Sticky situations: amber past, present and future

Earth Surface Science Institute seminar. Speaker Dr. Leyla Seyfullah, University of Vienna, Austria.



Amber (fossilised plant resin) is most famous for the preservation of organisms (inclusions) that it can contain. Often these inclusions are in life position and fine microscopic details are preserved, making amber important to palaeobiologists. Amber is a liquid resin that solidifies, then during burial, it matures to amber. This means that there are both biological and geological factors involved in the formation of amber. Historically amber was thought of as quite rare in the fossil record, with a few notably large deposits, but recent work shows that amber is not as rare as previously thought and that it is actually present in many localities and from multiple time points in Earth history.

            Besides the inclusions trapped in amber, there is the potential research value of the surrounding amber itself, althoug this has been difficult to establish. Chemical analyses of amber have previously mainly focused on attempts to link a fossil resin deposit to its original source plant, and these have had a certain amount of success. More recently, the potential value of amber as a medium for preserving ecological or environmental signals is seen as contentious and developing area. This includes attempts to relate potential biomarkers preserved in amber as signals that might be linked to insect attack or climate. I am trying to understand what affects resin chemistry and understand its variability, and whether ambers can be used as a proxy for palaeoatmospheric reconstructions.