. from Yale, and her Ph.D. from the University of Florida.

Inez Fung is a Professor of Atmospheric Science in the Departments of Earth & Planetary Science and Environmental Science, Policy & Management at UC Berkeley. She has been studying climate change and the carbon cycle for the last 30 years and is the US lead of the 2014 report "Climate Change: Evidence and Causes" published jointly by the Royal Society and the National Academy of Sciences. She is the principal architect of large-scale mathematical modeling approaches and numerical models to represent the geographic and temporal variations of sources and sinks of CO2 around the globe. Inez received her S.B. in Applied Mathematics and her Sc.D. in Meteorology from MIT and she is a subject in a biography series for middle-school readers "Women's Adventure in Science" launched by the National Academy of Sciences.

Charles Marshall is Director of the UC Museum of Paleontology and Professor in the Department of Integrative Biology at UC Berkeley. A researcher with broad interests, he integrates both paleontological and molecular phylogenetic data to look at speciation and extinction rates at different times in the past. A confessed math-lover, Charles also develops quantitative methods to compensate for the incompleteness of the fossil record and his work examines the rapidity and timing of mass extinctions. His current research examines the synergy of tectonic processes, climate change, and changes in diversity on geologic timescales. Charles earned his undergraduate degree at the Australian National University and his Masters and Ph.D. at the University of Chicago.