Evolution of Earth and Life
The School has traditional strengths in palaeobiology, palaeoclimate and the deep Earth, and collaborates with Geographical Sciences and Biological Sciences. Our common interest in the long-term evolution of the Earth’s linked interior, surface, atmosphere and biosphere drives collaborations and paradigm-shifting research in Earth history. Highlights include:
- Beyond Palaeontology. We have developed paleobiology into a cross-faculty endeavour centred around innovative genomic, molecular and biomechanical approaches to understanding organismal evolution. Main advances include understanding display and camouflage behaviours in extinct birds and feathered dinosaurs (one of the ‘top ten scientific discoveries of the decade’), challenging timescales of organismal evolution using novel genomic and molecular methods to infer deep interrelationships of animals and plants, and overturning ideas of the origin and form of mammals using tomographic reconstruction and biomechanical modelling.
- Palaeoclimate. We have built an innovative palaeoclimate community in partnership with Geographical Sciences, supported by investment in world-leading geochemistry facilities and HPC. We provided primary evidence that pCO2 has likely not exceeded 450 ppm for the last 3 million years nor 1500 ppm for the past 50 million years. This contributed to the inclusion of palaeoclimate, including palaeoclimate-derived estimates of climate sensitivity, in IPCC assessments.
- Understanding the deep volatile cycle. We have driven research to understand the role of the deep Earth in the cycle of volatile elements over geological time, supported by isotope mass spectrometry, high-pressure experimental facilities and HPC to support deep Earth seismology. We have revealed unexpected potential for deep reservoirs of carbon and hydrogen in the mid-mantle.
We are creating exciting new avenues for collaboration, further enabled by novel molecular insights into evolution and our analytical innovations that have expanded the “isotopic window” into the ancient Earth. Critical questions include determining the planetary drivers of Earth’s carbon inventory and the ecological, biological and biogeochemical consequences of pCO2 change.