Skip navigation
0

Microfossil Christmas cards

Posted by Giles Miller Dec 20, 2011

At this time of year it is customary to exchange Christmas cards so I thought I would post some images of some 'Christmas Card' slides from our collections. A slide was exchanged each Christmas between Edward Heron-Allen (1861-1943) and Arthur Earland (1866-1958) until they fell out in about 1933. The circular views are about the size of a thumb print so you an imagine the time it took to create each one by carefully selecting, laying out and sticking down individual foraminiferal microfossils.

 

1912_card_blog.jpg

The 1912 slide with the initials AE (Arthur Earland) clearly visible as well as the date. Written on the cardboard of the slide is "Xmas 1912 Prosit! AE"

 

Edward Heron-Allen, a Lawyer by profession, had an unpaid position at the British Museum (Natural History) and was allowed a room in which he was able to study the Foraminifera. He was responsible for gathering much of the early microfossil collection as well as a vast library of foraminiferal books which he donated to the museum. They are now housed, along with more recent microfossil library acquisitions in the 'Heron-Allen Library'.

 

1921_card_blog.jpg

Details of the 1921 slide. On the card surround is written "Greetings from AE Xmas 1921"

 

Arthur Earland and Edward Heron-Allen collaborated for over 25 years, most notably publishing on the Foraminifera of the Antarctic expedition of the Terra Nova (the expedition also known as Scott's Last Expedition). In around 1933 they had a number of misunderstandings and subsequently fell out. These slides and the archives of letters and books in the Heron-Allen Library here at the Museum hide many interesting historical details. The collections are consulted by social historians as well as scientists for that reason.

 

1922_card_detail2_blog.jpg

Details of a slide given to Heron-Allen by Arthur Earland in 1922.

 

Edward Heron-Allen had many interests including violin making! (As a violinist myself I would love to have a go on one of his violins). The web site of the Heron-Allen Society lists his interests: violins, palmistry, Persian texts, Selsey, esoteric fiction and asparagus. More details about Heron-Allen can be found by joining the Heron-Allen Society. I shall be providing more details about Heron-Allen and the the foraminiferal collections via this blog. In the meantime I wish you all a very happy Christmas!

0

Ocean acidification is one of the major effects of increased carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere caused by the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas). Museum collections of samples from the ocean bottom worldwide are housed at our Wandsworth outstation and are vital to working out how much more acidic the oceans have become since the 19th Century and to helping create models for future changes.

 

DSCF1355_blog.jpg

Three bottles of ocean sediment collected in 1891 as part of the H.M.S. Penguin cruise to the Mediterranean

 

Our outstation at Wandsworth holds the Mineralogy Department's Ocean Bottom Sediment Collection. These are sediment samples from many cruises including the first oceanographic voyage the Challenger Expedition of 1872-1876. I mentioned previously that we hold residues including microfossils at South Kensington so why are these bottles of sediment at Wandsworth of interest to micropalaeontologists?

 

Potentially these bottles contain many thousands of microfossils (the ones above mention the foraminferal genus Globigerina) and as a result, they have been of interest for two PhD students studying the effects of ocean acidification on micro-organisms.

 

DSCF1356_blog.jpg

Open University PhD student Kate Salmon accessing the Ocean Bottom Sediment Collection at the Museum outstation at Wandsworth. Curator Dave Smith is in the background.

 

Kate Salmon is using mainly foraminiferal microfossils to measure the scale of ocean acidification in the area around Bermuda. To do this she is studying samples collected every 2 weeks for the past 20-30 years in sediment traps on the ocean bottom.

 

The weights and shell thicknesses of these micro-organisms that use the ocean water to produce their shells of calcium carbonate should be different in pre-industrial samples. If ocean acidification is happening we should see lighter more fragile shells in the present day. Kate is using the Ocean Bottom Sediment Collection at the Museum to find comparative material from pre-industrial times.

 

Kate recently told me, 'If I do the same shell analyses on these samples, it will give a good comparison of low carbon dioxide conditions with higher carbon dioxide conditions (present day) and I will be able to see how conditions have changed for the calcifying biology of the oceans. I can then use these results to predict any future changes in the calcification of foraminifera and the implications this will have for other creatures living in the water column'.

 

DSCF1346_blog.jpg

Part of the residue collection from the H.M.S. Penguin expedition collected in 1891.

 

Ella Howes, a student at the Laboratoire d'Océanographie de Villefranche sur Mer, France approached us to see if we had any sediment including the remains of tiny organisms called pteropods. These are small planktonic gastropods (floating snails) that have been used extensively in ocean acidification studies. Ella has recent material from near Bear Island in the Mediterranean and wants to compare the composition and structure of these faunas prior to major industrial activity.

 

She is searching for a particular pteropod species Limacina helicina as well as foraminifera. As with Kate Salmon, she is looking to make measurements of shell thickness to assess possible outcomes of ocean acidification between the Mediterranean and colder water areas.

'In Polar regions the cold temperatures allow increased carbon dioxide in water, potentially causing more extreme repercussions for animals living in these areas. A geographical comparison between the effects on ocean acidification on shell thickness in Polar pteropods and the warmer Mediterranean Sea will be undertaken using modern samples of Limacina helicina and old sediment samples provided by the Natural History Museum' says Ella.

 

DSCF1343_blog.jpg

Part of one of four rows of cabinets containing the Ocean Bottom Sediment Collection at the Museum.

 

When you consider the quantity of material at our Wandsworth outstation, there is limitless potential for similar studies to be carried out. There are literally millions of micro-organsims from the ocean bottom waiting to be studied. Listings of these collections can be found on the Museum web site. In the meantime, I will wait with interest to hear from Kate and Ella if a trip to Wandsworth can help quantify ocean acidification.

Giles Miller

Giles Miller

Member since: Apr 21, 2010

This is Giles Miller's Curator of Micropalaeontology blog. I make the Museum micropalaeontology collections available to visitors from all over the world, publish articles on the collections, give public talks and occasionally make collections myself.

View Giles Miller's profile