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Phytoliths as climate clues

Tiny silica plant structures from soil could track temperature changes

4:59pm, May 27, 2009

TORONTO — Analyses of tiny silica structures that form in the leaves and wood of many plants can yield information about the temperature in which the plants grew, a new study suggests.

Phytoliths — which means “plant stones” — are minuscule, often distinctly shaped crystals of silica that form in vegetation as a plant grows. And they’re long-lasting: Paleontologists have used phytoliths trapped in fossils to infer the diet of some dinosaurs (SN:10/20/01, p. 248). Now, scientists might be able to use phytoliths from long-dead plants unearthed from soil as paleothermometers, Zhenzhen Huang, an isotope chemist at the University of Western Ontario in London, Canada, reported May 26 at an American Geophysical Union meeting.

Huang and her colleagues grew cattails and horsetails, types of marsh plants, in a climate-controlled chamber in the lab. During the team&rsqu

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