Nov 1, 02021: Timescales and Contours of Extinctions: Past and Future

Nov 1, 02021: Timescales and Contours of Extinctions: Past and Future

A Long Now Boston Community Conversation with Andrew Knoll, the Fisher Research Professor of Natural History at Harvard University and author of ‘A Brief History of Earth’ (02021).

Date: Monday, Nov 1, 7:30 p.m. ET
CIC doors open at 7 p.m., Zoom room opens at 7:15 p.m. for music and slides
The conversation starts at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets are available on Eventbrite: 
In Person and Zoom

The geologic record documents five periods when Earth’s biodiversity fell rapidly and dramatically.  These mass extinction events highlight the interconnectedness between the geological and biological Earth.  Most of us are familiar with the dramatic end to the dinosaurs 66 million years ago, when a 10 km meteorite hit the Earth, creating the Chicxulub crater. But few of us realize that the biggest mass extinction in Earth’s history actually occurred more than 250 million years ago. In a timeframe of roughly 1 million years (an instant in geologic timescales), enormous quantities of lava poured out of the Earth, creating the basalt formation known as the Siberian Traps and releasing massive volumes of CO2.  Could the rapid, continuing increases in atmospheric carbon in the current era, and the resulting sixth mass extinction, have a similar trajectory?

Andy Knoll is an expert on the intertwined histories of Earth’s geology and the evolution of life, and he has been directly involved in research on the extinction event that accompanied the Siberian Traps.  In his view, the contours of the deep time geologic record of that event provides a useful mirror for understanding the global disruptions to expect in the coming age.  Large quantities of CO2 are again entering the atmosphere at incredible rates and their impact will cascade through the biological and geological record for millennia to come.  Among the questions to be considered:

  • What features might be observed in the future geological record as a result of the current 6th extinction event?
  • What timescale might we expect for major disruptions in the biosphere to occur, and what is the realistic timescale of recovery, if carbonization were to be reversed?
  • Given the rapid rise of atmospheric carbon, what are the most significant challenges for maintaining biological diversity? 
  • In addition to reducing the rate at which fossil fuels are being burned, what interventions might be helpful in mitigating the disruptions?

Please join Andy and other Long Term thinkers for this conversation on Monday November 1,  02021, to be held at the CIC Havana Room, 1 Broadway, Kendall Square, Cambridge MA.

About the speaker:

Andrew H. Knoll is the Fisher Research Professor of Natural History at Harvard University.  He attended Lehigh and Harvard and has served on the faculty of Oberlin and Harvard, where he has served as chair of the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology and Associate Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.  An award-winning educator and author,  Andy’s research focuses on the early evolution of life and Earth’s Precambrian environmental history.  He has served on a number of Boards and Commissions, including the Board of the National Museum of Natural History and the subcommittee of the International Commission of Stratigraphy that established the Ediacaran Period.  His latest book is A Brief History of Earth: Four Billion Years in Eight Chapters (02021), a copy of which will be awarded as a door prize at the Long Now Boston event.

We’re proud and excited to welcome Andy to the Long Now Boston community.

CIC opens at 7 p.m; Zoom login begins at 7:15 p.m.; the conversation begins at 7:30 p.m.

Join the conversation and be part of the solution.
$15 in person, $5 virtual. Members and students with ID admitted free.
Audience participation is encouraged.
If Eventbrite tickets sell out, seating for walk-ups will be unlikely to be available due to room size.

Please note:  The health of our community is of the utmost concern. Our event partner, the Cambridge Innovation Center (CIC), is following CDC guidelines for public gatherings. To attend this event in person, we require you to be fully vaccinated (honor system), wear a mask, and provide an email in case contact tracing needs to be implemented. Limited seating of 20 is available for this event and walk-ins will not be allowed. When securing your spot via Eventbrite, please keep in mind that only one ticket per person is allowed (your email address will be collected then). The number of spaces opened for this event will allow for physical distancing as needed. Hand sanitizer will be available for use throughout the space. For more detail about the on-site safety protocol for the CIC, please visit

If the situation changes, we are prepared to continue holding strictly online events. In this case, your in-person ticket will be converted to online access. We thank you in advance for your understanding and flexibility as we navigate the shifts we are experiencing with the Covid-19 pandemic.

Cambridge Innovation Center is an in-kind sponsor of this Long Now Boston conversation. We are very grateful for their support.

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