University of St Andrews

Improving cell-sized thermometers: A new culturing initiative at the Scottish Oceans Institute (SOI), St Andrews

Wednesday 16 November 2011

An international team from Sweden, Germany and the UK are joining forces to address a significant challenge in palaeoclimate research: the need to both understand and reduce the uncertainty associated with palaeotemperature reconstructions.

The Swedish Research Council, VR has recently funded a major new 4-year project to be led by Dr Helena Filipsson (Lund University) in collaboration with Dr William Austin (Head of Department), which will focus on culturing bottom-dwelling foraminifera from a range of different environments, many of these experiments to be conducted at state-of-the-art facilities at SOI, St Andrews. Our UK co-investigators include Professor David Paterson (School of Biology, University of St Andrews) and Dr Kate Darling (School of Geosciences, University of Edinburgh).

The geochemical signatures measured in the calcium carbonate shells of these bottom-dwelling single celled organisms are some of the most important recorders we have of past ocean climate. The focus will be on three temperature-sensitive proxies measured on the foraminiferal calcite: the stable isotopic composition of oxygen (δ18O), magnesium/calcium ratios (Mg/Ca) and the isotopic composition of calcium (δ44/40Ca). Improved bottom water temperature reconstructions would provide the palaeoclimate community with greater understanding of global climate sensitivity and offer a new stimulus to the development of coupled climate models.

The photo below shows live specimens (<0.5 mm in diameter) of the benthic foraminifera Elphidium williamsoni from the Eden Estuary, Fife.

(photograph credit: Dr Heather A. Austin, University of St Andrews).

Live specimens of the benthic foraminifera Elphidium williamsoni