Reported by Lauren Biron/MEDILL


Small organisms paint big picture

by Lauren Biron
Dec 07, 2010

diatom

Courtesy of Anitra Ingalls

Diatoms, single-celled organisms, are key to oceanographer Anitra Ingalls' new dating technique to pin down climate changes through past ages.

Humble diatoms, single-celled organisms that live in the water, help scientists piece together some of the mysteries of climate change.

Researcher Anitra Ingalls, of the University of Washington, uses diatoms in a new method for dating sediment cores and finding layered traces of past climate epochs.  She reported her findings at the Comer Conference, a gathering of top climate change scientists in Wisconsin this fall. 

By analyzing the changing accumulation in levels of diatoms, scientists can trace the biological productivity throughout time and predict periods when the climate warmed. This gives clues to climate changes in the Southern Ocean where she is working.  

With a more accurate history of the earth’s climate, scientists may be able to make better predictions about the future of climate change as global warming accelerates due to human use of fossil fuels.