A new approach for studying sea-level changes using molecular fossils

Martina Conti*, Martin Bates, Graham Rush, Amy McGuire, Benny Bechor, Natasha Barlow, Dorit Sivan, Richard Preece, Kirsty Elizabeth Helena Penkman, Brendan John Keely

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to conferencePosterpeer-review


Targeted analysis of organic matter in soils and sediments is useful for evaluating past environmental conditions, as specific compounds may be directly linked to organisms and hence to the conditions in which they inhabited the environment. These molecular fossils are well-preserved in sediments and their degradation patterns are well-understood, thus variations in biomarker distributions, such as lipids and chlorophyll pigments, have become a powerful tool for understanding palaeoclimatic change. This work uses molecular fossils to give an insight into the impact of transgressive events on primary producers inhabiting the studied coastal environment, and hence a more detailed record of sea-level change. Used alongside palaeontological evidence, molecular fossils can aid in the interpretation of paleoenvironmental changes especially where microfossils are poorly preserved or present in low amounts.
Applications of molecular fossils to transgressions from a Holocene sediment core from a lake in Scotland showed excellent agreement with the lithological and ecological interpretation; the same approach was successfully applied to Mid-Pleistocene sediment cores. Importantly, the organic analysis of molecular fossils provided a sensitive record of primary producer response to major environmental changes such as a transgression. The molecular fossils analysed can reveal not only shifts in primary producer organisms inhabiting the site, but also the surrounding environment. Linking the pigment and lipid record enables a more accurate record of Quaternary relative sea-level change and its impact on paleoclimate.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 17 Jul 2023

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