In a special science lecture Monday afternoon in the CC Little Building, Ben Passey, assistant professor of Earth and planetary sciences at Johns Hopkins University, presented his team’s research on clumped isotopes and climate change.
With around 30 people in attendance, Passey shared the work he has done, as well as some of the research in geology his graduate students have led.
“On some level, I’m a historian of Earth, so I just want to know what the story is of the history of Earth is and how the plants and animals evolved, what kind of climates did they live in. Part of it’s practical so we’re studying climate in the past,” Passey said. “Obviously, future climate change is important, so as scientists it’s important that we understand the sort of envelope of possible climates that can exist on Earth so we have some educated guesses or predictions of how they might change in the future.”
Passey said his interest in Earth sciences started when he took a geology class to fill a science requirement at the University of Utah, where he completed his undergraduate degree. He said the class inspired him to continue with the field beyond the introductory courses.
“I had always been the kind of person who was outdoors, hiking and whatnot, the geology class made me realize that it all makes sense and that there’s a reason why the landforms are what they are,” Passey said. “It seemed like a fascinating area and, of course, it’s something that’s economically very relevant. It’s a good field to go in for jobs because of oil, gas and mineral sources.”
Passey explained how clumped isotopes can be used to predict climate changes.
“Part of the impact is Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change uses models to try and predict how temperature might change as we increase carbon dioxide emissions,” Passey said. “Some of the past climate data that I have is a real ground truth or a reality check on those predictions.”
Sierra Petersen, a research fellow at the University’s Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, has worked with clumped isotopes and said Passey’s research could be groundbreaking in studying climate and geology.
“I think it’s great. I work on clumped isotopes, so the first part was very familiar with me and then the second part on the oxygen-17 is really breaking new ground and has a lot of potential,” she said.
Passey said he believes studying geology is simple, though gathering and interpreting data for his research was somewhat difficult.
“None of the stuff that may to a newcomer looks very complicated, but on a day-to-day basis it’s not that complicated. Learning the English language is for more complicated than getting a major in geology and understanding all the ins and outs,” Passey said. “You’ve just got to take it day by day and not be overwhelmed by it.”