25 May 2020

Into deep time

I was keen when I found out that I would have an MSc student. And we had a project ready! With sampling foraminifera from the local sea floor and all that. But when the pandemic hit, we had to reconsider, and we decided to go move the project topic 55 million years back. As you do! I had never worked on that time period, with the weirdest climate event ever if you ask me, myself. I lecture about it as it is a weird climate event. But as I have to supervise this chap I had to make sure I was all informed on the details too. So I read up on it. He is studying the differences in how the event is expressed in the assemblages of benthic foraminifera in two locations; one on what is now east coast USA, and another one in Italy, which then was in the shallow part of an ocean. Not everyone realises it but the Mediterranean is, in a way, an almost-vanished ocean. Africa and Europe have just moved so close to each other now there's not much left! But it was a proper scale big deal in its day. And 55 Ma ago it still was to be taken seriously.

So we have two locations at noticeably different latitude, longitude, configuration of continents and oceans, water depth, and whatnot; so how different was it? It's mightily interesting if you ask me! So I have been having a blast reading up on it. Forams! My specialism often vanishes in the more general teaching things like essay writing and the pedagogy of assessment and teaching of other things such as glaciology and evolution. But here I have a chance again to ponder forams. Such modest creatures; unicellular, and not even animals (they're protists), but still, the messengers from a time that long ago. Easy to remember why I fell for them in the first place!

A fossil bird (Primobucco) from around that time. Pic from Smithsonian Institution. 

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