University College Dublin, Stillorgan Rd, Belfield, Dublin 4

Keynote Speaker Synopses

Fire and fossil atmospheres

Maintaining the air that we breathe: Why we need to understand long-term fire-feedbacks to the Earth System in order to manage our future

Fire is a natural process that is integral to the functioning of our planet. It has both destructive and regenerative effects on ecosystems and is an essential tool for man, yet is a foe that society must manage and face. Earth’s ecosystems provide a source of fuel that lead to fires that consume huge quantities of biomass across all biomes from tundra to savanna and from boreal to tropical forests. The first evidence of ancient fire predates even the appearance of the dinosaurs, and fires are believed to have occurred on Earth for the last 410 million years of Earth’s history. Throughout this huge tract of time the unique products that fires generate have interacted with the carbon and nutrient balance of the planet both immediately after the fire through to much longer timescales operating over millions of years. Fire is therefore an important Earth System process. The concept of the Earth System considers the relationship between individual processes with one another in order to understand how they interact to ensure a stable environment that allows all life to thrive. In this talk I will outline the significant role that fire plays in regulating the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere; maintaining the air that we breathe. My aim being to highlight that it is necessary to include consideration of the long-term role that fire plays in sustaining the habitability of the planet.

Claire Belcher
Prof. Claire M. Belcher

wildFIRE Lab, University of Exeter
Exeter, England

Expeditions to the Antarctic

Antarctica today is the coldest, driest, most remote, and most inhospitable continent on our planet, and about 99 percent of the Antarctic landmass is currently buried under an ice sheet up to four kilometres thick. However, sedimentary rocks exposed along the coastlines and in isolated mountain ranges host a rich fossil record from former, warmer times in Earth History that already attracted the attention of early Antarctic explorers. Exceptional plant-fossil deposits from the Permian to Jurassic of the Transantarctic Mountains allow us to reconstruct the lush vegetation of Antarctica’s past in great detail. After a brief introduction about the history of Antarctic research from the earliest days of exploration to the present, this presentation gives an overview about the most exciting Antarctic plant-fossil deposits, and takes the audience on a short stroll through the peculiar Triassic Polar Forests of Gondwana.

Benjamin Bomfleur
Dr. Benjamin Bomfleur

Institute of Geology and Palaeontology – Palaeobotany
University of Münster
Münster, Germany

A world full of Amber

Amber is a remarkable substance. It is fossilised plant resin, where the originally liquid resin solidifies and then, whilst buried, matures to become amber. This means that both biological and geological processes are involved in the formation of amber. Apart from a few famous deposits, amber was thought of as generally rare in the fossil record, only known from some locations and time points. It is most famous for the fossil organisms that it contains, some of which are exceptionally well preserved. This has meant that interest in amber research has continued, recently resulting in an explosion of new amber deposits being found and described from many new locations with different ages. This gives us a wealth of new information not just on the entrapped organisms, but also clues into past climates and environments preserved in amber. We now recognise that there are major times in earth history where an abundance of amber is found, across the world.

Leyla Seyfullah
Dr. Leyla Seyfullah

Department of Geobiology
University of Göttingen
Göttingen, Germany