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Surface sediment samples from early age of seafloor exploration can provide a late 19th century baseline of the marine environment

By Marina C. Rillo, Michal Kucera, Thomas H. G. Ezard, C. Giles Miller

Posted 18 Sep 2018
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/419770 (published DOI: 10.3389/fmars.2018.00517)

Historical seafloor samples collected up to 150 years ago represent an important archive to benchmark the extent of current ocean acidification and pollution trends. Such benchmarking requires that the historical sediment samples represent the state of the environment at- or shortly before the time of collection. However, early oceanographic expeditions sampled the ocean floor using devices like the sounding tube or a dredge, which potentially disturb the sediment surface and recover a mix of Holocene (surface) and Pleistocene sediments. Here we use climate-sensitive microfossils as a fast and efficient biometric method to assess to what degree historical seafloor samples contain a mixture of modern and glacial sediments. Our assessment is based on comparing the composition of planktonic foraminifera (PF) assemblages in historical samples with Holocene and Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) global reference datasets. We show that eight out of the nine historical samples contain PF assemblages more similar to the Holocene than to the LGM PF assemblages. This result suggests that the majority of sediment samples from historical collections should be suitable to provide baseline of the state of marine ecosystems in the late 19th century.

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