Geological Application of Microfossils

Module code: GL3108

A human eye can just about discern the thickness of a hair. At this tiny scale, there is an incredible diversity of organisms. These were first seen through the 17th-century microscopes of Antonie van Leeuwenhoek and Robert Hooke. Just two centuries later, the Challenger Expedition mapped the pattern of microorganisms in the oceans. Nowadays, the fossil skeletons of microorganisms are routinely used to reconstruct past climate and ocean state, to identify the provenance of archaeological artefacts, or to discern major evolutionary patterns over geological time. 

In this module, you will learn how to process your own rock sample, pick out its microfossils, take them to the scanning electron microscope, identify them, reconstruct their ecology and stratigraphy, and write a report that documents their utility.

Topics covered

  • The major aquatic and terrestrial microfossil groups
  • How microfossils are used to reconstruct palaeoenvironments
  • Microfossils and palaeoclimate
  • The use of microfossils to zone and date rocks
  • Forensic and archaeological applications of microfossils
  • Laboratory recovery and identification of microfossils from different rocks
  • Scanning electron microscopy of microfossils

Learning

  • 10 hours of lectures
  • 10 hours of practical classes and workshops
  • 2 hours of supervised time in lab/studio/workshop
  • 128 hours of guided independent study

Assessment

  • Exam, 1½ hours (50%)
  • Report (50%)