Last night, I headed down to the beautiful Bell House in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn for the latest Secret Science Club event, a screening of Werner Herzog's Encounters at the End of the World, preceded by a short lecture from Dr Stephen Pekar of the Queens College School of Earth and Environmental Sciences. Dr Pekar's field is paleoclimatology, much of his work involves drilling in the ocean floor to examine microfossils in sediments.
The study of paleoclimates is crucial in determining possible climate trends. It's necessary to study past climates because, as Dr Pekar noted, the future is data poor. From about 4,000 BCE to the present, the planet has enjoyed a remarkably stable climate. With the addition of carbon dioxide in large quantities to the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution, this stability is endangered. One alarming discovery is that there are climatological tipping points- small amounts of atmospheric CO2 can have large, often unexpected, implications in temperature increases. In the middle of the Eocene epoch, the Earth's temperature peaked due to a greenhouse effect, and Antarctica was not covered by an ice sheet (if you'll recall a former lecture, the Arctic Ocean was, to a large extent, filled with huge mats of vegetation during the Eocene). The sedimentary rock from Eocene Antarctica contains fossilized pollen from subtropical plants.
Much of Dr Pekar's lecture was a discussion of the nuts-and-bolts methodology of a working field scientist. In an experiment known as the Anvil Project, in which an air gun is used to cause vibrations in the ground which are picked up by geophones in order to determine the type of rock below the surface. Drilling is then performed in layers of sedimentary rock.
Dr Pekar then gave a brief discussion of the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program, an international organization which conducts drilling in ocean floor sediments and shared photos and stories from his work on the drilling ship JOIDES Resolution. The lecture was very entertaining, but somewhat brief due to the time constraints imposed by the film screening.
I'm going to preface this with a confession that I have been a huge Werner Herzog fan since seeing Aguirre, the Wrath of God. That being said, Encounters at the End of the World is an incredible film. It's a film of great beauty, with some extremely funny scenes, and some poignant ones. If this trailer doesn't make you want to see the movie, I'd consider dropping the banhammer on you for life:
Seriously, folks, get your hands on, and feast your peepers on, this movie. It's really an amazing film. I look forward to Werner Herzog's sequel to Aguirre 2: King of the Monkeys, in ***SPOILER ALERT*** which the conquistador's raft floats down the Amazon, then drifts to Antarctica- Aguirre 3: King of the Penguins.