Marine Biotic Responses to Miocene Climate Change

Chronos Workshop, June 2006
Kendra Clark, University of Massachusetts
Ethan Grossman, Texas A&M University
Nikki Hemmesch, Pikes Peak Community College
Katherine McCarville, Upper Iowa University


This activity is part of a collection under development by participants in a June 2006 workshop. Tested versions will be available in Spring 2007.

During the Miocene the Earth plunged into its present "icehouse" state, with glaciers at North and South Poles. In this activity, students investigate biotic responses to this climate change using microfossil data from the Deep Sea Drilling Project (DSDP) and Ocean Drilling Program (ODP). These data are analyzed and displayed using the CHRONOS information technology system, building information technology skills while strengthening understanding of biostratigraphic principles. The activity integrates geochemical and biotic data, reinforcing the notion that understanding Earth History requires a multidisciplinary approach. Students use Time Scale Creator to examine how sediments are correlated and dated. DSDP and ODP core data in the Neptune database is used to create age-distribution histograms for foraminifers and calcareous nannofossils, and compare these data to the record of climate change based on oxygen isotope analyses. Students synthesize and compare their discoveries regarding marine microfossil responses to global climate change, and evaluate the assumptions and biases inherent in these results. Step-by-step instructions for using the CHRONOS interface are provided, formatted as a student handout. References to related primary literature are included, and may be used to adapt the exercise for more advanced undergraduates or graduate students.

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Learning Goals

- Students examine evidence of climate change in the rock record.
- Students evaluate how life has responded to climate change during the Miocene.
- Students develop skills in applying information technology (IT) systems to synthesize and interpret data addressing the biotic responses to climate change.
- Students manipulate and graph diverse paleobiologic data.
- Students investigate assumptions and biases in geologic data.
- Students quantitatively interpret oxygen isotope information.
- Students investigate the complexities of original research.

Context for Use

This activity is planned as a 2-3 hour laboratory investigation for undergraduate physical geology, historical geology, global change, or other courses. The authors suggest that students be assigned to work in pairs or small groups to complete the activity. Completion of the activity requires access to networked computers and a printer (color preferable).

Students will build skills in stratigraphic correlation, working with geologic time models and terminology, and in use of information technology in analyzing large data sets. The Chronos interface provides similar access to additional geochronological data sets, so the skills students develop may be transferable to additional activities or exercises.

Description and Teaching Materials

Teaching Notes and Tips

See "Notes for Instructor" file for additional essential information.

There is material/information that needs to be discussed prior to effectively negotiating and completing this exercise. See the "Notes for Instructor"

In order to complete this activity, one challenge will be to obtain the necessary computer usage/access for students during the exercise.

This activity can be adapted to suit more material for advanced students (see "Notes for Instructor" for further directions). This activity was constructed in modules that can be used separately or together.


Students are assessed as they complete each part of the activity. Attached is the hand-out for students that lists the proper directions to follow for the activity and questions/observations to discuss in class. Materials that could be "handed-in" include: Student handout with completed answers to questions from Part 1 & 2, completed timescale from TimeScale Creator, completed Excel spreadsheets with MicroPaleo data. Each instructor can vary how they choose to assess each student. Attached is an example of a grading rubric.

Example Assessment Plan (Microsoft Word 22kB Jun15 06)

References and Resources

Wikipedia Biozone
Wikipedia Oxygen Isotopes
Wikipedia Climate Change
Wikipedia Extinction Events
Wikipedia Foraminifers
Wikipedia Nannofossils

Supplemental information for more advanced students: International Commission on Stratigraphy- Neogene to late Oligocene Neogene to late Oligocene Time Slice (
Zachos, J., Pagani, M., Sloan, L., Thomas, E., Billups, K. 2001. Trends, rhythms, and aberrations in global climate 65 Ma to present. Science, Vol, 292. no. 5517, pp. 686 - 693[link SBEw.u9Z6Q&keytype=ref ' Trends, Rhythms, and Abberrations in Global Climate 65 Ma to Present (Zachos et al)']