Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


New test adds to scientists’ understanding of Earth’s history, resources

A new study co-authored by a University of Florida researcher provides the first direct chronological test of sequence stratigraphy, a powerful tool for exploring Earth’s natural resources.

The model allows geologists to better understand how sedimentary rocks are related to one another in time and space and predict what types of rocks are located in different areas. The information may help scientists more reliably interpret various aspects of Earth’s history such as long-term climate changes or extinction events, and also benefit companies searching for the best locations to drill for oil.

The study published online Friday in Geology uses extensive numerical dating of fossil shells to verify key predictions of the sequence stratigraphy model. Although used successfully for more than 30 years as a theoretical framework for interpreting and exploring rock bodies, the model had never been proven quantitatively by direct numerical dating.

“Paleontologists and geologists are well aware of the fact that you should not take the fossil record at face value because you will then see changes through time that may not be meaningful,” said study co-author Michal Kowalewski, a curator of invertebrate paleontology at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus. “However, by using dating to quantify how the resolution changes through time, we can improve quality control on our data and develop better strategies for reconstructing the history of life more accurately.”

In the study, researchers used racemization, a technique in which amino acid ratios are obtained to estimate the age of fossils from the most recent geological record. Relative age estimates were calibrated using radiocarbon to date about 250 mollusk shells extracted from cores drilled in the Po Plain in northern Italy. The technique, developed over the last 30 years, has made dating of large numbers of shells affordable and efficient, Kowalewski said.
Kowalewski is principal investigator on the National Science Foundation-funded project, a four-year study involving a team of scientists from the University of Bologna and Northern Arizona University.

“We were thrilled to learn that sedimentary rocks assemble through time exactly as predicted,” said Kowalewski, who recently relocated from Virginia Tech and is the Jon L. and Beverly A. Thompson Chair of Invertebrate Paleontology at the Florida Museum. “The results are not only a direct validation of the sequence stratigraphic model, but also provide us with direct numerical estimates of changes in the resolution of the fossil record as a function of relative changes in sea level.”

As the model predicted for the geological setting of the Po Plain, the sediments accumulated at an increasingly slower pace during initial phases of sea level rise, culminating with horizons that formed so slowly that shells from multiple millennia were mixed within the same sediment layers. Following the sea level rise, sediment was deposited at an increasingly faster pace.

“We are pretty confident that the primary driver of sea level changes in this time frame was climate, but that’s not always the case in the geological record,” Kowalewski said. ‘We can now provide a more informed constraint on timing of the most recent sea level rise in the northern Adriatic.”

Because the Po Plain contains young sediments dating to about the last 10,000 years, part of the cycle researchers tested includes changes occurring today, said Carlton Brett, a geology professor at the University of Cincinnati. As sea level rises quickly, sediment accumulates in bays and river mouths, leaving little sediment offshore, Brett said.
“I think what they’re doing is groundbreaking in the sense that they’re testing a model that is one of the most important models in sedimentary geology that has ever come down the pipe,” Brett said. “As one who uses that model a lot and makes those assumptions about why we are getting shell beds offshore, the fact that they have put numbers on the tests gives us very good confidence that we’re on the right track.”

The team plans to continue working in the Po Plain, a well-understood system that records the most recent millennia of the region’s geological history. The project can help researchers better understand human-induced changes because the Po Plain sediments document the fossil record of ecosystems that directly predate what many geologists refer to as the Anthropocene Epoch, the new geologic era of human modification of the natural world.

Study co-authors include Daniele Scarponi and Alessandro Amorosi of the University of Bologna, and Darell Kaufman of Northern Arizona University.


Danielle Torrent
Media Contact
Paul Ramey,
Michal Kowalewski,

Michal Kowalewski | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht NASA's Operation IceBridge completes twin polar campaigns
25.11.2015 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

nachricht NASA's Terra satellite sees Typhoon In-fa stretching
24.11.2015 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Lactate for Brain Energy

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...

Im Focus: Laser process simulation available as app for first time

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...

Im Focus: Quantum Simulation: A Better Understanding of Magnetism

Heidelberg physicists use ultracold atoms to imitate the behaviour of electrons in a solid

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...

Im Focus: Climate Change: Warm water is mixing up life in the Arctic

AWI researchers’ unique 15-year observation series reveals how sensitive marine ecosystems in polar regions are to change

The warming of arctic waters in the wake of climate change is likely to produce radical changes in the marine habitats of the High North. This is indicated by...

Im Focus: Nanocarriers may carry new hope for brain cancer therapy

Berkeley Lab researchers develop nanoparticles that can carry therapeutics across the brain blood barrier

Glioblastoma multiforme, a cancer of the brain also known as "octopus tumors" because of the manner in which the cancer cells extend their tendrils into...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

Fraunhofer’s Urban Futures Conference: 2 days in the city of the future

25.11.2015 | Event News

Gluten oder nicht Gluten? Überempfindlichkeit auf Weizen kann unterschiedliche Ursachen haben

17.11.2015 | Event News

Art Collection Deutsche Börse zeigt Ausstellung „Traces of Disorder“

21.10.2015 | Event News

Latest News

Fraunhofer’s Urban Futures Conference: 2 days in the city of the future

25.11.2015 | Event News

NASA's Operation IceBridge completes twin polar campaigns

25.11.2015 | Earth Sciences

NASA plans twin sounding rocket launches over Norway this winter

25.11.2015 | Physics and Astronomy

More VideoLinks >>>