Image credit: (c) 2002 David Field
Foraminifera (forams) are small, amoeba-like organisms that live inside shells ("tests") such as those shown here. These forams were collected from the waters overlying the Santa Barbara Basin.
Sediment cores collected from the seafloor off Southern California reveal that plankton populations in the Northeastern Pacific changed significantly in response to a general warming trend that started in the early 1900s. As ocean temperatures increased, subtropical and tropical species of small marine organisms called foraminifera (forams) became more abundant. Forams that live in cooler waters decreased, especially after the mid-1970s. These changes are unlike anything seen during the previous 1,400 years. Oceanographer David Field discovered these dramatic changes during his Ph.D. work at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego. He currently works as a postdoctoral fellow at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI). Field and his co-authors describe their findings in the current issue of Science magazine.
Foraminifera are small, amoeba-like organisms that live inside tiny shells ("tests") several of which might fit on the head of pin. Most forams live near the surface of the world’s oceans. Different species of forams live in ocean waters of different temperatures. When forams die, they sink to the seafloor, where their shells are often preserved as fossils in seafloor sediments.
Field studied fossilized forams in one- to three-meter-long sediment cores collected at the bottom of the Santa Barbara Basin, off Southern California. In this area, dead plankton and sediments settle onto the seafloor to form distinct annual layers similar to growth rings in a tree. At 600 meters beneath the ocean surface, seawater in the Santa Barbara Basin contains very little oxygen, so few bottom-dwelling animals disturb the sediments and the annual layers remain relatively intact.
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