Dr. Ellen Thomas, Senior Research Scientist, Geology and Geophysics, Yale University
Ellen Thomas investigates the impact of changes in environment and climate on living organisms on various time scales, from millions of years to decades, with the common focal point of benthic foraminifera (eukaryotic unicellular organisms). Since foraminifera live in salt or at least brackish water, her focus is on the oceans, from the deep sea up into tidal salt marshes. She is particularly interested in understanding the development of high-diversity deep-sea faunas through periods of major climate change and mass extinction, such as the mass extinction caused by meteorite impact at the end of the Cretaceous (65 million years ago), and extreme warm climates on Earth including the Paleocene (55 million years ago). Her research also evaluates changes in deep-sea faunas during other periods of global change, such as the earliest Oligocene (~33.5 million years ago) when the Antarctic ice sheet originated, and possible links between glaciation and initiation of the AntArctic Circumpolar Current.
In 2016, Dr. Thomas was awarded the Brady Medal by the Micropalaeontological Society. She has also been recognized with the Association for Women Geoscientists Professional Excellence Award, the AGU Maurice Ewing Medal (for “significant original contributions to the ocean sciences.”), and the GSA W. Storrs Cole Award (given to a a member or Fellow to support research in invertebrate micropaleontology). She is a Fellow of AGU and the AAAS and was a JOI (Joint Oceanographic Institutions) Distinguished Lecturer. Dr. Thomas is currently the Editor-in-Chief of Paleoceanography and previously Editor for Geology and Micropaleontology. She has also served on several publication Editorial Boards.
In announcing Dr. Thomas as recipient of the Brady Medal, Tim Bralower described significant contributions as follows:
"Over the course of her remarkable career, Ellen Thomas has illuminated the microcosm of the deep ocean and brought into sharp focus its significance as a bellweather for global climate change. Her profound mark on the fields of micropaleontology and ocean history derives from an uncanny ability to blend highly detailed data, required to understand benthic communities, with big-picture interpretation necessary to make major advances in paleoceanography...Trained in Utrecht as a classical geologist but also coming from a powerhouse of micropaleontology, Ellen’s career has taken her from Arizona State to the Deep Sea Drilling Project to Wesleyan to Cambridge before settling at Yale for the last twelve years. Over the course of her career, Ellen has repeatedly shown great instincts in zeroing in on timely areas and she has been a harbinger for an unusual number of big advances in paleoclimatology.
"...Ellen was the first to realize that the benthic foraminiferal mass extinction close to the Paleocene-Eocene boundary, an event now well known as the Paleocene-Eocene thermal maximum (PETM) was a very big deal. Not only was the PETM significant enough to change the source of deep-ocean waters, the event is possibly our best road map of future climate change. Since her 1989 publication that presaged recognition of the PETM, Ellen has clarified how the deep ocean changed during the event. Perhaps even more impressive, Ellen has been an author or coauthor of a great number of the most significant papers on the PETM; it is widely understood that if you want one of the best minds in the game, you had better involve Ellen on your team!