Exploring the Past, Present and Future of People and Ecosystems using Geochemistry
Accelerating human-caused global impacts that disrupt or change Earth’s natural systems is a defining feature of the Anthropocene. Although the Anthropocene concept is widely accepted, critical questions remain concerning the onset, tempo, and mechanisms of human impacts on biological processes and environmental change. I argue that large-scale human modification of the environment started much earlier than the Industrial Revolution, and in order to fully understand the development and future trajectory of Earth systems during the Anthropocene, we must also explore the ecological and evolutionary aspects of what makes us human. What about us as a species predisposes us to environmental modification? How did the development of modern society through urbanism and agriculture set us off a course of global anthropogenic change? What are the geochemical fingerprints of those changes, and can we use those fingerprints to track change in the modern era, as well as in the recent geologic past? The goal of my research program is understand the intimate ties between people and ecosystems across many different timescales using geochemistry, and I will show how these environmental records provide the crucial data needed to understand the modern planet during the Anthropocene as we know it.