Paleontology: Past is Prologue

Paleontologists look at fossils and other evidence of the history of life on earth. And this window to the past is giving us some important clues about our future. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by the American Museum of Natural History.

Michael Novacek is senior Vice President, Provost and Curator of Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History.

“At a very simple level, the fact that paleontology demonstrates powerfully that life is impermanent, that species can get wiped out, disappear from the face of the Earth and that something else can take over is a huge philosophical lesson for human beings. It may be a simple notion, but it’s not always a notion that’s been around in our history. And it is one that is continually refined, the more that we know about our fossil record. As we get closer to the present, paleontologists actually tell us much more specific things about the changes in life, things that might relate to our measure of ecosystems today. For example, studies of events that go back fifteen thousand years wrestle with the question of what was the human impact on major forms of life on islands in Australia and other continents. And those are important questions, because they relate to our capacity to do that job on the biota today. There’s a wonderful work during this time span that deals with climate change. Based on the record of the plants that lived there, based on isotope data from ocean currents, and those are extremely instructive in looking at questions like global warming, or global climate change. Because they are the only evidence for climate change, the only tangible evidence of what actually happened.”

Please visit our web site at www.pulseplanet.com. Additional funding for this series has been provided by the National Science Foundation. I’m Jim Metzner.

Paleontology: Past is Prologue

Fossil records provide some of the only evidence we have of global warming.
Air Date:05/08/1998
Scientist:
Transcript:

Paleontologists look at fossils and other evidence of the history of life on earth. And this window to the past is giving us some important clues about our future. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by the American Museum of Natural History.

Michael Novacek is senior Vice President, Provost and Curator of Paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History.

"At a very simple level, the fact that paleontology demonstrates powerfully that life is impermanent, that species can get wiped out, disappear from the face of the Earth and that something else can take over is a huge philosophical lesson for human beings. It may be a simple notion, but it's not always a notion that's been around in our history. And it is one that is continually refined, the more that we know about our fossil record. As we get closer to the present, paleontologists actually tell us much more specific things about the changes in life, things that might relate to our measure of ecosystems today. For example, studies of events that go back fifteen thousand years wrestle with the question of what was the human impact on major forms of life on islands in Australia and other continents. And those are important questions, because they relate to our capacity to do that job on the biota today. There's a wonderful work during this time span that deals with climate change. Based on the record of the plants that lived there, based on isotope data from ocean currents, and those are extremely instructive in looking at questions like global warming, or global climate change. Because they are the only evidence for climate change, the only tangible evidence of what actually happened."

Please visit our web site at www.pulseplanet.com. Additional funding for this series has been provided by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.