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With its white-sand beaches and nice weather, the far southern Caribbean island of Barbados is a magnet for vacationers. It is also a magnet for geologists and climate scientists. That is because it is made largely of fossil corals that reach from its shoreline high into the hilly interior. Within these deposits lie exquisitely preserved records of past sea levels—perhaps the most obvious barometer of past climates.
Barbados has been pushing upward from the seabed for hundreds of thousands of years, probably fairly steadily. At the same time, sea levels have been rising and falling against it as climate has warmed and cooled, leaving footprints via the formation or death of the corals. Thus the island embodies a relatively accessible chronology of past climate swings. Decoding their exact timing and magnitude may help researchers project how far seas will rise during our current age of human-induced climate change.
Team - Columbia - University - Earth - Observatory
Recently, a team from Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory visited to sample the corals, and apply new analytic techniques to them. "The world is getting warmer, and the poles are melting," said team leader Maureen Raymo. "The big question is, in the coming decades and centuries, are sea levels going to rise by a foot? By three feet? By ten feet? To think about this, we can wait around. Or, we can look at times in the past when climate was a little bit warmer than today. And we can ask, how high were the seas during those times?"
Geologists have been intrigued by Barbados's fossil corals since at least the 1840s. In cross-section, the island looks like a staircase, composed of successively higher cliffs and terraces as one moves inland. In many places, cliffs reach up dozens of feet, terminating neatly in a plateau, which then runs into another cliff further on. Some scientists...
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