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November 8 2012

Microfossils Reveal Secrets of Ancient Ocean Changes


No matter how many times you've been in the ocean, you've probably never noticed foraminifera. But "forams," as scientists call these microscopic organisms for short, are everywhere from the water surface to the seafloor, all around the world. They've been here since before the time of the dinosaurs, and now they're revealing vital information about the history of the world we live in.

Here's how: As forams grow, their tiny shells record the chemical and physical conditions of the ocean, which are tightly linked to those of the atmosphere. When they die, they collect on the seafloor, where settling sediment and other dead organisms eventually bury them. Some forams are preserved as microfossils. Over hundreds of millions of years, these microfossils have stacked up on the seafloor to form an incredible natural archive of ocean and climate data.

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