A new study shows that some shark species may be able to cope with the decreasing salinity of Arctic waters that may come with rising temperatures.
The Arctic today is best known for its tundra and polar bear population, but it wasn’t always like that. Roughly 53 to 38 million years ago during what is known as the Eocene epoch, the Arctic was more similar to a huge temperate forest with brackish water, home to a variety of animal life, including ancestors of tapirs, hippo-like creatures, crocodiles and giant tortoises. Much of what is known about the region during this period comes from well-documented terrestrial deposits. Marine records have been harder to come by.
Robert Kozloff?University of Chicago
Sora Kim has analyzed oxygen 18 and oxygen 16—two isotopes of the oxygen atom that contain only slight subatomic variations—of fossil and modern sharks teeth for insights into the potential adaptability of sand tigers to global warming. These teeth come from the Eocene epoch, which ended approximately 38 million years ago.
A new study of shark teeth taken from a coastal Arctic Ocean site has expanded the understanding of Eocene marine life. Leading the study was Sora Kim, the T.C. Chamberlin Postdoctoral Fellow in Geophysical Sciences at the University of Chicago, in coordination with Jaelyn Eberle at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and their three co-authors. Their findings were published online June 30 by the journal Geology.
The Arctic is of special interest today because it is increasing in temperature at twice the global rate. According to Kim, past climate change in the Arctic can serve as a proxy to better understand our current climate change and aid future predictions. The Eocene epoch, she said, is like a “deep-time analogue for what’s going to happen if we don’t curb CO2 emissions today, and potentially what a runaway greenhouse effect looks like.”
Before this study, marine records primarily came from deep-sea cores pulled from
a central Arctic Ocean site, the Lomonosov Ridge. Kim and Eberle studied shark teeth from a new coastal site on Banks Island. This allowed them to better understand the changes in ocean water salinity across a broader geographic area during a time of elevated global temperatures. Shark teeth are one of the few available vertebrate marine fossils for this time period. They preserve well and are incredibly abundant.
To arrive at their results, Kim isolated and measured the mass ratio of oxygen isotopes 18 to 16 found in the prepared enameloid (somewhat different from human tooth enamel) of the shark teeth. Sharks constantly exchange water with their environment, so the isotopic oxygen ratio found in the teeth is directly regulated by water temperature and salinity. With assumptions made about temperatures, the group was able to focus on extrapolating salinity levels of the water.
The results were surprising. “The numbers I got back were really weird,” Kim said. “They looked like fresh water.” The sand tiger sharks she was studying are part of a group called lamniform sharks, which prefer to stay in areas of high salinity.
“As more freshwater flows into the Arctic Ocean due to global warming, I think we are going to see it become more brackish,” said Eberle, associate professor of geological sciences at CU-Boulder. “Maybe the fossil record can shed some light on how the groups of sharks that are with us today may fare in a warming world.”
Because the teeth are 40 to 50 million years old, many tests were run to eliminate any possible contaminates, but the results were still the same. These findings suggest that sharks may be able to cope with rises in temperature and the subsequent decrease of water salinity. It has long been known that sharks are hardy creatures. They have fossil records dating back some 400 million years, surviving multiple mass extinctions, and have shown great ecological plasticity thus far.
Additionally, these results provide supporting evidence for the idea that the Arctic Ocean was most likely isolated from global waters.
“Through an analysis of fossil sand tiger shark teeth from the western Arctic Ocean, this study offers new evidence for a less salty Arctic Ocean during an ancient ‘greenhouse period,’” said Yusheng (Chris) Liu, program director in the National Science Foundation (NSF)’s Division of Earth Sciences, which co-funded the research with NSF’s Division of Polar Programs. “The results also confirm that the Arctic Ocean was isolated during that long-ago time.”
While Kim has hopes to expand her research both geographically and in geologic time in an effort to better understand the ecology and evolution of sharks, she remarked that “working with fossils is tricky because you have to work within the localities that are preserved. “You can’t always design the perfect experiment.”
— Isabella Penido
Steve Koppes | newswise
Revealing glacier flow with animated satellite images
26.11.2015 | European Geosciences Union
Earth's magnetic field is not about to flip
25.11.2015 | The Earth Institute at Columbia University
Planet Earth experienced a global climate shift in the late 1980s on an unprecedented scale, fuelled by anthropogenic warming and a volcanic eruption, according to new research published this week.
Scientists say that a major step change, or ‘regime shift’, in the Earth’s biophysical systems, from the upper atmosphere to the depths of the ocean and from...
The Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE has installed 70 photovoltaic modules on the outer façade of one of its lab buildings. The modules were...
Nerve cells cover their high energy demand with glucose and lactate. Scientists of the University of Zurich now provide new support for this. They show for the first time in the intact mouse brain evidence for an exchange of lactate between different brain cells. With this study they were able to confirm a 20-year old hypothesis.
In comparison to other organs, the human brain has the highest energy requirements. The supply of energy for nerve cells and the particular role of lactic acid...
In laser material processing, the simulation of processes has made great strides over the past few years. Today, the software can predict relatively well what will happen on the workpiece. Unfortunately, it is also highly complex and requires a lot of computing time. Thanks to clever simplification, experts from Fraunhofer ILT are now able to offer the first-ever simulation software that calculates processes in real time and also runs on tablet computers and smartphones. The fast software enables users to do without expensive experiments and to find optimum process parameters even more effectively.
Before now, the reliable simulation of laser processes was a job for experts. Armed with sophisticated software packages and after many hours on computer...
Researchers at Heidelberg University have devised a new way to study the phenomenon of magnetism. Using ultracold atoms at near absolute zero, they prepared a...
25.11.2015 | Event News
17.11.2015 | Event News
21.10.2015 | Event News
26.11.2015 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation
26.11.2015 | Materials Sciences
26.11.2015 | Earth Sciences