Made at UCL


Fossil dating data that makes a difference

Researchers at UCL have developed an innovative way of collating vital fossil data which is used around the world to date rocks and to reconstruct past ocean environments and climate.


Biostratigraphy (dating rock formations by the fossils within) is a key factor for understanding Earth history, and very practical for finding subsurface reservoirs of water, oil or natural gas as it informs decisions about drilling locations and depths. However, this vital data was not available through a single, comprehensive reliable source, leading to delays and uncertainty.

Professor Paul Bown (UCL Earth Sciences), Dr Jeremy Young (UCL Earth Sciences) and Dr Jacqueline Lees (UCL Earth Sciences) developed a universally available, standardised system that collates this information in an online user-friendly website called Nannotax.

This site aims to provide an authoritative guide to the biodiversity and taxonomy of coccolithophores - a beautiful group of microscopic planktonic algae with an abundant fossil record and a key role in the global carbon cycle. It is both a working tool for specialists and an accessible reference source.

By organising data that had previously been kept in multiple different places over the years, researchers could now access any given information in seconds rather than in days.

But it is not just companies and industry professionals that benefit - studying fossilised plankton shells from drilling into the ocean bed is helping scientists map the impact of climate change over a very long period of time, informing them on what might happen in the future. Nannotax’s historic data on previous drilling operations is preserved in its own library for future generations.

The online tool is now used daily across the world by hundreds of practitioners in the biostratigraphic consultancy sector and hydrocarbon industry. According to Google Analytics, between September 2015 and October 2016, Nannotax was used for 66,000 sessions equating to approximately 250 sessions every weekday.