The John Carlson Lecture

The John Carlson Lecture communicates exciting new results in climate science to the general public. Free of charge and open to the general public, the lecture is made possible by a generous gift from MIT alumnus John H. Carlson to the Lorenz Center in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, MIT. For more information please contact Angela Ellis:




Watch the 2019 Lecture: Deep Sea Corals and Their Climate Secrets
with Laura Robinson, University of Bristol





Deep in the oceans we find beautiful, abundant fields of corals. They live without light and yet they still rely on the sun for energy. As they grow, they take up chemicals from the seawater in which they live. The exact composition of these chemicals can reveal information on water temperature, circulation rates and the amount of carbon or nutrients in the water in the past. This information is extremely valuable to climate scientists who are seeking to understand the important coupling between the atmosphere and the oceans. By using the chemistry of fossil coral skeletons from tens of thousands of years ago we have the potential to examine the way in which the oceans changed as the planet moved from a cold glacial state to the warm period that we have been living in for the last ten thousand years. In this talk we will explore the underwater mountains that form the habitats for these corals and consider how and why corals can survive in such inhospitable locations, as well as looking at evidence on how they are being impacted by current human activities. Furthermore, we will head further back in time to explore the history of the oceans during rapid climate transitions.


Laura Robinson is a geochemist, oceanographer and deep-sea explorer whose research focuses on understanding the climate history of the oceans. Her first degree in Natural Sciences at the University of Cambridge opened her eyes to the power of interdisciplinary research. After a PhD in Geochemistry at the University of Oxford she moved to the California Institute of Technology where she first learnt about the existence of corals which live far below the sea surface. Since then she has lead research teams at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the University of Bristol using deep-submergence tools to map, image and collect deep-sea corals from across the global oceans. She and her team use geochemical analyses to extract information on how these coals survive at great depths, and to reconstruct information on the history of the oceans. This information is used to understand the interactions between the deep sea and rapid changes in global climate.




Past Lectures

2018: Professor John Grotzinger, professor of geology and geobiology, and the division chair for Geological and Planetary Sciences, at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech)
Searching for Ancient Life on Mars

2017: Professor Susan Solomon, Lee and Geraldine Martin Professor of Environmental Studies
A Brief History of Environmental Successes

2016: Professor Richard Alley, Evan Pugh Professor of Geosciences at Penn. State
Big Ice: Antarctica, Greenland and Boston

2015: Professor Bjorn StevensDirector of the Atmosphere in the Earth System Department at the Max-Planck-Institute for Meteorology, and professor at the University of Hamburg
Watching Water: Nature's Field Guide to Weather and Climate


2014: Professor Peter Molnar, Professor of Geological Sciences, University of Colorado at Boulder, Fellow, Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, Boulder, CO
Big Cats, Panamá, and Armadillos: A Story of Climate and Life


2013: Professor John Wettlaufer, Professor of Applicable Mathematics at Oxford and the A.M. Bateman Professor of Applied Mathematics, Geophysics and Physics at Yale
Sea Ice, Climate and Observational Mathematics


2012: Professor Timothy Palmer, Royal Society Professor of Climate Physics at UK's Oxford University
Predicting Climate in a Chaotic World: How Certain Can We Be?


2011: Professor Paul Hoffman, Sturgis Hooper Professor of Geology Emeritus at Harvard University
Earth's Surprising Climate History