28 Feb 2012

Mother of pearl or nacre is made by mollusks and
can be used as a temperature gauge for past
climate studies.
(Credit dianamower / Fotolia)

Mother of pearl, otherwise known as nacre is an organic-inorganic material that is produced by certain molluscs in an inner shell layer and also what makes up pearls.  Its used with a wide variety of jewelry and art.  Nacre is also extremely resilient, about 3,000 times more so than the aragonite from which it is made. 

A new study published from the Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS), with scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, have shown that nacre can be used as a thermometer and pressure sensor, which can reveal both the temperature and ocean depth at which the nacre formed.  The microscopic structure of the material tells the maximum temperature and maximum pressure which the mollusk lived.

Nacre is widespread throughout the world and can go back 450 million years.  Using the same techniques applied to the mollusks on fossil nacre, there is an unprecedented opportunity to reconstruct a global record of environments and environmental change going much further back than before possible.  Essentially, by correlation, its a thermometer that goes back in time or a "paleothermometer" of the water temperatures when the nacre formed.

Scientists can also look at the two independent parameters, by looking at two parts of the nacre structure.  Maximum temperature is measured by seeing how disordered the nacre crystal alignments are and maximum pressure via the thickness of the layers themselves.

Considering the many holes in past climate history and change that still exist, this finding could potentially increase our knowledge of ancient Earth climate dramatically and give insight to current and future changes.

Source:  ScienceDaily.com


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