Rates and dates: Evaluating rhythmicity and cyclicity in sedimentary and biomineral records
Dexter, Troy Anthony
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It is important to evaluate periodic fluctuations in environment or climate recorded through time to better understand the nature of Earth's history as well as to develop ideas about what the future may hold. There exist numerous proxies by which these environmental patterns can be demonstrated and analyzed through various time scales; from sequence stratigraphic bundles of transgressive-regressive cycles that demonstrate eustatic changes in global sea level, to the geochemical composition of a skeleton that records fluctuations in ocean temperature through the life of the biomineralizing organism. This study examines some of the methods by which we can analyze environmental fluctuations recorded at different time scales. The first project examines the methods by which extrabasinal orbital forcing (i.e. Milankovitch cycles) can be tested in the rock record. In order to distinguish these patterns, computer generated carbonate rock records were simulated with the resulting outcrops tested using common methods. These simulations were built upon eustatic sea level fluctuations with periods similar to what has been demonstrated in the rock record, as well as maintaining the many factors that affect the resultant rock composition such as tectonics, subsidence, and erosion. The result demonstrated that substantially large sea level fluctuations, such as those that occur when the planet is in an icehouse condition, are necessary to produce recognizable and preservable patterns that are otherwise overwhelmed by other depositional factors. The second project examines the temporal distribution of the bivalve Semele casali from Ubatuba Bay, Brazil by using amino acid racemization (AAR) calibrated with ¹⁴C radiometric dates. This data set is one of the largest ever compiled and demonstrates that surficial shell assemblages in the area have very long residence times extending back in time 10,000 years. The area has had very little change in sea level and the AAR ratios which are highly temperature dependent could be calibrated across sites varying from 10 to 53 meters in water depth. Long time scales of dated shells provide us with an opportunity to study climate fluctuations such as El Niño southern oscillation. The third project describes a newly developed method for estimating growth rates in organisms using closely related species from similar environments statistically analyzed for error using a jackknife corrected parametric bootstrap. As geochemical analyses get more precise while using less material, data can be collected through the skeleton of a biomineralizing organism, thus revealing information about environmental shifts at scales shorter than a year. For such studies, the rate of growth of an organism has substantial effects on the interpretation of results, and such rates of growth are difficult to ascertain, particularly in fossilized specimens. This method removes the need for direct measures of growth rates and even the most conservative estimates of growth rates are useful in constraining the age ranges of geochemical intra-skeletal studies, thus elucidating the likely time period under analysis. This study assesses the methods by which periodic environmental fluctuations at greatly varying time scales can be used to evaluate our understanding of earth processes using rigorous quantitative strategies.
- Doctoral Dissertations