The micropaleontology group studies variation in the distribution and community structure amongst microfossils from different environmental conditions and from different periods.
In order to interpret what environmental conditions were like in the past, we need to understand the present. Why have these foraminifera climbed up a polychaete tube when most live down in the sediments? What are the consequences of this for the chemical composition of the shells? (Photo: E. Alve).
Micropaleontology embraces the study of all fossils which can only be examined with the aid of a microscope. These tiny fossils are found in great profusion in most sedimentary basins. Both their distribution and frequency in time and space, as well as the chemical composition of their shells, provide us with knowledge about the Earth’s history. They are important when we drill for oil or gas because they tell us the age of the sedimentary rocks, and they can also reveal long-term changes in climate, sea level and other environmental conditions. In more recent years they have also demonstrated their applicability to pollution studies, showing the extent to which human activities have changed the ecological conditions.
Foraminifera (single-celled organisms) represent one of the most important groups of microfossils that are used by the petroleum industry, as well as in climate and palaeo-ecological studies. This microfossil group is the main focus of our current research.
The ecology of living and fossil forms, together with the processes associated with their fossilisation potential, is analysed with the help of field-based as well as experimental methods.
Latest results show that foraminifera are just as useful at reflecting ecological status in marine, coastal areas as the macrofauna traditionally employed for environmental monitoring. This is a breakthrough in a monitoring context since it means one can now use fossil fauna to classify ecological status back in time, to before conventional monitoring began. This fulfils a key requirement in the EU’s Water Framework Directive.
In addition to working with other geologists, the research group co-operates with biologists, geochemists, hydrographers, statisticians and geneticists. Together with researchers from e.g. the Biology Department at UiO, the group is presently involved in establishing a Strategic Research Group (“Utviklingsmiljø”) in Marine Life Science (MarLiS) at the MN Faculty.
Our emeriti (Nagy and Dale) are working with applied biostratigraphy, microfossil-based biofacies, integrated sequence stratigraphy and palaeo-environmental interpretations, together with the biogeography of dinoflagellate cysts and their use as indicators of poisonous alga blooms and eutrophication.
The group co-operates with research communities in Norway, in a number of European countries, and in the USA and Russia. With support from the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNF) we have just established a European forum (with observers from USA and Japan) for developing standardised sampling and data collecting methods to be used in foraminifera bio-monitoring of marine environments.