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From Plankton to Global Climate Change

By William Kissane, Staff Writer 

Every year, members of the Warren Wilson College faculty from the Division of Natural Sciences and Mathematics invite several speakers to talk about their research and interact with students in an informal setting. Over the years, the Visiting Scientist Series has opened the door to many opportunities for students, providing a unique chance to learn from experts in a variety of fields. Visiting this month will be Brian Huber, Chairman of Paleobiology and Curator of Planktonic Foraminifera at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, who is also the brother of Wilson’s own Judy Huber in Academic Support Services. Mr. Huber will be visiting science classes on April 17 and 18 during the day, with a lecture open to the public on April 17 at 7:00 PM.

“This is a valuable opportunity for the students, faculty, and staff at Wilson as well as local community members to learn from and interact with individuals pursuing a wide variety of scientific research around the world,” said Steve Cartier, the Department of Chemistry and Physics chair and the organizer of Huber’s visit.

Cartier has been at Wilson since 2008 and studied at Penn State and Boston College, specializing in physical chemistry. In addition to his role as a professor and his involvement in the organization of the Visiting Scientist Series, he pursues interest in the properties and applications of novel materials and in the exploration of natural medicinal production by native plants.

During his visit, Mr. Huber will present in Hydrology, Introduction to Environmental Studies, Chemistry, and Biology classes, and he will discuss his research as well as his work as a curator at the Smithsonian. His public lecture title is Planktonic Foraminifera: Recording Climate Change for 120 Million Years. Mr. Huber studies the sediments of ancient plankton and what these sediments can tell us about climate change millions of years into the past and its relationship to future climate change.

“I hope [students] will agree that the scientific and observational evidence for rapid global warming is not a matter for debate and that they personally can make changes that can reduce the consumption of greenhouse gases and other natural resources in day to day choices they make,” Mr. Huber said.

Mr. Huber  will discuss evidence for natural variations in Earth’s climate and present comparisons with changes since the industrial age that have been caused by humans. He has conducted research in Antarctica, Tanzania, the Yucatan Peninsula, and a variety of other locations around the world.

“With the amount of greenhouse gases emitted from burning of fossil fuels, we will not be able to stop the global warming that is underway, but we can slow it down if we can decrease the rate at which fossil fuels are being burned,” Mr. Huber said.

 Originally from northern Ohio, Mr. Huber received a M.S. in 1984, a Ph.D. in 1988 from Ohio State University and a B.S. from the University of Akron in 1981. Over the past several years, he has joined members of the Tanzania Drilling Project to obtain sediment samples from southeastern Tanzania. Mr. Huber was recently featured in an article, published March 3rd, 2014 on the New York Times webpage, regarding research done on Trilobites, an extinct species of marine arthropods that lived in the Early Cambrian period about 500 million years ago that was distantly related to the horseshoe crab. Mr. Huber’s research provides actual temperature data across time scales of millions of years, showing natural variations in climate change and providing a context for understanding the rate and magnitude of global warming.

“We are excited about [Huber’s] visit and grateful to him for the generosity of his time,” Cartier said. “He has a compelling story to share about how these simple biological life forms hold a great deal of information regarding the history and current state of our planet. It will be an enlightening experience for all who have the pleasure of interacting with and listening to him while he is here.”


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