UMNEWS – UM Rosenstiel School of Marine Science opens lab in the Bahamas

The Rosenstiel School celebrated the opening of a new, full-time lab in Highborne Cay, the Bahamas, on Saturday, Jan. 29. The lab will allow continuous observation of living examples of Earth’s oldest known macrofossils to learn more about Earth’s history.

Funded primarily by the National Science Foundation, the Highborne Cay Research Station will enable Rosenstiel School researchers and collaborators to investigate Bahamian stromatolites on a year-round basis.

Stromatolites are layered, fossilized deposits, mainly composed of limestone and formed by bacteria. They are the oldest known fossils, dating back more than three billion years. Though were common in Precambrian time (more than 540 million years ago), they are rare in today’s oceans, only growing in abundance in Shark Bay, Australia, and the Exuma Cays, Bahamas.

“Stromatolites are the main source of information on early life for 85 percent of the rock record,” said Pamela Reid, Rosenstiel School professor and principal investigator. “The continual observation that the new lab affords will allow us to learn more about the growth of these reefs under changing environmental conditions.”

The ability to chronicle adaptive processes of these living fossils on a daily basis will advance the understanding of evolution of early life on Earth and possibly other planets.