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Spring Break Internship: How did marine microfossils respond to rapid climate cooling approximately 34 million years ago?


PROJECT DESCRIPTION: Approximately 34 million years ago, Earth experienced a dramatic global cooling event and witnessed the growth of continental ice on Antarctica. Organismal metabolic rate is strongly influenced by changes in local temperature, but it remains unclear how different groups of marine organisms physiologically responded to this cooling event. Participants will help collect size measurements of fossil benthic foraminifera (a single-celled marine protist) and fossil benthic ostracodes (crustacean arthropod) collected from Indian Ocean deep-sea sediment cores. Both of these organisms live on or within the seafloor sediment and have rich fossil records. Body (ostracode) or cell (foraminifera) size is tightly correlated to individual metabolic rate, thus, variations in their sizes can be used to infer their physiological responses to temperature change. Using a computer software program, participants will image and take measurements on microfossil specimens previously picked identified from deep-sea sediment cores. The aim of this project is to quantify how the sizes of these microfossils changed across a 10-million-year interval than includes the initial growth of continental ice on Antarctica. Size measurements made by participants will provide valuable insight into the physiological responses of these organisms to climate change.

QUALIFICATIONS: Applicants must express an interest in paleontological research or research in related fields (e.g., biology or geology). Undergraduate students of all levels and advanced high school students are welcome to participate in the project. No previous research experience is required, but participants must be willing to learn how to work with microfossils under a microscope, use a computer program to take measurements on specimens, and input data into Excel spreadsheets.

LEARNING OBJECTIVES: In addition to learning how to handle and make morphological measurements on microfossil specimens, participants will learn how size measurements made on fossil material can be used to calculate the metabolic rates of benthic foraminifera and ostracodes and, therefore, applied to infer their respectively physiological responses to environmental change (climate cooling).

TIMETABLE: Approximately 1 week. Participants have the option to work for 3-4 hours a day from either 9:00am-1:00pm or 1:00pm-5:00pm. Dates and work hours are more or less flexible to best accommodate the schedules of the participants.


Name: Caitlin Keating-Bitonti

Phone: 202-633-1316

E-mail: Keating-BitontiC@si.edu