Handbook for the study and description of microbialites
Geological Survey of Western Australia (GSWA) Bulletin 147 formally standardises the terminology and approaches used in studying microbialites. Condensing nearly 50 years of research and practical experience into a single volume, the authors, Dr Kathleen Grey and Prof. Stanley Awramik, provide a comprehensive guide to the methods for describing and interpreting fossil and recent microbialites.
Columnar fossil stromatolites overlain by sediments with climbing ripples; Meentheena Member, Tumbiana Formation, Neoarchean, Western Australia. Photo: SM Awramik
Microbialites represent one of the oldest forms of life on Earth, and the most abundant form of early life available for scientific study. Their role in generating oxygen in Earth’s early atmosphere was pivotal in establishing conditions that encouraged the rise of all other complex life on the planet and, as such, these fossils have long been used to better understand the origins and evolution of life, and changes in the planet’s early environments. Western Australia is unique in hosting a diversity of microbialites, extending from what are widely accepted as the world’s oldest fossils in the Pilbara, through to internationally renowned living analogues in Shark Bay, Lake Thetis and Lake Clifton. It is for this reason that the State has been at the forefront of microbialite study and research for many years.
There has long been a need for a more rational and consistent approach to how stromatolites and other microbialites are described. Current practices often lack a methodical approach; as a result, microbialites are often undervalued, diminishing our capacity to interpret the valuable paleobiological, paleoenvironmental and biostratigraphic data contained within them. One of the main problems continues to be the lack of a stable and comprehensive descriptive terminology. The extensive international microbialite literature has been combed for definitions and useful terminology, and these have been consolidated into Bulletin 147 that should address many of the existing problems that prevent effective comparative studies.
The handbook aims to be a highly practical guide for both experienced and novice microbialite workers by:
- its extensive use of 171 conceptual diagrams and large format colour photos to illustrate the key features of microbialites
- showcasing microbialites in the field, and in the extensive collections of GSWA, University of California Santa Barbara, and other institutions
- collating and distilling worldwide expertise across many geographic and stratigraphic settings for microbialites, ancient and modern
- proposing a Code of Microbialite Nomenclature to resolve a serious disadvantage to existing and future microbialite systematics
- including an extensive and detailed index.
The volume is of particular interest to sedimentologists, stratigraphers, field mappers, paleontologists, environmental scientists, astrobiologists and those in the resources industry.