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Using the fossil record to accurately estimate the timing and pace of past mass extinctions is no easy task, and a new study highlights how fossil evidence can produce a misleading picture if not interpreted with care.

Florida Museum of Natural History researchers used a series of 130-foot cores drilled from the Po Plain in northeastern Italy to test a thought experiment: Imagine catastrophe strikes the Adriatic Sea, swiftly wiping out modern marine life. Could this hypothetical mass extinction be reconstructed correctly from mollusks – hard-shelled animals such as oysters and mussels – preserved in these cores?

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Travelling back in time with the mind. The past. Death. The beach…

When they examined the cores, the results were “somewhat unnerving”, said Michal Kowalewski, Thompson Chair of Invertebrate Paleontology and the study’s principal investigator.

Taken at face value, the cores presented a dramatically distorted record of both the timing and tempo of extinction, potentially calling into question some of the methods paleontologists commonly use to interpret past mass extinctions.

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Closer. Less time…

“[…] the nature of the geological record is complicated, so it is not trivial to decipher it correctly.” Kowalewski said. Many parameters, like by species’ ecological preferences, sea level and the makeup of sedimentary basins, could skew patterns of mass extinction. (1)

Always in motion is the past.

Making the future hard to grasp.

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Infected by a virus. Thinking. Being alive. Being subjective. Being You.

A future always in turmoil.

Making the past difficult to see.

At the end, we always experience the “now”.

A “now” locked in the whirlwinds of existence.

What a strange cosmos.

Always moving.

A blur in the background of nothingness.

Almost as if it doesn’t want to be seen…