THE ANTHROPOCENE SLAM: A CABINET OF CURIOSITIES NOVEMBER 8-10

WISCONSIN INSTITUTES FOR DISCOVERY DELUCA FORUM MADISON

POLLEN DIAGRAMS

diagram of pollen over time

Ice cores are usually presented as a key tool for understanding past climates because of their ability to help reconstruct climatic records over thousands of years and because they contain a number of different proxies. But if other proxies, which may not be found in ice, also have the ability to shed light on the distant past, why don't we hear as much about them, especially when scientists are trying to piece together something as complex as the earth's past? I make a case that another proxy, pollen, can help define the Anthropocene. My artifact is a pollen diagram, the visual representation of the relative abundance of different pollen types. These graphs allow scientists to understand the changing types and abundances of vegetation in a particular area over time, shedding light on past environmental conditions and human impacts. But they also tell us something about the inferences scientists need to make in order to turn data from sediment cores into information about past conditions. What steps, assumptions and conventions do these diagrams draw on to tell us about the past? How do they turn messy data into a picture of the past?

Presenter