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Texas' Permian Reef tells tale of life 265m years ago

August 14, 2011 - Washington

Rocks from the fossil Permian Reef in the Guadalupe Mountains of West Texas are revealing secrets about changes in sea level and marine life 265 million years ago, according to two Texas A and M University researchers.

Improved understanding of this ancient reef can shed light on the effects of environmental change on living systems as well as provide insight on the distribution of hydrocarbon reservoirs in the Permian Basin, one of the largest petroleum provinces in the United States, researchers say.

Much like Australia's Great Barrier Reef today, which stretches more than 1,600 miles and is so large it can be seen from space, the Permian Reef grew in shallow tropical waters 265 million years ago.

"The ancient reef grew in water just below sea level and it overlooked the Permian Basin, which was more than 1,000 feet deep," says Thomas Olszewski, associate professor in the department of geology and geophysics.

"The rocks at the foot of the mountains preserve sediments that record natural environmental changes caused by changing sea level and climate."

The rocks can show a record of past events in Earth history, and in the Permian Reef geologists can clearly see evidence for numerous rises and falls of sea level, Olszewski adds.

The study has been published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B and the journal Palaios.


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