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Phytoliths as climate clues

Tiny silica plant structures from soil could track temperature changes

TORONTO — Analyses of tiny silica structures that form in the leaves and wood of many plants can yield information about the temperature in which the plants grew, a new study suggests.

Phytoliths — which means “plant stones” — are minuscule, often distinctly shaped crystals of silica that form in vegetation as a plant grows. And they’re long-lasting: Paleontologists have used phytoliths trapped in fossils to infer the diet of some dinosaurs (SN:10/20/01, p. 248). Now, scientists might be able to use phytoliths from long-dead plants unearthed from soil as paleothermometers, Zhenzhen Huang, an isotope chemist at the University of Western Ontario in London, Canada, reported May 26 at an American Geophysical Union meeting.

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