Abstract

The tenth Lyell Meeting of the Geological Society was held at Burlington House on Tuesday 27 February 1996. The intention was to focus on examples in which isotopic data on fossils are used to help answer questions in palaeobiology, evolution or palaeoenvironment, rather than those in which fossils are used simply as a convenient source of dated biominerals for global-scale palaeotemperature or chemostratigraphic studies. The meeting included nine talks and five poster contributions and was attended by over 60 participants.

The enormous impact of isotopic data on palaeoenvironmental research in the broadest sense is plain for all to see, perhaps most obviously in the revolution of the last quarter century in understanding of the late Cenozoic ice ages; much of it foreshadowed by Emiliani's classic work of 1955. It seems as remarkable now as it did 20 years ago, that 'the most powerful method of assessing the waxing and waning of the Northern Hemisphere ice sheets should be nothing to do with tracing moraines or measuring raised beaches, but making extremely accurate isotopic analyses of the shells of tropical marine animals' (Hudson 1977). This refers to oxygen isotopes in foraminiferal shells as reflecting the combined influence of ice accumulation and temperature of growth, both of which increase the 18O/16O ratio in the shell carbonate. A break­through came with Shackleton and co-workers' success in resolving the partitioning between the two effects by comparing surface-living planktonic foraminifera with deep-dwelling benthic species that experience almost constant temperatures during glacial-interglacial cycles on a scale

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