Benjamin Meaker Visiting Professor Marci Robinson, U.S. Geological Survey

Marci Robinson

The Cenozoic warm periods - impacts on the ocean and its ecosystems

6 - 23 June 2019


Dr. Robinson is a micropaleontologist with a focus on planktic foraminifera. This group of organisms is the prime carrier for paleo climate proxies and has an outstanding fossil record. Dr Robinson received her PhD from George Mason University in Virginia, USA, and has worked at the U.S. Geological Survey since that time, first as a Mendenhall Postdoctoral Fellow, and now as a Research Geologist. She has over 50 publications related to utilizing the species assemblage data of these microfossils to interpret paleoenvironmental history and to reconstruct local, regional and global oceanographic parameters. At the USGS, she is the project chief of two projects that focus on the geological, geomorphological, and ecological effects of past warm periods. Dr Robinson is an integral member of PRISM, a flagship data synopsis and model data comparison which has led to several papers in high impact journals, general interest papers to inform the public and is the target for data model comparison of the IPCC climate models.

 Specifically, her work examines the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, the Early Eocene Climatic Optimum, the Middle Miocene Climatic Optimum and the mid-Piacenzian warm period in terms of the response of critical ecosystems in marine environments and geomorphological change in coastal zones. These intervals of past global warmth are similar to our modern climate in terms of the rate of change and (or) magnitude of atmospheric CO2 concentration and average global temperature. As large segments of the global population live in coastal communities, this research provides valuable data to inform adaptation strategies related to the ecological health of the shallow marine environment and the threat to coastal economies and infrastructure.

Project Summary

The oceans represent > 95% of Earth’s habitable environment. There is consensus since the last IPCC report that the rate of climate change today is unprecedented in the history of our planet since the extinction of the dinosaurs. Understanding the impacts of climate change is important. We have evidence from the last decades and from experiments that marine organisms are changing their abundance, are migrating to follow their temperature optima and are changing their calcification.

A key component of the ocean is marine plankton. Marine plankton have many functions to include producing food at the base of the food web, regulating biogeochemical cycles such as exporting organic matters to the Deep Ocean or producing carbonate, so beautifully visible in the white Cliffs of Dover.

Past warm periods provide a baseline for the impact of changes to the marine environment that can be used to prepare for the effects of the modern warming trend. Using the unique sample set of the USGS and the automated microscopy for morphological analysis in the Schmidt lab, Dr Robinson and Prof Schmidt will test how foraminifera, tiny fossils with an outstanding fossil record, have reacted to a warmer more acidic ocean during the Pliocene and the Paleocene Eocene thermal maximum. Our approach will use new techniques in cores from all ocean basins and from the poles to the tropics. We will literally perform millions of measurements contrasting different regions to establish the response of foraminifers to warm worlds. If they are smaller or thinner, then the amount of carbonate produced will be smaller. We will analyse their size, which gives us an indication for their fitness. We will determine their geochemical composition to test if these species bleached during hot climates similar to corals today. Jointly this information will determine impacts on marine carbonate production in the future.

During her stay Dr Robinson will be hosted by Professor Daniela Schmidt (Earth Science)

Planned events include:

A research seminar to the Bridge seminar, details tbc

Postgraduate seminar
Monday 17th June, 1 pm, G25, Wills Memorial Building
A talk about the careers available in geological surveys, Dr Robinson's experiences of working for the USGS and advice for those wishing to pursue a career in this area. There will be time to ask questions and chat to Dr Robinson after the talk.

Departmental / Cabot seminar
Tuesday 18th June, 1 pm, G25, Wills Memorial Building
Planktic foraminferal assemblages as recorders of the past
There is an opportunity to meet Dr Robinson over lunch afterwards