Using Paleoclimatology and Foraminifera to Better Understand Modern Climate Variability
Foraminifera are one such archive that has the potential of unlocking many key components of the climate system, both in the long and short term. Foraminifera are single celled protists found buried in lake and ocean sediments that have the potential of providing climatological data all over the planet and extending millions of years into the past. However, they are often overlooked from a meteorological standpoint because they are not what one would think of as a traditional ‘instrument' for recording climate variability. Foraminifera are, in fact, an excellent instrument in recording sea-surface temperature, precipitation and evaporation, ocean salinity, global ice volume, atmospheric chemistry, carbon cycling, ocean productivity, carbon exchange between the air and sea, etc. Depending on the variable in question, this data is obtained through planktonic and benthic fossil assemblages, and by geochemical analyses via the dissolution of the foraminifera's CaCO3 test (shell). Scientists then analyze the Mg/Ca ratios and the stable isotopes of oxygen (d 18O), carbon (d 13C), and boron (d 11B) with a mass spectrometer in order to extract the aforementioned variables. As a result, foraminifera have the potential to provide a natural paleo baseline for which climatologists could compare and calibrate climate forecast models with instrumental records. By incorporating both instrumental and paleoclimatological data, scientists can gain a truly comprehensive look at how Earth's climate system has changed over the past few years to millennia, and a far better understanding about what causes these modifications and what the implications are for the future, near and far.