Well-preserved fossils could be consequence of past global climate change


Peer-Reviewed Publication

UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT AUSTIN

Lead researcher in the lab
IMAGE: LEAD AUTHOR SINJINI SINHA, A GRADUATE STUDENT AT THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT AUSTIN’S JACKSON SCHOOL OF GEOSCIENCES, EXAMINES IMAGES OF FOSSIL SPECIMENS IN THE SCANNING ELECTRON MICROSCOPE LAB. SINHA USED THE MICROSCOPE TO EXAMINE EXCEPTIONALLY PRESERVED FOSSILS AND LEARN MORE ABOUT THE FOSSILIZATION PROCESS. view more 
CREDIT: THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS AT AUSTIN/JACKSON SCHOOL OF GEOSCIENCES.

Climate change can affect life on Earth. According to new research, it can also affect the dead.

A study of exceptionally preserved fossils led by a graduate student at The University of Texas at Austin has found that rising global temperatures and a rapidly changing climate 183 million years ago may have created fossilization conditions in the world’s oceans that helped preserve the soft and delicate bodies of deceased marine animals.   

The fossils include squid-like vampyropods with ink sacs, ornate crustacean claws and fish with intact gills and eye tissue.

Despite being from different locations and marine environments, the fossils were all preserved in a similar manner. Geochemical analysis revealed that the conditions needed to preserve such captivating fossils could be connected to Earth’s climate.

“When I started the research, I had no idea if they would preserve the same way or a different way,” said lead author Sinjini Sinha, a graduate student at the UT Jackson School of Geosciences. “I was curious what led to the exceptional preservation.”

The research was published in Scientific Reports.  

Going from dead organism to eternal fossil is a complex, chemical process that involves the formation of minerals within biological tissues. The authors examined different parts of fossil specimens under a scanning electron microscope equipped with a tool to detect chemical elements present in the minerals.  

The fossils came from the Posidonia Shale in southern Germany, Strawberry Bank in southern England, and Ya Ha Tinda in Alberta, Canada. And in all of them, one element dominated: phosphorous.

“We expected there to be some similarities, but finding that they were so similar was a bit surprising,” said co-author Rowan Martindale, an associate professor at the Jackson School.

Phosphorous is common in bones, so finding it in fossilized fish skeletons wasn’t unusual. But when it appeared in tissues that don’t usually contain phosphorous, such as crustacean exoskeletons and vampyropod soft tissues, it signaled that the environment was the source of the phosphorous minerals.  

Phosphorous, however, usually isn’t available in high concentrations within marine sediments, said co-author Drew Muscente, an assistant professor at Cornell College and former Jackson School postdoctoral researcher.

“Phosphorous is an element that you don’t expect to see in sedimentary rocks,” he said. “It generally doesn’t get buried in large amounts except in unusual circumstances.”

The researchers think a period of extreme and rapid climate change caused by an influx of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere by volcanic eruptions during the Early Jurassic could be just that circumstance, with the rising temperatures causing increased rainfall that stripped large amounts of phosphorous-rich sediment from rocks on land into the world’s oceans. 

Climate change today is also reducing oxygen in the oceans but it will be millions of years before anyone can say whether there is a boost in exceptional fossils, Martindale said.

Javier Luque, a research associate at Harvard University who was not part of the study, said that the study is important because it suggests that past climate change could have helped enable fossilization in a variety of environments.

“Perhaps one of the biggest takeaways of this work is that global events in the past could have set the stage for the exceptional preservation seen in fossil-rich marine deposits around the world regardless of their location, lithologies, environments, and depositional setting,” he said.

The study was also co-authored by researchers at the University of Missouri, the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution, and the Stuttgart State Museum of Natural History.

It was funded by the National Science Foundation Division of Earth Sciences.


JOURNAL

Scientific Reports

DOI

10.1038/s41598-021-03482-7 

ARTICLE TITLE

Global controls on phosphatization of fossils during the Toarcian Oceanic Anoxic Event

ARTICLE PUBLICATION DATE

16-Dec-2021

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Brad-DXT
March 8, 2022 10:55 pm

Well, at least they didn’t blame humans for climate change in this paper.

Alan the Brit
Reply to  Brad-DXT
March 8, 2022 11:16 pm

Don’t worry, there is plenty of time for a revised paper including “newly discovered evidence confirms that Human beings caused the Earth’s climate to change, whenever it suits us!”. Yes I know, I’m just a cynical 64 year old grumpy fart!!! (Loving it too!!!)

Bryan A
Reply to  Alan the Brit
March 9, 2022 1:01 pm

Well-Preserved Fossil with Phosphorous Encrusted Gray Matter discovered behind Oval Office desk practicing State of the Union Adress

Redge
Reply to  Brad-DXT
March 8, 2022 11:19 pm

They’ll blame our gas-guzzling, SUV driving ancestors.

Bryan A
Reply to  Redge
March 9, 2022 9:32 am

Dinosaur Eructations and flatulence

Alfred T Mahan
Reply to  Brad-DXT
March 9, 2022 1:43 am

Don’t you know that dinosaurs were shape shifting lizards whose descendants all drive SUVs?

Scissor
Reply to  Brad-DXT
March 9, 2022 4:01 am

FJB and AOC want to go back in time to remedy the situation. Gasoline prices aren’t high enough for them.

Alexy Scherbakoff
March 8, 2022 11:03 pm

Why ‘global climate change’? What about regional conditions?
Answer: Money.

Ian Magness
Reply to  Alexy Scherbakoff
March 8, 2022 11:25 pm

Exactly Alexy. Far more to do with local sedimentation conditions (from clast size through rate of deposition through water chemistry and fauna and more bedsides). A pretty poor set of scientific inferences in my view.

Felix
Reply to  Alexy Scherbakoff
March 9, 2022 7:14 am

Because it happened in three locations around the world?

Geoff Sherrington
March 8, 2022 11:08 pm

Maybe the wording in the summary is careless, quote “Phosphorous is an element that you don’t expect to see in sedimentary rocks,” because much phosphate does occur in sedimentary rocks.
As a trivial examole, there is one area in central Queensland underneath a busy commercial airline flight path where the eye could follow a sedimentary layer exposed at the surface, from its lush and green grass and shrub growth, making it stand out from surroundings as the seasons changed. It was some 10m thick and went on for kilometers. Really, I do not know what they meant to convey. Geoff S

Right-Handed Shark
Reply to  Geoff Sherrington
March 9, 2022 3:45 am

I was about to google “examole” to find out if it was some kind of measurement unit I was not familiar with when I noticed that the “O” is adjacent to the “P”..

Bill Rocks
Reply to  Geoff Sherrington
March 9, 2022 5:07 am

The Phosphoria Formation of western USA (Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, Montana) is rich in phosphate minerals and is 100% sedimentary rock. The phosphate is mined to produce fertilizer – big mines. Generally, phosphate-bearing minerals (apatite) are widely and commonly found in sedimentary rocks, often as preserved teeth, bones, ooids.

“Phosphorous is an element that you don’t expect to see in sedimentary rocks,” I disagree and have found apatite in many places. Some context must be missing.

It has been shown that fossilization of soft body parts preserving minute detail, in at least some cases, involves “microbial” processes soon after burial of the organism.

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  Bill Rocks
March 10, 2022 6:01 pm

Phosphate rock occurs either as sedimentary or igneous deposits with sedimentary sources comprising roughly 80% of the world’s production.

https://www.geologyforinvestors.com/world-phosphate-deposits/

Reply to  Geoff Sherrington
March 9, 2022 5:43 am

There’s a significant phosphate deposit not too far from where I live.
Every year, the company allows one or two visits by fossil and rock collecting organizations access to the deposits to collect shark’s teeth and other impressive fossils.

Roy France
March 8, 2022 11:13 pm

Why is the photo of the fish fossil upside down?

Reply to  Roy France
March 8, 2022 11:17 pm

Climate Change, don’t you know!

Bryan A
Reply to  Alastair Brickell
March 9, 2022 9:33 am

It’s Bass Akwards

Mike Jonas(@egrey1)
Editor
Reply to  Roy France
March 8, 2022 11:20 pm

Fish tend to turn upside down when they die. The fish does appear to be dead.

H.R.
Reply to  Mike Jonas
March 9, 2022 4:15 am

Yup. If you see your pet goldfish ‘doing the backstroke’ in the goldfish bowl, it’s time to send it to goldfish Valhalla via the nearest portal, usually found in the loo.

Redge
Reply to  Roy France
March 8, 2022 11:20 pm

When the photo was taken the fish was lying on its back – dead

Scissor
Reply to  Redge
March 9, 2022 4:04 am

I thought maybe they swam that way before they evolved.

Bryan A
Reply to  Scissor
March 9, 2022 9:33 am

Belly up

Neil Jordan
Reply to  Roy France
March 8, 2022 11:26 pm

Pining for the fjords.

Ian Magness
Reply to  Roy France
March 8, 2022 11:26 pm

Climate change. Got to be the answer.

fretslider
Reply to  Roy France
March 9, 2022 1:53 am

In honour of M E Mann…

JeffC
Reply to  Roy France
March 9, 2022 2:35 am

All fish swim upside down in the southern hemisphere.

MarkW
Reply to  JeffC
March 9, 2022 9:40 am

I thought they swam backwards in the southern hemisphere?

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  Roy France
March 10, 2022 6:09 pm

While we’re at it, it looks to me like a classic fossil from the Eocene Green River formation in Wyoming, rather than from the lower-Jurrasic.

RoHa
March 8, 2022 11:21 pm

There’s a lesson for us here, If those fish had stopped using fossil fuels, they would still be around today.

Joao Martins
Reply to  RoHa
March 9, 2022 3:04 am

You won the day!

Congratulations!

commieBob
March 9, 2022 1:18 am

There is one fundamental condition necessary for the fossilization of soft tissue. That is that the tissue can’t be allowed to rot. Usually that happens when a fish dies and sinks into water that has no oxygen. link

The fact that phosphorous is found in parts of the body you wouldn’t expect could just be a result of the fossilization process. ie. it could have migrated from the bones and teeth.

Phosphorous is common in bones, so finding it in fossilized fish skeletons wasn’t unusual. But when it appeared in tissues that don’t usually contain phosphorous, such as crustacean exoskeletons and vampyropod soft tissues, it signaled that the environment was the source of the phosphorous minerals.

The question I would ask would be: What was the concentration of phosphorous in the surrounding sediment? If you want to posit that the environment was the source of the soft tissue phosphorous, surely you’d check the environment.

The first duty of a scientist is to ask herself, “What might be wrong with my theory?” link
I’m pretty sure that didn’t happen in this case. Cargo Cult science strikes again.

M.W.Plia
Reply to  commieBob
March 9, 2022 7:01 am

 “Cargo Cult science strikes again”

Yup, and in her defense she is just doing her job, which is padding the consensus narrative. Climate science is funding dependent so first principles can be overlooked.

fretslider
March 9, 2022 1:52 am

So, even the dead can’t escape climate change

Damned as well as doomed

Dudley Horscroft(@dudleyhorscroft)
March 9, 2022 2:49 am

I do think that they could have spelled ‘phosphorus’ correctly. I checked with Google – every one of the entries that came up used the ‘-us’ terminations, not once did I see the ‘-ous’ spelling.

Tried inserting the ‘-ous’ termination – Google ignored this and reverted to ‘-us’.

QED.

fretslider
Reply to  Dudley Horscroft
March 9, 2022 3:38 am

Google isn’t your friend

Last edited 2 months ago by fretslider
Roger
Reply to  Dudley Horscroft
March 9, 2022 5:33 am

Not QED but OED. The Oxford English Dictionary says phosphorous is the adjectival form of phosphorus.

fretslider
Reply to  Roger
March 9, 2022 5:53 am

As the English would say, that kills it stone dead.

An American would say it was slain… Biblical stuff.

Mike Dubrasich
Reply to  Roger
March 9, 2022 10:39 am

I prefer phosphorific.

Ed Zuiderwijk
March 9, 2022 2:55 am

An influx of gh gasses, volcanic eruptions, increased rainfall and soil runoff ……
What is missing are tipping points, acidification and generally rain dances by the contemporaneous primitives.

Tom Abbott
March 9, 2022 3:54 am

From the article: “The researchers think a period of extreme and rapid climate change caused by an influx of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere by volcanic eruptions during the Early Jurassic could be just that circumstance, with the rising temperatures causing increased rainfall that stripped large amounts of phosphorous-rich sediment from rocks on land into the world’s oceans.”

They have CO2 on their minds. Looking for CO2. They think they have found CO2. They think this is the only explanation for increased temperatures.

Peta of Newark
March 9, 2022 3:57 am

Ow. Ooof,
Fossilist Folks!!! – what about the poorly preserved fossiles eh. C’mon c’mon, give the little people a break just for once. Elitist Junk Science. Uncaring fossilists, Off with their heads I say.

Anyway, it took a little while but ‘I’ve sussed it and you’ll get the Long Version so as to check the thinking..
Primarily we’re told about a Land Based sediment that was rich in Phosphorus and that water-based hi-phos sediments don’t happen.
But don’t ‘sediments’ happen exclusively under the water?
Thus, why wasn’t her ‘land based’ hi-phos sediment an underwater sediment that got uplifted?

But then I recalled a place, the name of which was very familiar to farmers worldwide – Gafsa in Tunisia.
Gafsa was the agricultural ‘twin’ to the Guano mines off the coast a nd islands of Chile = a humongous deposit of fertiliser.
Except that Gafsa was Phosphate fertiliser and Chilean guano was primarily Nitrate.
Gafsa is (now) on the very edge of the Sahara Desert and was a large lake or inland sea
Seemingly this lake, over the course of decades if not centuries, gradually grew and grew in size.
Being on naturally fertile sort of rock, lots of lovely minerals and trace elements dissolved into the water and fed an epic and ever growing fish population. And the fish effectively concentrated Phosphorus into themselves. Their skeletons/bones.
Also and as a perfect balance to Chilean guano, the Phosphate came from their bones was thus = Calcium Phosphate. (Nitrate has a potent acidifying effect on soil and the Calcium balanced that)

BUT BUT but, for whatever reason, the Gafsa inland sea had an unhappy knack of completely draining itself every now and again and the hapless fish found them selves being corralled into the deepest part of the lake before it finally dried up.
And obviously they all perished leaving a thick-ish layer of Phosphate rich ‘sediment’
Then, the cycle repeated, the lake re-filled, the fish grew, the lake drained and on and on and on…
The Phosphate at Gafsa was, in the vernacular, miles deep/thick.

Is that the source of her Phosphate?
tangent…And not home laundry products as nowadays. Sobs. What A Waste
What an <expletive> waste.
/tangent

The goings on at Gafsa might explain her fossil fish. Because as insane numbers of fish were all dying at once, they create an epic layer of anaerobic material.
Because, just a single fish would be picked up and eaten.

But there again, to bury a fish so quickly and so deeply as to become Oxygen-free must mean a very catastrophic and sudden event.
Climate Change and what happened at Gafsa simply would not be fast enough to create those sorts of fossils.

But then here’s The Eureka Moment – what about combining the Gafsa flooding/draining event with something big and marine based – and ‘something’ that could have happened almost anywhere.
As per the myriad different places she found her fossils.

Hello hello Fukushima, you know what I’m going on about.

Tsunamis created those fossils.
not climate

Last edited 2 months ago by Peta of Newark
Bruce Cobb
March 9, 2022 4:47 am

Pseudoscientists on the CAGW gravy train (or hoping to be) often use their fantasy-based, CO2-driven phrase of “climate change” as a stand-in for actual climate change, caused by a host of factors. They deliberately confuse and conflate the two. Standard tactic.

Mark Whitney
March 9, 2022 4:50 am

You got your Dyplomystus dentatus upside-down.

Mark Whitney
Reply to  Mark Whitney
March 9, 2022 5:53 am

Oops, that’s Diplomystus…

GeoNC
March 9, 2022 5:16 am

I saw where a paleontologist just named a blood-sucking squid after Joe Biden. The jokes write themselves.

March 9, 2022 5:34 am

Word salad that fails to connect the dots for the world’s incredible fossil sites, with the words “climate change” and “rising temperatures” thrown in to ensure funding.

Brian Pratt
March 9, 2022 5:51 am

Diplomystus dentatus on a bedding surface in the Green River Formation of Utah, deposited in a freshwater lake during the Eocene. Nothing to do with the shales described in the paper. One of the problems with press releases seems to be invention and hyperbole.

H. D. Hoese
March 9, 2022 7:48 am

“….may have created fossilization conditions in the world’s oceans that helped preserve the soft and delicate bodies of deceased marine animals.” I have a year of vertebrate paleontology from that university department and have followed it some, visiting several sites in the US, buying monographs with details. I even have one in German. I also have a few fascinating books, one Discovering Fossil Fishes by John Maisey. Quite amazing what they have found. There are some soft and delicate fishes, mostly in deep waters. I had posted about all these ‘throw-away’ words, soft in this context is new to me, delicate around for decades. Geologists could and do say soft compared to the rock they became, even hard and soft-rock geology. There was a treatise devoted to this– (Brongersma-Sanders, M. 1957. Mass mortality in the sea. In. J. W. Hedgpeth, Ed., Treatise on Marine Ecology and Paleoecology. Memoir Geology Society of America. 67(1, Ecology) (2, Paleoecology). Volume 1 has a section on “Mass Mortality caused by lack of oxygen and by poisonous gases.” There are lots of old papers, many in German and French.

Many of these fossils, as also the thousands of mullet killed in the recent Texas freeze, were quite healthy and became very soft when they finally rotted.“Therefore, the fossils of crustacean carapaces, coleoid mantle tissues, and ichthyosaur skin and muscles provide robust evidence that the taphonomic pathways of the lagerstätten involved secondary phosphatization, or the conversion of organic substrates to apatite minerals.” The mullet did not form fossils.Never liked robust, even used by medical students.

Despite delicate, brief mention of modern modeling paper, Fig. 6 on the process, which is nice, but may not be all that new (pyrites, for example), and I may have missed others, this paper does seem reasonable, including the homework and may have new insights. “Therefore, the fossils of crustacean carapaces, coleoid mantle tissues, and ichthyosaur skin and muscles provide robust evidence that the taphonomic pathways of the lagerstätten involved secondary phosphatization, or the conversion of organic substrates to apatite minerals.”

Paper does avoid the hyperbole about modern anthropomorphic caused, actually enhanced some, nitrogen, not phosphorus, anoxic events and emphasizes that you must have lots of productivity to produce lots of mortality, hence fossils.

Ruleo
March 10, 2022 4:11 pm

Another diversity hire…

Clyde Spencer
March 10, 2022 5:53 pm

The researchers think a period of extreme and rapid climate change caused by an influx of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere by volcanic eruptions during the Early Jurassic could be just that circumstance, with the rising temperatures …

Where is the increase in temperature during the Oligocene vulcanism?

JBP
March 11, 2022 2:03 pm

Nah, it’s just the big guy screwing with creationists.

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