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Mother of pearl tells a tale of ocean temperature, depth
Date:2/16/2012

ient environments and environmental change.

"If the correlation holds, we would have a thermometer that goes back in time, a paleothermometer of how hot or cold water temperatures were when the nacre formed," says Gilbert.

The material also holds a distinctive signaturethe thickness of the nacre layers for the water depth at which the material was assembled by a mollusk, potentially providing even more insight into environmental conditions of the present and past.

"These are two independent parameters, measured by different aspects of nacre structure," the Wisconsin physicist explains. "The maximum temperature can be measured by how disordered the nacre crystal orientations are, while the maximum pressure can be taken from the thickness of the nacre layers."

Working with UW-Madison graduate student Ian C. Olson, the lead author of the JACS report, Gilbert subjected nacre from eight mollusk species from different environments to a technique capable of mapping the orientation of nacre crystals. From the different shells, they observed uneven thicknesses, widths and angles of the crystalline "bricks" that, together with an organic mortar, are laid down by the mollusk to form mother of pearl.

"We wondered why the shells were so different and concluded that the key parameters to test were the environmental ones, including maximum, minimum and mean annual temperatures as well as maximum and minimum water pressure, which depends on water depth," says Gilbert.

Comparing the structural maps of nacre from the different mollusks and environmental data from the places where the animals were collected, Olson, Gilbert and their collaborators found an extremely high correlation between the microscopic structural characteristics of their nacre specimens and the temperature and pressure data obtained from the various environments where they were collected.


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Contact: Pupa Gilbert
pupa@physics.wisc.edu
608-262-5829
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Source:Eurekalert

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