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Wednesday, 22 January 2014

India-UK scientific seminar: Developing new records of global change

The Royal Society of London, which was founded in November 1660, is the oldest existing scientific society with a long history of working internationally. Indeed, in 1723, the Royal Society established the post of Foreign Secretary, nearly 60 years before the British government did. In 2014, science remains a global endeavour which requires both international discussion and collaboration. In order to facilitate international and collaborative study, the Royal Society recently funded a three-day seminar for Indian and UK climate scientists. The aim of the proposal was to help develop new records of past global change in India using a variety of geological and geochemical techniques.

The seminar, hosted by Professor Paul Pearson (Cardiff University) and Professor Pratul Saraswati (IIT Bombay), was held in Bhuj between the 15th and 18th of January. Bhuj is a relatively small city in the district of Kutch and is located approximately 100km from the Indian-Pakistan border. In 2001, Bhuj was devastated by a magnitude 7.7 earthquake. The death toll approached 20,000 and over 600,000 people were made homeless. However, since then, Bhuj has become an outstanding example of a town rebuilt from scratch thanks to government support and corporate involvement. The city has become the focal point of western India’s growth and more than 200 companies have been established in the region since 2001. Of particular importance is the cement manufacturing industry which exploits the abundance of lime- and clay-containing materials (e.g. limestone and shale).

The participants in the field

The UK was represented by five scientists whose research encompassed the major disciplines in past climate research. Attendees were selected from a range of universities, including two participants from the Cabot Institute at the University of Bristol (Dr. Dan Lunt, a climate modeller based in the School of Geography, and myself, Gordon Inglis, an organic geochemist based in the School of Chemistry). Ten Indian scientists were also in attendance, including members from academia and industry. The primary aim of the seminar was to develop stronger international collaborations between India and the UK, with an emphasis upon developing new climate records from the Indian continent. The first two days were designated for individual presentations and focused upon the regional geology of India and a variety of analytical techniques available to both parties. The third day was spent in the field and allowed participants to visit the geological successions discussed in the seminar.

White Rann salt flats at sunset. 60km from the India-Pakistan border.

A particular highlight was a visit to the Deccan Traps. Encompassing most of central and western India, the Deccan Traps is the world's largest continental flood-basalt province outside Siberia. The eruption is thought to occur between 68 and 65 million years ago, approximately coinciding with the Cretaceous-Paleogene mass extinction event, and is associated with the demise of the dinosaurs and other marine and terrestrial species. Although the event has been attributed to a large bolide impact in Mexico, the Deccan Traps were almost certainly a major contributor to this extinction. Ken Caldeira, an atmospheric scientist who works at the Carnegie Institution, has argued that the Deccan Traps may have been responsible for a 75ppm increase in carbon dioxide during this interval. Although this is relatively small in geological terms, it is comparable to the increase in CO2 that has occurred over the past 50 years as a result of anthropogenic climate change. In more recent times, geologists are studying whether the Deccan Traps can store CO2 derived from coal-fired power stations in an attempt to reverse anthropogenic climate change.

The Deccan Traps.

Although the visit to India was brief, the seminar was a success and both Indian and UK scientists showed a great deal of enthusiasm for developing future collaborations. In particular, there is great scope to reconstruct past climate records over the past 70 million years and how that has corresponded to major biotic events.

This blog was written by Gordon Inglis, a PhD student in the School of Chemistry.
You can follow Gordon on Twitter (@climategordon)

For information on Royal Society funding opportunities, click here. 


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