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Microscopic Photography, 2023

The black gold of
the golden state,
who are you made of?

The Monterey Formation is a geologic formation that holds around 11 million years of history. Visual signs of deep ocean currents and life on Earth are embedded within its layers of sandstone, shale, and limestone. And from that life, a resource instrumental to the economic development of California–oil. So much so, that most of the information we have on this sedimentary formation comes from oil companies assessing these rocks. The now-exhumed ancient channel was home to foraminifera and diatoms, tiny single-cell organisms with and without shells, respectively. Over millions of years, those organisms fossilized into rock and became the source material for some of the largest oil pools in California.

I had the privilege of learning about and receiving samples of foraminifera from Dorothy Pak, Ph.D. at UC Santa Barbara’s Materials Research Laboratory. Dr. Pak's research focuses on identifying changes in past ocean temperature, salinity, and circulation on time scales of hundreds to millions of years. To do this, she examines foraminiferal trace elements, stable isotopes, and faunal assemblages as archives of climate change. The samples I received came from a marine sediment core from one of her research trips out in the Santa Barbara Basin in 2008. You can see some of the foraminifera from the sample in the images above, which I arranged and mounted on a microscope slide.


Thanks to Dotti Pak, Greg Wahlert, Francis Macdonald, and Evan Monroe for making this work possible.

Behind the Scenes

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