Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Russell Coope - the man who counted beetles, and discovered abrupt climate change.

Many people think climate change always happens slowly, but that is not the case......rather than hundreds, or thousands, of years, sometimes it can happen in decades.

"Abrupt climate change" was discovered by accident by Russell Coope (1930-2011), over 50 years ago.

More recently he said:

"We are messing with the trigger that causes climate change....the outcome is likely to be ferocious."

In the 1950s, Russell Coope was a young geologist.


He was studying layers of sediment formed during the "Ice Ages", a time geologists call the Quaternary.

He spotted something unusual in a quarry in the English Midlands.  

This is his own description of what he found ...

"I happened, entirely by accident, to visit a Quaternary gravel pit in which were exposed the spectacular bones of mammoth, woolly rhinoceros and bison. 

Looking at their sediment matrix I was amazed to find enormous numbers of equally spectacular, if somewhat smaller, insect remains. 

I was hooked instantly! 

Particularly exciting to me was the fact that these insect fossils showed that Quaternary climates had changed abruptly. 

Thus, at times, fully glacial climates gave place to temperate interglacial conditions within the span of one human lifetime."


A well-developed sequence of ice age deposits at Bridgwalton Quarry near Bridgnorth, Shropshire. (Photo: Dave Evans).

This was the first discovery of evidence that the climate can change really quickly.

His discovery was later confirmed by evidence from ice cores from the Greenland ice sheet.

So how does Russell Coope's method work?

Different beetles prefer different temperatures.

By identifying the beetles in layers of sand or gravel, Coope could tell what climate existed in that place, and how it changed.

Experts still use Russell Coope's method.

This fossilised beetle is well preserved.
Fossilised_diving_beetle.jpg

Scientists often identify the fossil beetles from fragments.

This particular fossil is of a diving beetle found in the La Brea Tar Pits in California.


There are about 380,000 known species of beetles.

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