In the ongoing anthropogenic climate crisis, successful adaptation to future climate requires a detailed understanding of the response of Earth’s climate system to warming. Past warm climates constitute a valuable natural laboratory for studying this response, but reconstructions of past climate variability on human timescales (days to decades) remains challenging. Biogenic carbonates such as mollusk shells are uniquely suitable for these high-resolution climate reconstructions for three reasons:
Firstly, mollusk shells grow incrementally, depositing annual, daily, or even tidal laminae of carbonate marking time at unique detail.
Secondly, mollusks are diverse, abundant, and highly evolutionarily successful: Their fossil record spans the entire Phanerozoic and they produce shells of various shapes, sizes, mineral structures and compositions, making them versatile climate archives.
Thirdly, carbonate shells have a high preservation potential, retaining their original chemical composition, and the climate information locked therein, also on long geological timescales.
I will present some of the latest developments in sclerochronology, the study of reading the skeletal diaries of these fascinating invertebrates, and highlight how the information they reveal changes our understanding of past climate. A few case studies will showcase the full potential of fossil shells as climate archives. Finally, I will discuss some open questions in the field and the ongoing and future projects in which we hope to answer them. The goal is to demonstrate how collaborations between biology, marine science and (geo)chemistry enable us to unlock the full potential of these unique archives and contribute to understanding shallow marine ecosystems and climate.