Peter Ward has been active in Paleontology, Biology, and more recently, Astrobiology for more than 40 years. Since his Ph.D. in 1976, Ward has published more than 140 scientific papers dealing with paleontological, zoological, and astronomical topics.
He is an acknowledged world expert on mass extinctions and the role of extraterrestrial impacts on Earth. Ward was the Principal Investigator of the University of Washington node of the NASA Astrobiology Institute from 2001-2006, and in that capacity led a team of over 40 scientists and students. His career was profiled by the Pulitzer Prize winning reporter William Dietrich in The Seattle Times article "Prophet, Populist, Poet of Science."
Peter has written a memoir of his research on the Nautilus for Nautilus magazine's "Ingenious" feature entitled "Nautilus and me. My wonderful, dangerous life with the amazing Nautilus."
His books include the best-selling "Rare Earth: Why Complex Life Is Uncommon in the Universe" (co-author Donald Brownlee, 2000), "Under a Green Sky: Global Warming, the Mass Extinctions of the Past, and What They Can Tell Us About Our Future" (2007), and "The Medea Hypothesis: Is Life on Earth Ultimately Self-Destructive?" (2009).
Peter Ward: I’ve got a 12-year old son. The only way to get to him is a video game. That’s what he wants to do all the time.
What is it about the Earth that has allowed life to continue for such long periods of time? The most important factor is plate tectonics.
If you really look at the history of life on this planet, you see a lot of biologically-produced catastrophes. Where do they come from? From life itself.
Peter Ward: Not going extinct doesn’t mean you’re not going to be miserable, and by misery I mean, wholesale, enormous human mortality.
We now think the big mass extinctions were caused by hydrogen sulfide bacteria. Two hundred hydrogen sulfide molecules among a million air molecules is enough to kill a human.
Peter Ward: We will get hit again. It is only a matter of time until we get hit by an asteroid the same size of what killed off the dinosaurs, should humanity last long enough, that is.
A large asteroid hit us in the Yucatan Peninsula causing the mass extinction. Was the impact just the coup de grace coming on an already affected world?
We are now at levels that the world has not seen for the last 40 million years and we will soon be at carbon dioxide levels that existed 100 million years ago when we had a true hot house world.