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Rocks, Carbon and Climate

The Geological Society hosted this lecture on 23 March 2011 as part of Climate Week (

Earth’s climate has been controlled throughout its 4.5 billion-year history by a wide range of natural environmental processes. These processes include volcanism, the weathering and erosion of rocks on land and in the oceans, variations in Earth’s orbit around the sun and in the sun’s intensity, and so on. This talk focused on a few key episodes of the last 200 million years when abrupt global warming was caused by the sudden introduction of very large quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and oceans. These abrupt events were associated with major climatic shifts, and also with major changes in life on land and in the oceans. Importantly, the records of these ancient events can provide a picture of how the Earth may evolve in the coming decades and centuries as a result of humankind’s activities.

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Anthony Cohen


Anthony Cohen is a Senior Research Fellow at the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at The Open University. He has been involved in a wide range of advances in the development and application of geochemical and isotopic analyses for over 30 years. Within the last 15 years, he has developed novel analytical techniques for obtaining ultra high-resolution data from sedimentary successions up to 200 million years old. He uses these approaches, along with high-resolution sedimentary and biotic information, to study and understand some of the major global warming events that have occurred in Earth’s past. The overall goal is to improve our understanding of the potential longer-term consequences, on timescales of decades to centuries, of present-day climate change that is being caused by human activities.