PLOS Climate is committed to providing a platform for research with real-world impact, and specifically encourages submissions that can help build a…
We spoke to a group of Academic Editors from PLOS Climate’s Paleoclimate section to learn more about their research and motivation for supporting Open Science and interdisciplinarity.
Matthieu Carré (MC), LOCEAN, France
Renata Nagai (RN), Universidade Federal do Paraná, Brazil
Lynne Quick (LQ), Nelson Mandela University, South Africa
Liqiang Xu (LX), Hefei University of Technology, China
Could you tell us a bit about your current research?
MC: My research is currently focused on the evolution of the Eastern tropical Pacific mean conditions, El Niño variability, and the Andean climate from the Cenozoic era to the modern time of anthropogenic impacts. I also work on the history of the climate in North Africa since the last glaciation, the drivers of the green Sahara, the impact on humans societies, and the emergence of hydroclimate in this region due to anthropogenic activities. My aim is to understand the range and the drivers of the natural variability in these key regions, and to evaluate the skills of climate models in global conditions that are far from those in which they were validated. In both regions, we use multiple types of archives including marine and lake sediments and fossil mollusk shells, along with paleoclimate simulations.
RN: I am currently focusing on unraveling how the southwest Atlantic Ocean responded to climate changes over the Common Era. For this, my research group and I are building sea temperature and oxygen isotopic composition curves for the last 2,000 years, based on the chemical composition of planktonic foraminifera. Southwest Atlantic surface and intermediate waters conditions are key factors driving interhemispheric heat transport, precipitation patterns over South America, and marine resources (fish stocks). We want to compare southwest Atlantic sea surface conditions to other basins and global reconstructions through a proxy-model approach, which will help to identify forcing mechanisms of change in the southwest Atlantic. We hope that by extending the sea surface temperature record at this oceanic basin we may pinpoint when and how human-induced climatic changes have impacted the southwest Atlantic.
LQ: My research centres on the fields of paleoecology and paleoclimatology and I am developing a research agenda relating to reconstructing South African paleoenvironments, with a key focus on the vegetation history and past climate dynamics of the Cape Floristic Region. My ongoing and future research activities include generating new paleoenvironmental records, bridging the gap between the two closely related, yet currently widely separated, fields of paleoecology and ecology, and promoting paleoscience at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels.
LX: My research involves climate changes over the past few thousand years and its impacts on environment. I usually use natural archives such as marine and lake sediments.
What excites you most about working on past climates?
MC: Studying past climates is like working on real-world experiments with the Earth. It means also bringing back to life disappeared worlds, that sometimes give you a hint of potential futures. The anthropogenic climate change is an event of geological magnitude.
RN: I was an undergraduate student when I first came in contact with the concept of paleoceanography, during a winter internship in Brazil picking foraminifera. At the end of the intership while discussing data with my supervisor I realized that looking into the past was something I wanted to pursue. Back then I was amazed by the fact that we could learn about Earth’s past climate by looking at a tiny grain of sand. This still amazes me, but today what excites me the most is how past climate knowledge functions as a window to the future. Paleoclimate information not only provides context for climate change but it also helps improve our comprehension of Earth’s climate sensitivity and aids us as a society to see possible pathways of change in our own actions.
LQ: With each new record I generate or collaboratively work on, new information comes to light that not only helps us understand the nature of past climate dynamics but also informs our current and future environmental foundations. It is always exciting when the different proxy evidence fits together like pieces to a puzzle that can provide a holistic understanding of climate-vegetation interactions.
LX: Past climates provide a window to look at the amazing history of the Earth. This also provides a basis for predicting the future. That’s very cool!
Why is Open Science important in paleoclimate research?
MC: Because climate change is a global and urgent challenge and paleoclimate is a fundamental piece of climate change science, all the data and information in these disciplines needs to be publicly and globally available.
RN: I believe Open Science is important in all scientific fields, but for paleoclimate research this is particularly true. Overall paleoclimatic records cover distinct spatial and temporal limits and to evaluate regional and global climate we need broad access to published works, data, computational and methodological research protocols. I believe this is something the paleoscience community is very keen on achieving. We have a range of initiatives in terms sample and data repositories governed by curatorial guidelines, and different approaches on how to improve these repositories. There are also initiatives such as the PAGES (Past Global Changes group) with important Open Science actions and research and outreach initiatives associated with paleoclimate research. I also think that because paleosciences are not well known to the general public Open Science actions play an essential role in the communication and dissemination of the knowledge generated by paleoclimate research to society. This results in broader impact for paleoclimate research results and their social and economical benefits– which is what we all, as scientists, want.
LQ: Open Science provides an efficient avenue for the rapid dissemination of paleoclimate research, which underpins critically important climate models used to predict current and future climate change. It also stimulates increased collaboration and promotes Open Access publication and sharing of data. Open Science is particularly important from the perspective of the Global South, as we have limited funds and often struggle to gain access to publications.
LX: Everybody has the right to learn the latest scientific findings. Open Science provides an excellent platform for this. It makes scientific processes more democratic.
How can interdisciplinary approaches help drive research forwards?
MC: Interdisciplinarity is fundamental in the study of the Earth system for its extreme complexity. The frontiers between disciplines is a zone where scientific advances are more difficult and slower. This is thus often where the limiting factors of our understanding lie.
RN: The paleoscience community brings together researchers from different scientific fields (chemistry, physics, geology, biology, anthropology amongst others). We are all focused on better understanding Earth’s past climates to provide a clearer view of the future. Over the last decade we’ve seen major advances in paleoclimatic science with the contribution of the development of new analytical, statistical and mathematical modeling tools. This was only possible through interdisciplinary approaches and the understanding of the paleoscience community that integrating multiple knowledge fields is the only way forward.
LQ: Interdisciplinary approaches are not just helpful but essential to advance paleoscience research and ensure that there is relevancy to the broader scientific community and society. In my personal capacity, the greatest insights and subsequent research outputs have always come from working within a team of diverse scientists with expertise ranging from geochemistry to botany to aerobiology.
LX: Communications between people with different discipline backgrounds have the potential to spark new scientific ideas. Keeping eyes on progress in technology may also be helpful for one’s own research.