Using Foraminifera to Teach Paleoenvironmental Interpretation and Geoarchaeology: A Case Study from Folly Island, South Carolina

By Hippensteel, Scott P. | Journal of Geoscience Education, September 2006 | Go to article overview

Using Foraminifera to Teach Paleoenvironmental Interpretation and Geoarchaeology: A Case Study from Folly Island, South Carolina


Hippensteel, Scott P., Journal of Geoscience Education


ABSTRACT

Microfossils, and especially foraminifera, are a valuable tool for paleoenvironmental interpretations in coastal regions. Despite their utility, teaching of applied micropaleontology in undergraduate courses is limited by the difficulty of identification of some taxa. Students in the University of North Carolina Charlotte's Coastal Processes and Environments course were required to differentiate downcore paleoenvironments from back-barrier marshes near Charleston, South Carolina. Although lithology was useful for interpreting paleoenvironments, sediments, combined with a simplified approach to microfossil identification, proved most useful for determining depositional environments. Students used Civil War maps and global positioning satellite technology to locate an 1860's tidal inlet. Gouge-auger cores and foraminiferal analysis were used to stratigraphically confirm this strategically important inlet.

The back-barrier marshes of Folly Island, South Carolina, is ideal for undergraduate foraminiferal research for two reasons: 1) Offshore outcrops of Oligo-Miocene strata provide foraminifera that act as a natural tracer for washover sediments and differentiate washovers from flood-tidal delta deposits and 2) morphologically distinct agglutinated foraminifera, such as M. fusca, simplify the identification of low- and high-marsh subenvironments.

INTRODUCTION

Foraminifera as a Teaching Tool - Foraminifera are an ideal tool for measuring environmental change as they are found in great abundance (often hundreds per cm^sup 3^) in nearly all marginal-marine and marine environments and they are sensitive to alterations in their environment. Their short generation times, often less than a year, suggests the potential for a high degree of stratigraphic resolution (Martin, 2000).

Foraminifera have traditionally been used for biostratigraphy and paleoenvironmental analysis (Applin et al., 1925; CLIMAP, 1984); however, the application of foraminifera for solving environmental and geoarchaeological problems is of growing interest. Two previous geoarchaeological studies mat used foraminifera demonstrate their effectiveness in recording environmental changes. Reinhardt et al. (1994) used benthic foraminifera to "enhance previous archaeological interpretations" concerning the ancient harbor site of Caesarea Maritime, Israel. Serandrei Barbero et al. (2004) used salt marsh foraminifera similar to those found in the back-barrier marshes along the Atlantic coast to determine the position of lagoonal paleoenvironments near Venice, Italy. Both studies demonstrate the effectiveness of foraminifera as a tool for recreating paleoenvironments and corroborating archaeological data.

Resources for instructors interested in using foraminifera to teach paleoenvironmental analysis are abundant (see, for example, www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/fosrec/Snyder &Huber.html, www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/fosrec/Olson1 .html, and www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/fosrec/Olson3 .html). Despite their utility, the teaching of applied micropaleontology in undergraduate courses is hindered by the difficulty of taxon identification.

The goal of this paper is to describe undergraduate students use of foraminifera to 1) identify (and map) a strategically important Civil War landscape feature and 2) corroborate historical descriptions of this terrain, thus linking historical and modern maps. This paper discusses a simplified approach to foraminiferal identification from Folly Island, South Carolina, and why this barrier island is an ideal field location for teaching applied micropaleontology.

The Local Setting - Students in UNC-Charlotte's Coastal Processes and Environments course (upper-level undergraduate) take a field trip each semester to Folly Island, South Carolina. Folly Island is 16 km south-southeast of Charleston, South Carolina, and a three hour drive from the UNC-Charlotte campus. Groins and seawalls make this barrier island one of the most heavily armored islands along the southeastern United States, yet the northern portion of the island, once occupied by a Coast Guard station, is relatively pristine. …

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