Geotimes
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Palynology
Fred Rich

This story is expanded from the print version.

Palynologists and palynology continue to take an active role in a variety of sciences, not the least of which is geology.

"From bottom to top, palynologists have made significant advances in their science," we wrote in the Geotimes palynology review published last July. The same can be said for the year 2001. Scientific odysseys did take the study of microscopic fossils into new realms, as evidenced by the publication of The Last Billion Years: A Geological History of the Maritime Provinces of Canada. At the risk of presuming to know far too much, authors R. Fensome and G. Williams, both members of the American Association of Stratigraphic Palynologists (AASP), have written a text described as "a joy to read [and] a treat for the eyes." Although the book deals with far more than palynology, the willingness of the authors to tackle a billion years at a time is an interesting contrast to the work of P. G. Kevan and T. P. Phillips, who wrote "The economic impacts of pollinator declines: an approach to assessing the consequences" (Conservation Ecology, v. 5, n.1).

Palynologists are consistently addressing the peculiar problems presented by the dynamic Blue Planet. Wasn't that a Star Trek episode?

Two international organizations honored their leaders in 2001. In the June AASP Newsletter, Alfred Traverse of Penn State was recognized for his considerable contributions to palynology and an "unrelenting intellectual curiosity" that has made him an outstanding educator. AASP awarded Traverse the Medal of Excellence in Education. Palynologist Margaret B. Davis, University of Minnesota, was honored as the recipient of the Distinguished Career Award by the American Quaternary Association (Fall Newsletter, The Quaternary Times). Her citation describes Davis as "a pioneer in the paleoecology of North American plant communities, [whose] work was particularly influential in establishing pollen analysis as an ecological tool."

Palynologists contribute on a regular basis to a number of geological, biological, anthropological, and medical publications. Approximately every four years, a volume also appears containing the proceedings of special palynological congresses. In 2001, the 450-page Proceedings of the Ninth International Palynological Congres, held in Houston, Texas, was published by AASP. Edited by D.K. Goodman and R.T. Clarke, the work represents an incredible diversity of technical disciplines and scientific applications. Its 65 articles range from melissopalynology (study of honey) and forensic palynology (study of crime scenes; www.crimeandclues.com/pollen.htm) to biostratigraphy, the delineation of paleoclimates, and the reconstruction of fossil floras. The articles provide compelling evidence of palynology's valuable role in collaborative scientific studies. The Proceedings can be ordered online.

Several major contributions concerned Gondwanan Paleozoic biostratigraphy and paleoclimatology. Palynological evidence was recognized as a tool for identifying Devonian sea-level fluctuations governed by glacio-eustacy (M. Streel and others, Earth Science Reviews, v. 52, n. 1-3, p. 121-173). A similar example was documented from the Holocene of the Canadian Scotian Shelf (E. Levac, Marine Micropaleontology, v. 43, n. 3-4, p. 179-197). Sea-surface conditions were reconstructed using proxy data from marine-brackish water dinoflagellate cysts, in combination with pollen/spore records, to determine oceanic and atmospheric interactions. A succession of paleoceanographic events was identified by using quantitative and qualitative methods to determine climatic signals (i.e., hypisthermal optimums). Neoglacial toxic dinoflagellate blooms, similar to modern red tides, were related to a rise in temperature and a concomitant increase of nutrient-enriched meltwater into marine depositional settings.

Several papers outlining the pan-Australian Jurassic (R. Helby and others, Memoir of the Association of Australasian Palaeontologists, v. 24, p. 1-224) served as a major biostratigraphic contribution to our discipline. The research, partially sponsored by the Australian Geological Survey Organization, includes descriptions and illustrations of numerous new species and discusses their stratigraphic importance for characterizing the source/reservoir/seal of the Timor Sea, northwest Australia's most prolific petroleum system.


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A professor in the Department of Geology and Geography at Georgia Southern University, Fred Rich is also past-president of AASP. E-mail

Wood retired from BP Amoco in 1999. He presently divides his time as a consulting paleontologist with the irf group inc., and as a technical communications and knowledge management consultant with ExxonMobil, Upstream Production Central Technology Organization-Nigeria/Cameroon/Equatorial Guinea. E-mail


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