A Fossil Thermometer

In this activity, students calculate temperatures during a time in the geologic record when rapid warming occurred using a well known method called 'leaf-margin analysis.' Students determine the percentage of the species that have leaves with smooth edges, as opposed to toothed, or jagged, edges. Facsimiles of fossil leaves from two collection sites are examined, categorized, and the data is plugged into an equation to provide an estimate of paleotemperature for two sites in the Bighorn Basin. It also introduces students to a Smithsonian scientist who worked on the excavation sites and did the analysis.

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Smithsonian Institution
Smithsonian Institute
Activity takes about two class periods. If online interactive is used, computer access is required.

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Teaching Tips

Teaching Tips

A well-documented activity with an effective online interactive tool for categorizing the leaves and using these findings to estimate the likely mean temperature when they were alive.

Easy for a educator to implement in a lesson.

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