Both Birger Schmitz and Daniel Conley are based at the Department of Earth and Ecosystem Sciences at Lund University, Sweden.
Birger Schmitz is a bedrock geologist and a world leader in the emerging field of research on the history of life from a broader astronomical perspective. He has received SEK 25 million from the European Research Council (ERC), which is a desirable and prestigious honour in the research community.
With the help of an amateur geologist and three quarry workers, Birger Schmitz has previously uncovered over 90 fossilised meteorites in 470 million year old bedrock in Västergötland, Sweden – a unique find. The meteorites come from one of the largest explosions in the recent history of the solar system, when a comet broke up an asteroid of several hundred kilometres diameter between Mars and Jupiter, which had consequences for life on earth. Still today, around a third of meteorites that fall to earth come from this event that happened 470 million years ago.
In the new ERC-funded project, Astrogeobiosphere, Birger Schmitz has developed pioneering methods to link the evolution of life to events in the history of the solar system and the galaxy. By studying microscopic extraterrestrial minerals in sediment from different periods in the history of the earth, the origins of the astronomical body that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago could be traced. Using the new methods, the movement of the solar system through the spiral arms of the galaxy, as well as the rotation of the galaxy, can be traced in sediment that has been deposited on earth over billions of years. According to the ERC, Birger Schmitz project has paved the way for a whole new interdisciplinary research field in the interface between geology, astronomy and biology.
Daniel Conley is a biogeochemist and conducts research on oxygen deficiency and dead seabeds in the Baltic Sea and on how levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have varied in the past, on a time scale from tens of thousands to millions of years. His work has now been recognised by the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation (KAW), which at its latest board meeting appointed his as one of the participants in the Wallenberg Scholars programme. The appointment comes with financial support of SEK 15 million, to be used freely for research projects. Conley has been awarded the funding for the part of his research that concerns carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. He obtains his research results by analysing ancient sediment layers below the seabed in various locations around the world.
“In order to understand climate change and the greenhouse effect, we need to know more about how carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have varied in the past”, says Professor Conley.