From Frozen Beaches to Tropical Poles: The Evolution of Earth’s Carbon Cycle
Hundreds of millions of years ago, massive ice caps blanketed Earth’s continents from coast to coast. More recently, lush mega-forests of swamp cypress and dawn redwood have occupied what is now the Arctic circle. These dramatic shifts in Earth’s climate have long fascinated geoscientists. What caused these dramatic transitions between Icehouse and Greenhouse Earths? How did these different climate states influence the evolution of life on Earth? Could life itself have altered Earth’s climate? Ultimately, periods when the Earth was fundamentally different from today have provided key insights into the Earth’s carbon cycle, or the planetary machinery that moderates climate over geologic time. Based on what we currently know about the history of Earth’s carbon cycle, Earth has never seen a geologic agent as rapid and relentless as humans and this understanding should strongly shape our response to the current carbon crisis.
Kate Maher is a Professor of Earth System Science at Stanford University. Kate has degrees in Civil and Environmental Engineering (MS) and Earth and Planetary Sciences (PhD) from UC Berkeley. Her research focuses on the application of reactive transport approaches and models to investigate a diverse array of questions including the evolution of Earth’s subsurface environments and their links to the carbon cycle, subsurface storage of CO2, and ground water contamination. By combining computer models with field and laboratory measurements, her research couples thermodynamic, kinetic and biological processes to understand our unique planet. Kate is a fellow of the American Geophysical Union and was awarded the James B. Macelwane Medal.