Wandering Reefs

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Science  20 Jul 2001:
Vol. 293, Issue 5529, pp. 395
DOI: 10.1126/science.293.5529.395d

Today, coral reefs are found only where the ocean is warm. On this basis, their past distribution (or absence) could be used as a clue to infer continental latitudes on the one hand, or past ocean temperatures on the other, if an independent estimate of latitude through paleomagnetism were available. To test the latter notion, Kiessling analyzed a large data set on the distribution of coral reefs since they arose in the Early Cambrian, for which independent data on paleolatitude are available. The analysis, however, shows that although corals ranged mostly up to about 20° to 40° north or south latitude over time, their distribution did not correspond very closely to paleoclimate. Known warm climates did not always have a broader distribution of reefs, and the reef zone expanded in the Jurassic and again recently (periods of relatively cold climate). In addition, the dominant types of reefs changed during cold or warm intervals, thus confusing a simple response to temperature. — BH

Geology29, 751 (2001).

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