“There are many conflicting theories about why earthworms produce calcite granules, but until now, the small lumps of chalk-like material found in earthworm poop have been seen as little more than a biological curiosity,” University of York’s Professor Mark Hodson said in an advisory. “However, our research shows they may well have an important role to play, offering a window into past climates.”
This window into past climates is especially helpful to scientists who study climatic patterns, particularly as they relate to global warming. There is no longer a debate in the scientific community as to whether the planet’s annual average temperature is warming due to human activity, but because man-made recordings of the temperature only go back about 150 years there remains some discussion as to whether this warming is without precedent.
This latest discovery in earthworm poop, of all places, is likely to bring Earth’s past climate into even sharper focus than the portrait painted by ice cores and tree rings. Scientists said that’s due to the geographic specificity of the calcite granules being able to record the climate at the time and place they were created. Added, it’s simply a fact that earthworms poop all year long, so there’s plenty of these little climate records lurking in the soil below.
“We believe this new method of delving into past climates has distinct advantages over other biological proxies,” University of Reading Professor Stuart Black said in an advisory. “For example, we believe it will work for the full seasonal range of temperatures, whereas methods such as tree rings, do not ‘record’ during winter. In addition, because the chalk balls are found in direct context with archaeological finds, they will reveal temperatures at the same location. At present, links are often attempted with climate proxies many hundreds or even thousands of miles away.”
["Stock Photo: Closeup Of Girl's Hands Holding Earthworms With Grass Background" on Shutterstock.]
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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