Meeting Information

Global Warming 56 Million Years Ago and What It Means for Us

November 17, 2015
American Center for Physics
College Park, MD

Dr. Scott WingDate: Tuesday, November 17, 2015 (Please NOTE Day and Date)

Speaker: Dr. Scott Wing, Curator of Fossil Plants, Smithsonian Institution

Topic: Global Warming 56 Million Years Ago and What It Means for Us

Time and Location: 1:00 PM, with Q&A to follow; in a 1st floor conference room at the American Center for Physics (, 1 Physics Ellipse, College Park, MD — off River Rd., between Kenilworth Ave. and Paint Branch Parkway.

Abstract: Human emissions of greenhouse gases will alter conditions on earth for many thousands of years into the future, so we need to understand the long-term consequences. The past event that best mirrors present-day warming occurred 56 million years ago and is called the ..Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, or PETM. The PETM started when an amount of carbon roughly similar to that in modern fossil fuel reserves was released in a few thousand years, causing global warming of 4-8 °C. I will talk about the PETM, explaining what we know about its causes, and what we have learned about its effects on ecosystems in North America and elsewhere, effects that included rapid extirpation of some local populations, colonization of new areas by others, and rapid evolution. Deep time has ever more relevance to our future as we rapidly mold our planet in the ongoing geological epoch some call the Anthropocene, or Age of Humans.

Biography: Scott Wing was born in New Orleans and grew up there and in Durham, North Carolina. His childhood interest in fossils was reinforced by fieldwork in Wyoming while he was an undergraduate at Yale, where he received his B.S. in Biology in 1976. He completed his Ph.D. in Biology at Yale in 1981, then was a National Research Council postdoctoral fellow at the U.S. Geological Survey. He started at the Smithsonian Institution in 1984, focusing much of his research on past periods of global warming. Since 2012 Wing has been on the core team redesigning the fossil halls that will open at the Smithsonian in 2019.