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Image of the diatom, Stenopterobia curvula.
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Courtesy of Peter Siver, Connecticut College

Searching for Tiny Fossils
News story originally written on January 7, 2009

Not all fossils are the size of dinosaurs. Some are very small, so small that you need a powerful microscope to find them.

Scientist Peter Siver has been looking for very small fossils for 20 years. He studies creatures called diatoms and has found them all over North America. He has discovered 60 species. Some of the diatoms that he studies are fossils found in rocks and mud and others are living today in lakes and the ocean.  Usually, they are so small that you can’t see them without a microscope. Each diatom is made of just a single cell.

Fossil diatoms may be small, but what they can tell us about the climate can be huge. Peter Siver found fossil diatoms in 48 million years old rocks in the cold Arctic tundra of Canada. He discovered they were the same type of diatom that today live in the tropics. So, these tiny fossils tell us that that the chilly Arctic used to be quite warm 48 million years ago.

Last modified March 6, 2009 by Lisa Gardiner.

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