Updated 08/27/2012 09:52 PM
Researchers examining ancient soil for insight into climate change
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Geologists at Baylor University have developed a new tool for the study of climate change, and they're doing it by looking at soil from thousands, even millions of years ago.
Baylor Research Fellow Gary Stinchcomb thinks the soil might hold clues to global climate change, which is why he’s part of the team constructing a unique soil database of more than 1,600 samples from all over the world.
"We're using all of this modern soil chemical data to build relationships with rainfall and temperature," Stinchcomb said.
The team has been able to identify some specific effects of climate on the chemical makeup of modern soil. Now, they're applying that insight to older rocks.
"Soil scientists typically don't look at soils this way. They don't analyze the chemistry of the whole soil," Dr. Steven Driese with Baylor’s Geology Department said. "We look at records of past climates using what are called paleosols. They're basically soils that have been buried and turned into rock."
However, vital clues still remain.
"In spite of all those processes that affect soils as they turn into rock, there are preserved chemical attributes," Driese said.
Those preserved chemical attributes serve as a record of weather in the distant past.
"We can use that relationship to get back at the ancient rainfall, the ancient temperature. So that helps us map the history of climate on earth," Stinchcomb said.
The Baylor University Paleosol Informatics Cloud soil database will be available to scientists worldwide later this fall.