To arrive at their results, Kim isolated and measured the mass ratio of oxygen isotopes 18 to 16 found in the prepared enameloid (somewhat different from human tooth enamel) of the shark teeth. Sharks constantly exchange water with their environment, so the isotopic oxygen ratio found in the teeth is directly regulated by water temperature and salinity. With assumptions made about temperatures, the group was able to focus on extrapolating salinity levels of the water.
The results were surprising. "The numbers I got back were really weird," Kim said. "They looked like fresh water." The sand tiger sharks she was studying are part of a group called lamniform sharks, which prefer to stay in areas of high salinity.
"As more freshwater flows into the Arctic Ocean due to global warming, I think we are going to see it become more brackish," said Eberle, associate professor of geological sciences at CU-Boulder. "Maybe the fossil record can shed some light on how the groups of sharks that are with us today may fare in a warming world."
Because the teeth are 40 to 50 million years old, many tests were run to eliminate any possible contaminates, but the results were still the same. These findings suggest that sharks may be able to cope with rises in temperature and the subsequent decrease of water salinity. It has long been known that sharks are hardy creatures. They have fossil records dating back some 400 million years, surviving multiple mass extinctions, and have shown great ecological plasticity thus far.
Additionally, these results provide supporting evidence for the idea that the Arctic Ocean was most likely isolated from global waters.
"Through an analysis of fossil sand tiger shark teeth from the western Arctic Ocean, this study offers new evidence for a less salty Arctic Ocean during an ancient 'greenhouse period,'" said Yusheng (Ch
|Contact: Steve Koppes|
University of Chicago