Shark teeth help track oceanic changes

William Paterson researcher compares modern and fossil shark teeth to understand sea level changes.

William Paterson University Researcher Marty Becker went searching for shark teeth 70 feet underwater in Alabama.

“We discovered an ancient cypress forest that was submerged 10 miles off the Alabama coast by sea level rise and had the chance to scuba dive that,” says Becker.

It’s a project out of Gulf Shores Alabama that he’s working on with fellow researchers. The researchers are collecting both modern and fossil shark teeth in order to understand the history of sea level rise.

Becker says that the creek in Alabama where he found the shark teeth is “sawing away at the regional geology and it’s unearthing layer after layer the history of the earth. So, the deeper we go, the further back in time we’re heading.”

One of shark teeth fossils is around 200 million years old.

According to Becker, his discoveries in Alabama apply to the shoreline here in New Jersey.

“The area we are collecting the fossils in were at one time submerged underneath ocean so now they’re neighborhoods, you know condo developments,” says Becker.

Becker notes Central New Jersey around the area of Malboro has dinosaur age shark fossils, for example. But, Becker says what the shark teeth show his team is that those neighborhoods will inevitably end up back in the water.

“Global sea level is in the process of rising and the sharks are going to return to the areas where they once were,” he adds.

He says it’s happening now, and that on average, the sea level is rising about a third of an inch. During the next several decades Becker predicts the lowest lying areas of our coastline will be subjected to the effects of sea level rise.

With the help of students at the university, Becker and his team are studying how the ocean has changed over time.

“I started working with Dr. Becker last year primarily when we get involved we start drilling the enamel off the teeth then we start getting into more of the testing,” says Christopher Gocklin, a junior at William Paterson University.

Becker says the shark teeth are a not only a look into history, they also offer a glimpse into the future.

“Are we going to continue to spend billions of dollars to do sand replenishment, continue to develop our barrier island?” Becker asks. “Things like the fossil in modern sharks really provide good examples of lessons we can potentially learn about future development, time and change.”

So, the next time you hear of a great white shark, know their teeth contain more than just the power to bite.

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