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Noffke Research Featured at MSNBC Web Site

Nora Noffke

The research of Old Dominion University geobiologist Nora Noffke is featured in the MSNBC.com Science section story "Scientists Hunt for Signs of Earliest Life on Earth."  (See:  Hunt for Early Life)

The article, posted July 9, notes that fossil hunters scour the globe for rocks that reveal ever more ancient life forms.

"One such fossil hunter is Nora Noffke, a trace fossil sedimentologist at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va. Noffke and team recently found rocks in South Africa with evidence of cyanobacteria dating from 2.9 billion years ago, which is the oldest confirmed evidence of these life forms."

Noffke's work has established microbially induced sedimentary structures (MISS) in geobiological research studying earliest life on Earth. Whereas former studies mostly focused on fossils of bacteria preserved in chert (sedimentary rock), or on stromatolites, Noffke's approach has been to investigate structures caused by biofilms and microbial mats in siliciclastic (sandy) sediments. The advantage is that MISS occur in modern coastal areas as well, where they form models for the understanding of ancient MISS.

Noffke, associate professor of ocean, earth and atmospheric sciences at ODU, was the guest editor last year of a special issue of the journal Geobiology that delved into various research and issues involving MISS. This work seeks to answer a question scientists have long grappled with: If tiny, tiny microbes were the earliest living organisms, where in the geological record can we possibly find irrefutable evidence of their existence?

Research in South Africa by Noffke has turned up a virtual treasure trove of geological samples supporting her case that the microbial mats we see today covering tidal flats were also present as life was beginning on Earth. The mats, which are woven of cyanobacteria, can cause unusual textures and formations in the sand beneath them. She has identified two dozen such textures and formations caused by present-day microbial mats, and has found corresponding formations in geological structures dating back through Earth's earliest ages.

In 2007, Noffke was elected a Fellow of the Geological Society of America (GSA) in recognition of her MISS research. She also won the 2007 James Lee Wilson Award of the Society of Sedimentary Geologists, which is given annually to recognize international excellence in marine geology by a young scientist.

This article was posted on: July 12, 2010

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