Planet Earth – In Deep Time: understanding past climate change

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© Araripe Global Geopark
The 120 million year old Cretaceous fossils at Araripe Global Geopark show the ancient flora and fauna.
© Araripe Global Geopark

Ice and dust, sediments and fossils provide a record of past climate change and the evolution of life. Studying the record of periods of great change can shed light on current challenges, and help us understand how variations in our climate affect life on Earth. There were great variations in both biodiversity and climate during the Devonian and Carboniferous Periods (419 – 229 million years ago), which were the focus of a 5-year International Geoscience Programme (IGCP) project. A new publication entitled “Planet Earth – In Deep Time” lays out the findings of this collaborative effort involving specialists from over 30 countries.

A changing climate with a large drop in temperature and atmospheric CO2 levels, growing continental land mass as a result of very high plate tectonic activity, and great variations in biodiversity characterize the Devonian and Carboniferous Periods (419 – 229 million years ago). Aiming to increase and refine our documentation of biodiversity mainly in tropical realms during Early Devonian-Early Carboniferous times and to identify links to climate change, the IGCP project Climate Change and Biodiversity Patterns in the Mid-Paleozoic (IGCP 596) was specifically interested in the interaction between climate change and biodiversity in this period of our Earth’s history. This was a period when terrestrial ecosystems experienced a biodiversity boom, while oceanic ecosystems suffered catastrophic extinctions.

The book “Planet Earth – In Deep Time”, authored by 114 specialists from over 30 countries, introduces the key areas of IGCP 596’s research into earth deposits of the Devonian and Carboniferous Periods. It shows the different findings in various countries around the world, with each chapter on a specific country in both English and the national language.

The project incorporated scientific as well as social purposes. On the one hand, the results of the project could help us to understand our present day situation and climate change in the future. On the other hand, the project’s novel combination of global earth system sciences and analytical paleobiology involved and educated young researchers, who will be responsible for preserving our knowledge for future generations.

For over forty years, UNESCO has worked together with the International Union for Geological Sciences (IUGS) to mobilize global cooperation in the Earth sciences through the International Geoscience Programme (IGCP). This Programme has provided an important platform for scientists from across the world to push the frontiers of knowledge forward through concrete projects.

IGCP has always built bridges between disciplines and between scientists, including students and early career scientists, with aims of stimulating cutting-edge research and sharing scientific knowledge for the benefit of all.

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