Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Biostratigraphy is the science of dating rocks by using the fossils contained within them. Usually the aim is correlation, that is, demonstrating that a particular horizon in one geological section represents the same period of time as another horizon at some other section. The fossils are useful because sediments of the same age can look completely different because of local variations in the sedimentary environment. For example, one section might have be made up of clays and marls while another has more chalky limestones, but if the fossil species recorded are similar, the two sediments are likely to have been laid down at the same time.
Ammonites, graptolites and trilobites are index fossils that are widely used in biostratigraphy. Microfossils such as acritarchs, chitinozoans, conodonts dinoflagellate cysts, pollen, spores and foraminiferans are also frequently used. Different fossils work well for sediments of different ages; trilobites, for example, are particularly useful for sediments of Cambrian age. To work well, the fossils used must be widespread geographically, so that they can occur in many different places. They must also be short lived as a species, so that the period of time during which they could be incorporated in the sediment is relatively narrow. The longer lived the species, the less accurate the correlation, and so fossils that evolve rapidly, such as ammonites, are favoured over forms that evolve much more slowly, like nautiloids.
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