2022 Connecticut Darwin Day: Ocean Fossils Reveal Secret to Mass Extinctions

Photo by Wes Warren on Unsplash

In 2009, a group of dedicated teachers, citizens, and scientists from Fairfield County (aka the Southern Connecticut Darwin Day Committee) came together to organize a dinner to commemorate the anniversary of the publication of The Origin of the Species and the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin. Each year since, under the leadership of John Levin and Cary Shaw, the Fairfield County dinner has gained in popularity, attracting the support of local institutions, nature centers, and museums. It now boasts a loyal following of 175 curious citizens and science advocates. However, in 2021, the in-person dinner was canceled due to the pandemic. To ensure that science continued to be celebrated, The Connecticut Coalition of Reason, made up of the Congregation of Humanistic Judaism, Humanists and Freethinkers of Fairfield County, Hartford Area Humanists, Humanist Association of Connecticut, and CT Valley Atheists, organized its own committee and sponsored the first virtual CT Darwin Day Celebration. The event reached a record audience of over 300 attendees and featured internationally acclaimed artist, naturalist, and conservationist, Connecticut’s own James Prosek.

For 2022, the Humanists and Freethinkers of Fairfield County in collaboration with the Southern CT Darwin Day Committee, have taken up the Darwin Day gauntlet to host and sponsor this annual event.

Through its fourteen years of celebrating science and scientific achievements, CT Darwin Day (www.DarwinDayCT.org) has offered a great opportunity to communicate to the greater public about values important to humanists: critical thinking, naturalism, scientific inquiry, ethics, compassion for all sentient beings, and social justice (inclusion within the scientific community). Its growing popularity as a cultural event speaks to its capacity to bring people together. For the third consecutive year, the Connecticut Governor’s office has issued a proclamation declaring February 12th as Darwin Day, a day honoring science. Lieutenant Governor Susan Bysiewicz will again greet the virtual meeting, affirming the importance of science to human progress. Senator Richard Blumenthal and Representative Jim Himes are also expected to attend.

The story of life on Earth is still being told. Species come and go. But what does it all mean? And more importantly, can the fossil record of past mass extinctions inform us of what is likely to come? Dr. Pincelli M. Hull, Yale University Assistant Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences and Assistant Curator of Invertebrate Paleontology at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, will answer these questions in her presentation, Mass Extinctions in our Once and Future World at the 14th Annual Connecticut Darwin Day Celebration. At this free virtual talk at 7:00 PM on Saturday, February 12, 2022, Dr. Hull  promises to “provide an introduction to the scientific study of mass extinction events, an overview of mass extinctions through time, and insights from the ancient world for our ongoing biodiversity crisis.”

Why did the dinosaurs disappear? This mass extinction has and continues to mystify scientists. Most of us were taught that a massive asteroid slammed into planet Earth and wiped out almost all life. Yet, in recent years, a contentious debate fueled by new data over whether it was an asteroid or climatic aftereffects of a volcanic eruption has dominated the discussion and challenged prevailing views. In 2020, Dr. Hull’s research of ocean fossils finally put to rest this debate, providing evidence supporting the impact theory. Significantly, her insights may also advance our understanding of future mass extinction events.

Dr. Hull received her doctorate from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at University of California, San Diego. She has a BS in Marine Biology and a BS in Earth and Ocean Sciences from Duke University. She is the recipient of numerous awards and National Science Foundation grants, a 2020 Sloan Research Fellow in Ocean Sciences, and former research fellow at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. Her research has been published in dozens of peer reviewed journals. She is a frequent contributor to conferences and a lecturer at universities in the U.S. and abroad. For her complete CV, visit her faculty profile at Yale University.

A live Q&A with Dr. Hull will follow immediately after her presentation. In addition, the audience is invited to participate in the CT Darwin Day Science Quiz, an annual tradition designed to entertain and to challenge the brightest of minds. To learn more about Connecticut’s Darwin Day Celebrations and to register for this free live virtual event, go to www.bit.ly/DarwinDayCT2022.