Name: Rich Aronson
Title: Florida Institute of Technology Professor and Department Head
College: Biological Sciences, College of Science
General research focus: Antarctic ecology, paleontology, deep-sea biology, coral-reef science, climate-change research
Current research funding: $1,411,799
What has you excited about your current research? We study the response of marine life to natural climate change in the geologic past and use that information to project what will happen on the sea floor over the next hundred years of climate change. In Antarctica, we are tracking biological invasions of predatory king crabs. It’s been too cold for them for millions of years, but now they are returning as the Southern Ocean warms rapidly, threatening to restructure marine communities. Our coral-reef research off the Pacific coast of Panama is telling us that climate change could stop those reefs from growing for millennia.
Why is it important to conduct research? I am often asked why we should be concerned about climate change and its impacts if it has all happened already in the geologic past. First of all, we know from research that it hasn’t happened this rapidly before, and as a result the planet and its ecosystems do not have time to adjust. Second, this is not about prior occurrence, but rather about desirability. Just because something happened millions of years ago, before humans evolved, does not mean it is good for us now. A large asteroid slammed into our planet 65 million years ago and destroyed the dinosaurs and legions of marine life, but you wouldn’t want that to happen again. So it is with climate change. Research provides us with the facts we need to make informed policy decisions.