Editor's Note: Media reports about this research have misrepresented the study's findings. For more information read a statement by Zunli Lu.
The first day of spring brought record high temperatures across the northern part of the United States while much of the southwest was digging out from a record-breaking spring snowstorm. The weather, it seems, has gone topsy-turvy. Are the phenomena related? Are climate changes in one part of the world felt half a world away?
To understand the present, scientists look for ways to unlock information about past climate hidden in the fossil record. A team of scientists led by Syracuse University geochemist Zunli Lu, has found a new key in the form of ikaite, a rare mineral that forms in cold waters. Composed of calcium carbonate and water, ikaite crystals can be found off the coasts of Antarctica and Greenland.
“Ikaite is an icy version of limestone,” say Lu, an assistant professor of Earth Sciences in SU’s College of Arts and Sciences. “The crystals are only stable under cold conditions and actually melt at room temperature.”
Turns out the water that holds the crystal structure together (called the hydration water) traps information about temperatures present when the crystals formed. This finding by Lu’s research team establishes, for the first time, ikaite as a reliable proxy for studying past climate conditions. The research was recently published online in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters and will appear in print on April 1, 2012. Lu conducted most of the experimental work for the study while a post-doctoral researcher at Oxford University. Data interpretation was done after he arrived at SU.