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Clues to Climate Change Reside in 300 Million-year-old Forest

Penn Professor of Earth and Environmental Science Hermann Pfefferkorn andChinese Academy of Sciences Professor of Geology and Paleontology Wang Junmade a discovery in 2003 that expanded our knowledge of Earth and its processes—and their discovery has the potential to significantly advance our understanding of climate change.

The story of how these two global experts in paleobotany came to work together begins in Berlin. Early paleobotanist Walther Gothan introduced an innovation in the field when he began applying botanical research methods to the study of fossil flora, yielding new insights about ecological and climatic conditions in the Paleozoic era, which ran from about 542 million to 251 million years ago.

Gothan’s first graduate student, Sze Hsing-Chien, brought Gothan’s “Berlin School” branch of paleobotany back to his native China, where he taught the approach to his protégé, Li Xingxue. Gothan’s last graduate student, Winfried Remy, went on to mentor Pfefferkorn, who in turn came to the U.S., where he revived the study of late Paleozoic compression floras over the course of his career at Penn.

Claire Thompson


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