Sea-level changes: molecular approaches to tell us the how and the when

Martina Conti*, Harry Kenneth Robson, Nicky Milner, Brendan John Keely, Kirsty Elizabeth Helena Penkman, Lucy Wheeler, Beatrice Demarchi, Natasha Barlow, Martin Bates, Paul Butler, David Reynolds, James Scourse, Samantha Presslee

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to conferencePosterpeer-review


The study of past sea-level changes is important to understand and predict future scenarios. Two key questions are: how was the paleoenvironment affected by sea-level changes, and when did the sea-level change occur? Sedimentological analyses and dating are key and in this work we explore geochemical ways of answering these questions.

Targeted analysis of palaeontological evidence in sediment (e.g. pollen, foraminifera, microfossils) can help reconstruct the paleoenvironment, helping to provide data for rates of sea-level change. However, in some sequences microfossils are present only in low amounts, or are poorly preserved in the sediment, precluding detailed paleoenvironmental interpretation. In these cases, the molecular fossils trapped in the sediment matrix can help in the interpretation; these molecules tend to be well-preserved in sediments and can be biomarkers of specific groups of organisms that can be linked to palaeoenvironmental conditions via knowledge of their habitats. Using lipids and chlorophyll pigments, a more sensitive and accurate record of relative sea-level transgressions and their impact on palaeoclimate was recorded in Holocene and Mid-Pleistocene sediments.

Alongside the identification of transgressive and regressive phases, dating is essential to contextualise the sea-level fluctuations. Where fossils are preserved, their intra-crystalline molecules have the potential to provide age information through amino acid geochronology (AAG). Previous studies on the marine gastropods Littorina and Nucella and foraminifera Ammonia and Neogloboquadrina pachyderma have provided relative dating spanning the Pleistocene period. In this work, we extend the aminostratigraphy to bivalves (Arctica islandica, Ostrea edulis and Cerastoderma edule), which have a more complicated shell microstructure. These case studies demonstrate the power of molecular approaches to reveal insights into past sea-level change.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 6 Feb 2023
EventSea Levels, Past, Present and Future: The Geological Society - The Geological Society, Burlington House, London, United Kingdom
Duration: 6 Feb 20237 Feb 2023


ConferenceSea Levels, Past, Present and Future
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
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