Rensselaer Research Review Summer 2009
*
*
*
George Makhatadze
The calcium carbonate (CaCo3) shells of the foraminifera are formed from the elements found in the sea they lived in. The levels of these elements vary based on the clumate during their lifetime, as the levels of weathering and photosynthesis on land change based on temperatue and sea level. (Earth's Climate: Past and Future/William Ruddiman)
*
Katz is most interested in the foraminifera found in the cores. The foraminifera she studies live on or just below the seafloor. When they die, their hard shells are incorporated in the surrounding sediments and buried over time in a nearly uniform layer.

The assemblages of foraminifera in each layer can provide valuable information on the climate of that time. “Some species are only found in certain environments, such as in warm water or in shallow, tidal areas,” Katz said. “By piecing together the species assemblages that are found in a given area during the given time period, we can reconstruct the sea level and ocean and climate conditions of that period based on our knowledge of each foraminiferal species.”

The Past is the Window to the Future

Gathering this information from cores has allowed Katz to develop important theories on one of the most recent and dramatic climate change events that has occurred in recent geologic history — the transition from the greenhouse climate of the Eocene epoch to the “icehouse” or glacial conditions of the Oligocene epoch approximately 33.5 million years ago.

“The boundary between the late Eocene to the early Oligocene is a striking example of rapid climate change that we can look to in Earth’s past,” Katz said. “Information from this period can provide us with important information on how rapid changes in temperature can significantly impact ice volume, sea level, and the evolution of life on Earth.”

Her research also reaches even further back to reconstruct conditions earlier in Earth’s history. In particular, she took part in a study of atmospheric oxygen and carbon dioxide concentrations since the Jurassic period 205 million years ago. The group has found that oxygen levels doubled in the short period of time from the Jurassic period to the Eocene epoch (~150 million years ago), providing a climate with just enough oxygen for placental mammals to develop.

Katz joined Rensselaer in 2008 from Rutgers University.

*
*
*
* Page 1 | 2 * <Back *
*
*
*
Subscribe/Unsubscribe to the
Rensselaer Research Review Bulletin
  Front Page | Back Issues    Fall 2009
*
* Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Rensselaer Research Review
Copyright © 2007-09 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
110 8th Street, Troy, NY 12180  (518) 276-6000  
http://www.rpi.edu