Stable Isotopes and Accretionary Skeletons: Paleoseasonality

Accretionary biogenic carbonates, such as the shells of fossil mollusks, offer an opportunity to recover information about seasonality in Earth’s deep past.  High-resolution sampling and isotope analysis along the growth history of an organism can yield a detailed a record of the temperatures experienced by an individual throughout some portion of its lifetime.  Capturing a number of years within a particular stratigraphic horizon yields not only a robust measure of seasonal temperature range for that habitat, but also information about inter-annual variability.  With adequate coverage, both of these variables can be examined in a temporal or geographic context to see how they relate to change in mean annual temperature.  The approach is not without its challenges – sampling resolution can smear the seasonal signal, organisms do not necessarily accrete carbonate throughout the year, and the depth at which benthic aquatic organisms live correlates roughly with the seasonal range they experience.  Nevertheless, with a bit of care, these kinds of data can offer new insights on the climate system and the anticipated consequences of global change.

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Cucullaea Raea

The Eocene bivalve Cucullaea raea, from Seymour Island Antarctica, sectioned to reveal growth bands.  Micromilled isotope data reveal bands to be annual.  See Buick and Ivany (2004).
paleotemperature data
Paleotemperature data inferred from δ18O data of microsampled shell carbonate from the Oligocene bivalve Callista.   Note the apparent decrease in seasonal variation associated with decreased growth rate.  See Ivany et al. (2004), Ivany (2012).
stable isotope data earliest bivalves
Stable oxygen isotope data from coeval earliest Eocene bivalves showing that means as well as seasonal extremes are consistent across hundreds of kilometers of shallow shelf outcrop.  See Sessa et al. (2012).
fish otoliths
Cross section through the otolith (ear stone) of an Eocene congrid fish from the US Gulf Coast showing growth bands, micromilled sampling paths, and resulting isotope data showing roughly one and a half years of growth.
seasonal fish otolith data
Seasonal data generated from fish otoliths collected across the Eocene-Oligocene transition show an increase in seasonal range of temperature variation.  The transition to colder winters may help to explain the marked faunal turnover at the boundary in the Gulf Coast section.  See Ivany et al. (2000, 2003).

Student Research

Andrew Beard (M.Sc.) “Regional variation in seasonal oxygen isotope values of Permian bivalves from Southeastern Australia”

Ellen De Man (Ph.D.) “Foraminifer biofacies and stable isotope analyses as paleoproxies for Oligocene environments, southern North Sea Basin” (Co-supervisor with Noel Vandenberghe, University of Leuven, Belgium) 

Caitlin Keating-Bitonti (B.S.) “How warm was the early Eocene? Paleotemperature reconstructions for the US Gulf Coast from the shells of Venericardia (Bivalvia)”

Nicole Miklus (M.Sc.) “The high-latitude response of temperature seasonality to global Eocene cooling”

Devin Buick (B.S.) “100 years in the dark: extreme longevity of Eocene bivalves from Antarctica”

Christina Hartman (M.Sc.) “High Resolution Stable Isotope Paleoclimatology of the Jurassic Great Estuarine Group”

Daren McGregor (MS Student) “Late Cretaceous latitudinal gradients in temperature and seasonality using the marine oyster Exogyra cancellata”


(*student author; postdoc author)

Ivany, L. C., and Huber, B. T., Editors, 2012, Reconstructing Earth’s Deep-Time Climate, volume 18, The Paleontological Society Papers, 262 p.

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Reconstruction Earth

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Ivany, L.C.  (2012)  Reconstructing paleoseasonality from accretionary skeletal carbonates:  challenges and opportunities.  In L. C. Ivany, and B. T. Huber (Editors), Reconstructing Earth's Deep-Time Climate. Paleontological Society Papers, v. 18, pp. 133-165. 

Sessa, J.A., Ivany, L.C., Schlossnagle*, T., Samson, S.D., and Schellenberg, S.A.  (2012)  The fidelity of oxygen and strontium isotope values from shallow shelf settings: implications for temperature and age reconstructions.  Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology v. 342-343, pp. 27-39.

Ivany, L.C., Brey, T., Huber, M., Buick, D.P., and Schöne, B.R. (2011) El Niño in the Eocene greenhouse recorded by fossil bivalves and wood from Antarctica. Geophysical Research Letters. v. 38, L16709, doi:10.1029/2011GL048635.

Keating-Bitonti*, C.R., Ivany, L.C., Affek, H.P., Douglas, P., Samson, S.D. (2011) Warm, not super-hot, temperatures in the early Eocene subtropics. Geology v. 39, pp. 771-774.

Ivany, L.C. and Runnegar, B. (2010) Early Permian seasonality from bivalve δ18O and implications for the oxygen isotopic composition of seawater. Geology v. 38, pp. 1027-1030.

Kobashi, Takuro, Grossman, Ethan L., Dockery, David T., and Ivany, Linda C. (2004) Watermass stability reconstructions from greenhouse (Eocene) to icehouse (Oligocene) for the northern Gulf Coast continental shelf (U.S.A.). Paleoceanography, v. 19, PA 1022, doi: 10.1029/2003PA000934 (16 pages).

Ivany, Linda C., Wilkinson, Bruce W., Lohmann, Kyger C, Johnson, Emily R., McElroy, Brandon J., and Cohen, Gregory J.* (2004) Intra-annual isotopic variation in Venericardia bivalves: Implications for early Eocene climate, seasonality, and salinity on the US Gulf Coast. Journal of Sedimentary Research, 74, pp. 7-19. 

Buick, Devin P.* and Ivany, Linda C. (2004) 100 years in the dark: extreme longevity of Eocene bivalves from Antarctica. Geology, v. 32, pp. 921-924. 

Ivany, Linda C., Lohmann, Kyger C, and Patterson, William P. (2003)  Paleogene temperature history of the US Gulf Coastal Plain inferred from fossil otoliths.  In Prothero, D., Ivany, L.C., and Nesbitt, E. (eds)  From Greenhouse to Icehouse:The Marine Eocene-Oligocene Transition. New York: Columbia University Press, pp. 232-251.

Wilkinson, Bruce H. and Ivany, Linda C. (2002) Paleoclimatic inference from stable isotopic compositions of accretionary biogenic hardparts – a quantitative approach to the evaluation of incomplete data. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 185, pp. 95-114.

Ivany, Linda C., Patterson, William P., and Lohmann, Kyger C (2000) Cooler winters as a possible cause of mass extinctions at the Eocene-Oligocene boundary. Nature, 407, pp. 887-890.

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