The rain forests are disappearing, former oil industry employee Carlos Jaramillo says.

In front of an audience of around 60 graduate students, postdoctoral associates and professors Wednesday, Jaramillo discussed the history of tropical rain forests. An expert from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, he argued that as environmental conditions varied, the diversity of plants in rainforests varied as well. Attendees said they enjoyed looking at the topic of rainforests within the wider context of climate change and Jaramillo’s history in the oil industry.

The danger to the future of rainforests, Jaramillo said, is even worse than currently acknowledged.

“There has been a 30 percent reduction in rain forest coverage as a result of climate impact we haven’t fully realized,” Jaramillo said.

Jaramillo delved into the environmental problems facing rain forests today, which include increasing carbon dioxide levels that cause decreased plant diversity.

He also discussed the challenges he faced as an oil industry worker prior to joining the Smithsonian Institute.

A native of Bogota, Colombia, he became interested in the oil industry during his time pursing a master’s degree in geology at the University of Missouri. He later started working for an oil company in Panama where his role aimed to help the company drill in the right place. There, Jaramillo was witness to the frustration oil companies felt when they used up their existing resources and failed to find replacements. The positioning of the drills has posed particular problems for companies in the past: Jaramillo cited one example of a company that had spent approximately $2 million drilling in an oil-free area.

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“The petroleum is going away,” Jaramillo said. “And the companies have to go places they didn’t want to go before.”

Ecology and evolutionary biology professor Michael Donoghue said his department decided to bring in Jaramillo to speak because of a wide lack of understanding about how tropical climates change over time.

Lab assistant Jacob Berv ’10 said he enjoyed the talk, despite the fact that he primarily conducts his own research on birds, because it taught him a lot about a new topic.

“It’s basically the same thing I do but regarding plants,” Berk said.

Attendee and Yale postdoctoral associate in the School of Public Health Harish Padmanabha said that he admires Jaramillo’s work because of its large scale. A biologist, Padmanabha said that he studies things on a much smaller scale than does Jaramillo.

Jaramillo will give a lecture today at 2 p.m. at 321 Kroon Hall.