BGS climate change scientists and partners have been studying the shells of a modern-day bivalve (known as the Queen Scallop, Aequipecten opercularis) and a fossil bivalve (Arctica islandica) using a technique called sclerochronology.
The modern shells have been compared to fossil shells from the Coralline Crag Formation of Suffolk, eastern England, to see how the marine environment has changed over the last 3.5 million years (since the Pliocene).
The Pliocene is thought to have been a much warmer world shortly before the onset of a major glaciation of the northern-hemisphere. During this time, there was substantial variation in oceanic heat supply to the north-east Atlantic region.
By understanding these variations, future changes in the climate can be understood and, in particular, the future behaviour of the Gulf Stream in response to global warming.
As plants and animals grow, the hard tissues, e.g. shells, bones or wood, have a physical and chemical 'signature' relating to the environment in which they lived. Sclerochronology is the study of these changing signatures over time.
Results from this study have shown:
Johnson, A. L. A., Hickson, J. A., Bird, A., Schöne, B. R., Balson, P. S., Heaton, T. H. E. and Williams, M. (2009) Comparative sclerochronology of modern and mid-Pliocene (c. 3.5 Ma) Aequipecten opercularis (Mollusca, Bivalvia): an insight into past and future climate change in the north-east Atlantic region, Palaeogeography Palaeoclimatology Palaeoecology, v284, issue 3-4, p164-179.
Dowsett HJ, Chandler MA, Robinson MM (2009) Surface temperatures of the Mid-Pliocene North Atlantic Ocean: implications for future climate. Phil. Trans. Roy. Soc. A367, 69-84.
Johnson ALA, Hickson JA, Swan J, Brown MR, Heaton THE, Balson PS, Chenery S (2000) The Queen Scallop Aequipecten opercularis: a new source of information on late Cenozoic marine environments in Europe. 425-439 in Harper EM, Taylor JD, Crame JA (eds) The Evolutionary Biology of the Bivalvia, Geological Society, London.
Williams M, Haywood AM, Harper EM, Johnson ALA, Knowles T, Leng MJ, Lunt DJ, Okamura B, Taylor PD, Zalasiewicz J (2009) Pliocene climate and seasonality in North Atlantic shelf seas. Phil. Trans. Roy. Soc. A367, 85-108.
Johnson ALA, Hickson JA, Bird A, Schöne BR, Balson PS, Heaton THE, Williams M (2009, in press) Comparative sclerochronology of modern and mid-Pliocene (c. 3.5 Ma) Aequipecten opercularis (Mollusca, Bivalvia): an insight into past and future climate change in the north-east Atlantic region. Palaeogeog. Palaeoclimatol. Palaeoecol.
De Schepper S, Head MJ, Louwye S (2008) Pliocene dinoflagellate cyst stratigraphy, palaeoecology and sequence stratigraphy of the Tunnel-Canal Dock, Belgium. Geol. Mag. 146, 92-112.
Schöne BR, Fiebig J (2009) Seasonality in the North Sea during the Allerød and Late Medieval Climate Optimum using bivalve sclerochronology. Int. J. Earth Sci. 98, 83-98.
Naish T and 55 others (2009) Obliquity-paced Pliocene West Antarctic ice sheet oscillations. Nature 458, 322-329.
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