Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Snail fossils suggest semiarid eastern Canary Islands were wetter 50,000 years ago

29.10.2009
Fossil land snail shells found in ancient soils on the subtropical eastern Canary Islands show that the Spanish archipelago off the northwest coast of Africa has become progressively drier over the past 50,000 years.

Isotopic measurements performed on fossil land snail shells resulted in oxygen isotope ratios that suggest the relative humidity on the islands was higher 50,000 years ago, then experienced a long-term decrease to the time of maximum global cooling and glaciation about 15,000 to 20,000 years ago, according to new research by Yurena Yanes, a post-doctoral researcher, and Crayton J. Yapp, a geochemistry professor, both in the Roy M. Huffington Department of Earth Sciences at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas.

With subsequent post-glacial climatic fluctuations, relative humidity seems to have oscillated somewhat, but finally decreased even further to modern values.

Consequently the eastern Canary Islands experienced an overall increase in dryness during the last 50,000 years, eventually yielding the current semiarid conditions. Today the low-altitude eastern islands are characterized by low annual rainfall and a landscape of short grasses and shrubs, Yanes says.

The research advances understanding of the global paleoclimate during an important time in human evolution, when the transition from gathering and hunting to agriculture first occurred in the fertile Middle East and subsequently spread to Asia, North Africa and Europe.

"In the Canary Archipelago, land snails are one of the rare 'continuous' records of paleoclimatic conditions over the last 50,000 years," Yanes says. "The results of this study are of great relevance to biologists and paleontologists investigating the evolution of plants and animals linked to climatic fluctuation in the islands."

The researchers' isotopic evidence reflects changing atmospheric and oceanic circulation associated with the waxing, waning and subsequent disappearance over the past 50,000 years of vast ice sheets at mid- to high latitudes on the continents of the Northern Hemisphere.

The research also is consistent with the observed decline in diversity of the highly moisture-sensitive land snails.

Land snail shells are abundant and sensitive to environmental change and as fossils they are well-preserved. Measurement of variations in oxygen isotope ratios of fossil shells can yield information about changes in ancient climatic conditions.

The shells are composed of the elements calcium, oxygen and carbon, which are combined to form a mineral known as aragonite. Oxygen atoms in aragonite are not all exactly alike. A small proportion of those atoms is slightly heavier than the majority, and these heavier and lighter forms of oxygen are called isotopes of oxygen.

Small changes in the ratio of heavy to light isotopes can be measured with a high degree of accuracy and precision. Variations in these ratios are related to climatic variables, including relative humidity, temperature and the oxygen isotope ratios of rainwater and water vapor in the environments in which land snails live.

Yanes presented the research at a scientific session of the 2009 annual meeting of The Geological Society of America in Portland, Ore., Oct. 18-21. The research was funded by Spain's Ministry of Science and Innovation and the National Science Foundation. For more information go to www.smuresearch.com

SMU: A private university located in the heart of Dallas, SMU is building on the vision of its founders, who imagined a distinguished center for learning emerging from the spirit of the city. Today, nearly 11,000 students benefit from the national opportunities and international reach afforded by the quality of SMU's seven degree-granting schools.

Kim Cobb | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.smu.edu

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Seabed mining could destroy ecosystems
23.01.2018 | University of Exeter

nachricht How climate change weakens coral 'immune systems'
23.01.2018 | Ohio State University

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Optical Nanoscope Allows Imaging of Quantum Dots

Physicists have developed a technique based on optical microscopy that can be used to create images of atoms on the nanoscale. In particular, the new method allows the imaging of quantum dots in a semiconductor chip. Together with colleagues from the University of Bochum, scientists from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute reported the findings in the journal Nature Photonics.

Microscopes allow us to see structures that are otherwise invisible to the human eye. However, conventional optical microscopes cannot be used to image...

Im Focus: Artificial agent designs quantum experiments

On the way to an intelligent laboratory, physicists from Innsbruck and Vienna present an artificial agent that autonomously designs quantum experiments. In initial experiments, the system has independently (re)discovered experimental techniques that are nowadays standard in modern quantum optical laboratories. This shows how machines could play a more creative role in research in the future.

We carry smartphones in our pockets, the streets are dotted with semi-autonomous cars, but in the research laboratory experiments are still being designed by...

Im Focus: Scientists decipher key principle behind reaction of metalloenzymes

So-called pre-distorted states accelerate photochemical reactions too

What enables electrons to be transferred swiftly, for example during photosynthesis? An interdisciplinary team of researchers has worked out the details of how...

Im Focus: The first precise measurement of a single molecule's effective charge

For the first time, scientists have precisely measured the effective electrical charge of a single molecule in solution. This fundamental insight of an SNSF Professor could also pave the way for future medical diagnostics.

Electrical charge is one of the key properties that allows molecules to interact. Life itself depends on this phenomenon: many biological processes involve...

Im Focus: Paradigm shift in Paris: Encouraging an holistic view of laser machining

At the JEC World Composite Show in Paris in March 2018, the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT will be focusing on the latest trends and innovations in laser machining of composites. Among other things, researchers at the booth shared with the Aachen Center for Integrative Lightweight Production (AZL) will demonstrate how lasers can be used for joining, structuring, cutting and drilling composite materials.

No other industry has attracted as much public attention to composite materials as the automotive industry, which along with the aerospace industry is a driver...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

10th International Symposium: “Advanced Battery Power – Kraftwerk Batterie” Münster, 10-11 April 2018

08.01.2018 | Event News

See, understand and experience the work of the future

11.12.2017 | Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Rutgers scientists discover 'Legos of life'

23.01.2018 | Life Sciences

Seabed mining could destroy ecosystems

23.01.2018 | Earth Sciences

Transportable laser

23.01.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>