About 1,100 of the world's top scientists gather in Reno this week to discuss climate changes and the future of mankind.
Members of the International Union for Quaternary Research, known as INQUA, will look at environmental changes on Earth over the past 2 million years and the challenges they pose to the survival of the human species.
A professional society, INQUA was founded in 1928 by a group of scientists seeking to use their research to understand environmental changes on Earth since the Quaternary Period, which spans approximately the past 2 million years.
That time period coincides with the evolution of humankind, which has had a major impact on the Earth, said Stephen Wells, president of the Desert Research Institute, an environmental research division of the University and Community College System of Nevada.
"Most of that history has shaped the Earth's surface," Wells said. "Humankind has been the one species on the planet that has changed its own environment to the point it has changed the Earth on a global scale.
"So if we can explain our past, we can predict what could occur in the future, or at least develop plants to protect the species and the planet," Wells said.
Topics during the weeklong conference that begins Wednesday will include rain forests, fires, glaciers and oceans.
On July 28, discussion will turn to how scientists can better communicate the complexities of their research with the general public.
A roundtable discussion will feature science writers, including novelist Jean Auel, author of "Clan of the Cave Bear" and a series of novels dealing with Neanderthals and Cro-Magnon man; Sharon Begley, science columnist for the Wall Street Journal; television producer Bill Latka, who created the docudrama "Before We Ruled the Earth"; and others.