Barbara Carrapa

Barbara Carrapa, U. of A. Dept. of Geosciences

Thursday, August 15, 2019, 2:30-3:30 p.m., The Arizona Senior Academy Building

What causes evolution to occur over a large area of the planet?  Barbara Carrapa has plumbed the data of rainfall and vegetation “archived” in ancient soils found from about 15-35 deg. South latitude (think La Paz, Bolivia to Buenos Aires, Argentina) to discover why, some 7-5 million years ago, enormous grass-eating mammals evolved to graze the great plains of South America.  

Carrapa, a sedimentary geologist, teamed up with a paleontologist colleague from the University of Wyoming, Mark Clemenz, to explore what happened in the late Miocene era that brought forth such creatures as armadillos “as big as Volkswagens.”  They suspected that climate change was involved, and recruited Ran Feng of the University of Connecticut, who works with global climate modelling, to tell them what might have happened.  Feng’s data analyses revealed that the Hadley circulation, a system of rotating “cells” in low levels of the atmosphere around the equator that strongly affects global climate today, had increased during the late Miocene, lowering the temperature of the region and drying the air and soils.

Professor Carrapa will describe these animals and the implications of their development and decline.  “Looking at geological pasts is like looking at different planets,” she says. Using data from various areas of geological research, we can see our planet “through the lens of time.”

Barbara Carrapa did her undergraduate study at the University of Pavia in Italy and received the Ph. D. in Geology from the Vrije University of Amsterdam.  After post-doctoral research she was an Assistant Professor of Geology at the University of Wyoming. She came to U. of A. in 2010 and is now Professor of Geology and head of the U. of A. Department of Geosciences.

Written by Academy Village Volunteer Suzanne Ferguson

Aug. 15: “Climate and the Evolution of South American Mammals”