Carnegie Museum of Natural History

For more information, contact: Leigh Kish
Carnegie Museum of Natural History
412.622.3361 (office), 412.526.8587 (mobile)

September 24, 2010


Carnegie Museum of Natural History & University of Pittsburgh Scientists Present Biological Implications of Climate Change: Past and Present

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania…Prehistoric rock art and climate change are two topics that typically don’t intersect, but in a special spotlight session during the University of Pittsburgh’s Science2010 on October 7, Carnegie Museum of Natural History anthropologist Sandra Olsen will discuss how rock art in Saudi Arabia provides clues about the climate approximately 6,000 years ago. Olsen isn’t the only Museum of Natural History scientist looking to the past and present for a glimpse of the future: she is joined by museum paleontologist K. Christopher Beard and Andrew Mack, PhD, conservation biologist at the museum’s Powdermill Nature Reserve, who will join with the University of Pittsburgh's Mark Abbott, PhD, associate professor of Geology and Planetary Science, for a session entitled Biological Implications of Climate Change: Past and Present. This team of researchers, each using his or her expertise in a different scientific field, explores how past examples of climate change have affected plants, animals, and humans—and what may be in store for the future of Earth and its inhabitants. During the Climate Change session—Spotlight Session 3, October 7, 9 to 10:30 a.m.—the topics to be presented are:

  • Ancient Episodes of Global Warming and the Iterative Rise and Fall of North American Primates—K. Christopher Beard, PhD
  • Climate Change and Birds:  What Is Already Happening and What Can We Expect To Happen?—Andrew Mack, PhD
  • Climactic Variability over the Last 100 Years—Is it Unusual for the Holocene?—Mark Abbott, PhD
  • Desertification in Saudi Arabia during the Past 6,000 Years and Its Impact on Human Cultures and Native Fauna—Sandra Olsen, PhD


About the speakers 

            K. Christopher Beard is curator and head of the section of vertebrate paleontology at Carnegie Museum of Natural History. He is also an adjunct professor at Pitt in the departments of Neurobiology, Orthopaedic Surgery, both in the School of Medicine, and Geology and Planetary Science in the School of Arts and Sciences. Beard’s research emphasis is on anthropoid origins and primate evolution in Asia during the early Cenozoic. Among his more noteworthy discoveries is Eosimias, a 45-million-year-old fossil primate from China that is the oldest and most primitive known relative of monkeys, apes, and humans. In recognition of his work illuminating our distant ancestry, he was selected as a MacArthur Fellow by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in 2000. Beard’s popular book The Hunt for the Dawn Monkey: Unearthing theOrigins of Monkeys, Apes and Humans was published by the University of California Press in 2004.

            Andrew Mack is the senior scientist and William and Ingrid Rea Conservation Biologist at Powdermill Nature Reserve, the environmental research center of Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Mack is an authority on the birds and ecology of New Guinea. Mack’s role at Powdermill focuses on ecological research, as well as providing scientific leadership to resident staff for strengthening research and related educational programs. Before coming to Powdermill, Mack’s research focused on conservation and biodiversity in the Papua New Guinea region. He has provided scientific leadership to programs in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, organized and led major biological research surveys (Wapoga, Lakekamu, and Wide Bay), as well as raised funds for, founded, and managed the Crater Mountain Biological Research Station in Papua New Guinea, which later formed the core of a protected area designed by the government.

            Mark Abbott is an associate professor of geology and planetary science in the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Arts and Sciences. His research interests include sedimentology, paleolimnology, paleoclimatology, and climate variability over a wide range of timescales. Abbott researches climate change by investigating sediment in lakes all over the world, though he focuses primarily on the Americas. Abbott collaborates with geologists, biologists, chemists, and archeologists on projects that are aimed at identifying climatic shifts over time.

            Sandra Olsen is curator and head of the section of anthropology at Carnegie Museum of Natural History, as well as adjunct professor at the University of Pittsburgh in the departments of Neurobiology at the School of Medicine and Anthropology in the School of Arts and Sciences. As a zooarchaeologist, Dr. Olsen has examined the various roles that wild and domesticated animals have played in the lives of prehistoric peoples. Since 1993, Dr. Olsen has focused on early horse domestication and pastoralism in northern Kazakhstan. Her work has reached the media through BBC radio, National Public Radio, and Discovery Channel Canada, as well as local television programs, Discovery magazine, and internationally acclaimed newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times and London Times. She has been a consultant for the television program Bones, and developed the concept for an episode of the children's program Dragonfly on bog people for PBS.  


About the Science2010 Conference 

Science2010 is the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine’s 10th annual showcase of science and technology. More than 50 researchers from Pitt, Carnegie Mellon University, and Carnegie Museum of Natural History will present on topics relating to the conference theme, “Transformations.” Sessions are scheduled for Oct. 7 and 8 at Alumni Hall, 4227 Fifth Ave., on Pitt’s campus in Oakland. Admission is free and open to the public, but registration is required either on-site or in advance at Science2010 content is targeted toward people engaged in research and education but sessions may also be of interest to people who work for science and technology; economic development and philanthropy; law, and venture capital firms.


Carnegie Museum of Natural History, one of the four Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, is among the top natural history museums in the country. It maintains, preserves, and interprets an extraordinary collection of 22 million objects and scientific specimens used to broaden understanding of evolution, conservation, and biodiversity. Carnegie Museum of Natural History generates new scientific knowledge, advances science literacy, and inspires visitors of all ages to become passionate about science, nature, and world cultures. More information is available by calling 412.622.3131 or by visiting the website,