Ellen Thomas, PhD
Mailing address: PO Box 208109, New Haven CT 06520-8109
Street address: 210 Whitney Ave, New Haven CT 06511
I investigate the impact of changes in environment and climate on living organisms on various time scales, from millions of years to decades, with my focus on benthic foraminifera (eukaryotic unicellular organisms). I study their assemblages, as well as trace element and stable isotopic composition of their shells. Foraminifera live in salt or at least brackish water, so I concentrate on the oceans, from the deep sea up into tidal salt marshes. The deep sea is the largest habitat on Earth, supports a high diversity of organisms, but is one of the least known. I study foraminifera from the deep sea floor, using samples from the International Ocean Discovery Program. I am interested in understanding the development of high-diversity deep-sea faunas through periods of major climate change and mass extinction, such as the mass extinction caused by meteorite impact at the end of the Cretaceous (66 million years ago), which did not affect benthic foraminifera significantly. I have spent years, but am still working on, benthic faunas in the early Cenozoic extreme warm climates (Paleocene through middle Eocene), specifically looking at the effects of ocean acidification, deoxygenation, and warming (metabolic effects) during the deep-sea benthic foraminiferal extinction during the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum and other hyperthermals events. I am also looking at deep-sea benthic foraminifera during the establishment of the Antarctic ice sheet at the end of the Eocene - beginning of the Oligocene, when the Antarctic ice sheet reached sea level, and during the middle Miocene intensification of glaciation. I am interested in possible links between glaciation and initiation of the AntArctic Circumpolar Current and deep-sea environments.
In addition, foraminifera are great tools to study anthropogenic eutrophication, and together with Joop Varekamp at Wesleyan University I am studying recent climate change, environmental pollution and acidification of Long Island Sound and Great Salt Pond (Block Island RI). We cooperate in research on rates of sea level rise at the end of the last glacial period in Long Island Sound, and on rates of sea level rise and ecological changes in coastal salt marshes during the last 2000 years. A few years ago, we started collaboration on records from two crater lakes in Newberry Volcano, OR, where there are no foraminifera, but ostracods and ephippia of cladocerans, and which are an interesting place to study lake ecosystems fed by nutrients from a volcano, as well as the local carbon cycle.
Foraminifera are of great interest to me, so I am working to get beautiful 3D-pictures and models as well as 3D print-files of them widely available on-line, with people at the American Museum of Natural History (NY) and at the University of Bristol (UK). See this video for an example, or the picture for November in the 2015 Calendar by The Micropalaeontological Society.
More about me (5 things) at the AAAS site.
A narrative about the work on the foraminifera collections at the AMNH in the web series ‘Shelf Life’: Episode Six: The Tiniest Fossils. Some of the Museum’s smallest specimens hold big insights about the history of Earth’s climate.
Career Profile, Ellen Thomas (AWG).
- 2020: Joseph A. Cushman Award, Cushman Foundation for Foraminiferal Research
- 2019: GSA Fellow
- 2018: Tsaihwa (James) Chow Lecturer, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, San Diego CA, October 15-16
- 2016: Recipient of the Brady Medal, The Micropalaeontological Society
- 2013: Association for Women Geoscientists Professional Excellence Award (Academia)
- 2013: Leverhulme Visiting Professor, Bristol University, UK
- 2012: Recipient of the Maurice Ewing Medal, AGU/ONR (see award ceremony)
- 2012: AGU Fellow
- 2011: AAAS Fellow
- 2007: Exceptional Reviewer, Geology
- 2004-2005: JOI Distinguished Lecturer
- 1996: W. Storrs Cole Award
- 1995: Excellence in reviewing, Paleoceanography
- Editor-in-Chief of Paleoceanography, 2015-2019
- Editor of Geology, 2012-2015
- Editor of Marine Micropaleontology, 2003-2010
- Editorial Boards Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology (2002-2015), Marine Micropaleontology (2011-2018); Paleoceanography, 1996-2002; Geology 2000-2002