Thanks to support from the Pacific Science Center, Port Angeles Education Foundation, YMCA, and AmeriCorps program eleven Port Angeles High School Science Club students attended David Grinspoon’s lecture Earth in Human Hands: A Cosmic View of our Planet’s Past, Present and Future
at the Pacific Science Center January 11.
Dr. Grinspoon opened the lecture with the tale of a species changing the atmosphere of Planet Earth so drastically as to make it poisonous for the majority of life. He was speaking not of humans, but of cyanobacteria which 2.5 billion years ago changed Earth’s atmosphere to an oxygen-rich one through photosynthesis. The rise in oxygen and decrease in carbon dioxide had an effect not just on living organisms but actually threw Earth into its deepest “Snowball Earth” ice age.
We humans have the same ability to change the atmosphere and have been doing so for centuries. When Europeans arrived in the Americas bringing disease to the continent and depleting the native population, much land which had been used by the natives reverted to forests. The increase in trees pulled carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and dropped temperatures, adding to the Little Ice Age which peaked from 1600-1800. Since the Industrial Revolution we have had the opposite effect – increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and raising global average temperatures.
Our current time of human-effected change on Earth can be recognized in the recent geologic record and has been named the Anthropocene. Discussion is still ongoing as to what we should use to mark the beginning of this time period, though – the Nuclear Age, the Industrial Revolution, the reforestation period, or the burning of forests to clear the land – all of these events left their mark in the rock record.
Finally, Dr. Grinspoon looked to the future. Unlike the cyanobacteria, we are an intelligent species. We are aware of what we are doing to our atmosphere and planet. Will we continue to change things even though we know what we are doing? Or will we use our intelligence to reverse the changes we have already made?
My favorite moment of the evening came, when Dr. Grinspoon discussed the possibility of inventing new carbon capture techniques. He stopped midsentence, pointed to our eleven students and said, “Perhaps one of you students will be the one to develop the new technologies we need.” Port Angeles High School student Austin Woods was thrilled by this, since he has long dreamed of inventing artificial photosynthesis to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Hopefully this will inspire him to pursue his dream!
Accompanying photo shows, left to right, John Gallagher, Jessa Miner, Mason Alm, Amber Benoit, Adam Logan, Audrey Gentzler, Liam Woolet, Amathyst Porter, Cheyanne Tran, Thayne Manchester, Fiona Coleman, Leah Haworth, Kyle Koller and Austin Woods.
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Communications and Community Relations Coordinator
Port Angeles School District
Article written by John Gallagher, Port Angeles High School science teacher.