UK Universities Uncover Past Coral Reef Clues…

The element uranium is more than just a term used in the energy industry and in chemistry class, it is in all rocks, and its radioactive decay allows us to use it to look at different processes that have happened in the past, so when continental rocks are eroded they bring trace amount of uranium into the ocean. New research into U isotopes, like that carried out by University teams, helps us to understand the fossil corals and sea level changes.

Bristol, Leeds and Cardiff University, with the help of a couple of American Institutions, have recently published (4th October) useful research into the alteration of major northern ice sheets during the last major deglaciation on Earth. Their study aimed to put new constraints on how ages are calculated and verified also.

Dr Tianyu Chen, from the School of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol, said: “Subtle changes in the ratio in seawater have the potential to tell us about past changes in weathering.”

And the answers are very clear. Their results reveal a detailed record of 234U/238U isotopes in the oceans which have given information into how the major northern ice sheets retreated during the last major deglaciation on Earth (about 18,000 to 11,000 years ago). The researchers theorised that the increase in uranium-234 during this time period was a result of the underneath of the major ice sheets melting — it is in these areas where the large ice sheets has powdered the underlying rocks.

At the peak coldest part of the glacial, this ground up rock was frozen into the ice for thousands of years — but as Earth warmed, the ice sheets gradually started to melt from the bottom — releasing uranium out into the sea. This has given scientists the starting information for future studies into indicators of concerns of our oceans and methods of measuring global warming effects.

Hopefully further studies will be introduced to keep us informed of how our oceans have behaved in the past leading to better insight, more detailed and accurate conservation and general knowledge of our planet and how better to protect it, with the help of science.

 

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Rosie Jones

Environmental Studies student in Winchester, UK.

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