09/13/2010 12:08 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Rob Dunbar: Discovering Ancient Climates in Oceans and Ice

Rob Dunbar hunts for data on our climate from 12,000 years ago, finding clues inside ancient seabeds and corals and inside ice sheets. His work is vital in setting baselines for fixing our current climate -- and in tracking the rise of deadly ocean acidification.

Dunbar's research looks at the earth and ocean as an interconnected system over time. With his group at Stanford, he makes high-resolution studies of climate change over the past 50 to 12,000 years.

Where does 12,000-year-old climate data come from? It's locked in the skeletons of ancient corals from the tropics and the deep sea, and buried in sediments from lakes and other marine environments. His lab measures the chemical and isotopic makeup of these materials, and looks at how they've changed in response to changes in the solar and carbon cycles.
Dunbar's also studying the reverse equation -- how climate change is affecting a modern environment right now. He's working in the Ross Sea of Antarctica with the ANDRILL project to study the ocean's ability to take up carbon, drilling for ice cores to uncover the history of the climate of Antarctica.