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Biological and Environmental Evolution during the Deeptime Critical Climate Transitions
Prof. SHEN Shuzhong, Professor of Earth Sciences and Engineering, Nanjing University
Date : 12 Apr 2019 (Friday)
Time : 4:30 - 6:00 pm
Venue : Lee Wing Tat Lecture Theater (LT-D), HKUST
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The interaction and coupling between organisms and their environments have long become the key scientific inquiries into understanding history of life on earth as well as processes and mechanisms of organismal and environmental evolution. Is the present earth experiencing rapid global warming? If so, what does it mean to the ecosystems on earth? These questions have drawn overwhelmingly close attention from international science communities, policy-makers worldwide, and the general public alike. Science issues such as global warming have greatly impacted upon world politics, economic development, and foreign affairs. So a good understanding of the current ecosystems on earth and adequate prediction of their future evolutionary trend have become essential scientific quests in order to maintain sustainable world development. In recent years, a number of world organizations have issued their research reports, demonstrating many similarities in characteristics of organic and environmental changes between what’s going on now and what had gone through the earth's history. Thus, to improve our prediction of biospheric changes on today’s earth, we must have a better grasp of those in its geologic past. In other words, the past is the key to the present.

Organic evolution, as well as its processes and dynamics, intimately hinges on evolution of earth’s environments. From its simple beginning to the current “endless forms, most beautiful”, life has undergone numerous important evolutionary transitions. All these important evolutionary events were closely linked to the drastic environmental changes. These changes included dramatic tectonic activities of the lithosphere, large-scale volcanism, global extreme climatic fluctuations (e.g., temperature), and asteroids’ impacts on earth.

China boasts a relatively complete rock record for a number of critical geological intervals, which witnessed the drastic environmental change events that brought about important organic evolutionary events. For example, the origin of metazoan around 600 million years ago is believed to relate to the waning of the largest glacial period in the history of earth. The Cambrian explosion was related to the formation process of the Gondwana supercontinent. The end-Ordovician mass extinction was well correlated to the cooling and glaciation. The thriving of the Carboniferous land plants was correlated with the extremely low pCO2 value in the atmosphere and the advent of the late Paleozoic glaciation. The end-Permian mass extinction might be directly related to massive volcanic activities, triggered by the Siberian Traps. The heyday of dinosaurs and the origin of birds and angiosperms might be brought about by very warm climate. Therefore, studies on the causes and processes of the drastic climatic changes and their impacts on earth’s ecosystems in the geologic past have great bearings on assessing the current status, and predicting the future trend, of the drastic climatic changes that our present ecosystems have to endure.  

About the speaker

Prof. Shen Shuzhong is currently a Professor of Earth Sciences and Engineering at Nanjing University. He received his MSc and PhD from China University of Mining and Technology in 1986 and 1989 respectively. He has been the Chair of the International Subcommission on Permian Stratigraphy and the Member of International Commission on Stratigraphy since 2012. He was elected an Academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) in 2015 and has been the leading scientist of an Outstanding Research Group continuously supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China for nine years. Before joining Nanjing University in 2018, he served as the Director of the State Key Laboratory of Palaeobiology and Stratigraphy at Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology (NIGP), CAS in 2006 – 2016 and was the Professor at NIGP in 2011 – 2018.

Prof. Shen's major fields include mass extinctions and palaeoenvironmental changes based on fossil records. He is an expert on the taxonomy and evolution of Carboniferous and Permian (360 – 250 million years ago) brachiopods. Over the past 20 years, he has carried out a large number of biological stratigraphy research in China, Tibet, Iran, the United States, and other places. He has led the effort in China to develop an integrated, high resolution record of biological and environmental change before, during and after the end-Permian mass extinction, the greatest catastrophe in the history of animal life.

Prof. Shen has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the Distinguished Young Scholars by the National Natural Science Foundation of China in 2003, Second Prize of National Natural Science Research Award in 2010, Yin Zanxun Prize for Stratigraphy and Palaeontology by the Palaeontological Society of China in 2013 and Li Siguang Geological Science Award by the Geological Society of China in 2015. He has published more than 250 papers and also co-edited 15 monographs and special issues.  

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