Academic Research

Palynology and paleobotany


Our group has done much work on palaeo-flora stratigraphy on Paleozoic and Mesozoic outcrops from the 60’s onwards. Many Master’s dissertations are published internally, a copy of which can be requested by the LPP. Recently, the LPP Foundation supported Master’s research on Silurian sections characterized by major negative carbon isotope excursions. 




Famous Hutton Unconformity in Scotland, where vertical Cambrian schist strata are overlain by Carboniferous Old Red Sandstone deposits




The LPP Foundation has worked a lot on the Mesozoic era, both in marine as well as terrestrial archives. For instance, the terrestrial palynomorph stratigraphy has provided much higher resolution tie points to the Triassic-Jurassic Boundary. Also the integration of the palynomorph biostratigraphy to isotope chemostratigraphy provides viable calibration points.



Palynomorph stratigraphy of the Triassic-Jurassic Boundary. From Kuerschner et al., Palaeo3 244, 257, 2007


Cretaceous-Paleogene Boundary

The K-Pg boundary has been intensively studied for dinocyst stratigraphy, and resulted in a high-resolution zonation calibrated to the foraminiferal subzones identified in the most complete K-Pg boundary sections 


Dinocysts at El Kef section, Marocco. From Brinkhuis et al., Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology 56, 5, 1988



Dinocyst stratigraphy from the upper Maastrichtian type section in the ENCI quarry, the Netherlands. From Schioler et al., Marine Micropaleontology 31, 65, 1997



Global dinocyst events around the Cretaceous-Paleogene Boundary





The elaborate biostratigraphic research efforts have resulted in a thorough calibration of key dinocyst events in the Cretaceous-Cenozoic all over the world. Dinocysts are highly diverse and abundant in the Cretaceous-Paleogene, and many species have fast turnover rates. Therefore, dinocysts provide a good stratigraphic tool. Often, particularly in very shallow, restricted and/or in high latitude settings, dinocysts are the only stratigraphic tool available. Over the years the LPP has developed a leading expertise in Cretaceous-Paleogene dinocyst stratigraphy, and is constantly refining stratigraphies with on-going research. Updates of the range charts as published in Williams et al., 2004 are published internally in the LPP Foundation in the banner of the dinoflagellate cyst course. 


Dinocyst stratigraphy around the Eocene-Oligocene Boundary from ocean sediment cores retrieved from the now subsided continental blocks around Tasmania, Australia. In Sluijs et al., Proceedings of the Ocean Drilling Program, Volume 189, 2003.


The case studies below, from the Arctic Coring Expedition and our work in the Southern Ocean give an overview of some of the most important projects within our lab on Paleogene dinocyst stratigraphy.

Arctic Coring Expedition

The Arctic Coring expedition was a true explorative venture. Ice coverage had always prohibited coring deeper than the reach of piston corers in the Arctic Ocean. With an armada of ice-breakers, the expedition team managed to keep the drill ship on site and drill hundreds of meters into the Arctic Ocean bed. Beyond the diagenetic front around 320 mbsf, diatoms were not preserved and dinocysts provided good stratigraphic tie points. The early-middle Eocene boundary interval could be resolved stratigraphically with the last occurrence of Apectodinium augustum and the occurrence of Charlesdowniea collumna and the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum with the acme of Apectodinium, as well as chemo-stratigraphic indices. 

Composite age-depth profile for the sediment cores retrieved from the Lomonosov Ridge, Arctic Ocean. In Backman et al., 2004


Southern Ocean

The many sites drilled by the Ocean Drilling Programs, and sections studied around Antarctica, were notoriously hindered by the lack of calibrated biostratigraphic tools. Along with the continuous refinement of terrestrial palynomorph zonations, the LPP has focused its efforts in developing a Maastrichtian-Paleogene dinocyst zonation scheme for Southern Ocean biostratigraphy, first with the outcrops in New Zealand, which could be calibrated to calcareous nannoplankton stratigraphy. 

Eocene-Oligocene succession crops out along the coastline of Kaikura, New Zealand



Field work at the Paleocene mid-Waipara section in New Zealand


Subsequent detailed studies also integrated the dinocyst stratigraphy to chemostratigraphic tie points, such as the carbon isotope profiles of the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum and the Middle Eocene Climatic Optimum, and tentatively to magnetostratigraphy. 


Integrated dinocyst zonation scheme for the early Paleogene South Pacific Ocean. From Bijl, PhD thesis, LPP Contributions series 34, 2011


With the recent Integrated Ocean Drilling Program expedition to Wilkes Land, Antarctica, we can now start to extend and refine the Southern Ocean zonation scheme upwards into the Oligocene-Neogene. 


Age-depth profile from Integrated Ocean Drilling Program Site U1356, Wilkes Land Margin, Antarctica. From Escutia et al., Proceedings of the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program, Volume 318


Stratigraphic occurrence of the recently described Malvinia escutiana (b: microscope image). The first occurrence of this dinocyst species is calibrated to the onset of the Oi-1 oxygen isotope stage. From Houben et al., Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology 165, p175 2011




Chemo-stratigraphy can be applied on various time scales, from the Silurian carbon isotope excursions to the Triassic-Jurassic boundary and from the Paleocene Carbon Isotope Maximum and the Eocene hyperthermal events to the Oligocene isotope event-1. In principle, any carbon-bearing substrate can be suitable for isotope stratigraphy. We have the expertise to investigate the potential to apply chemo-stratigraphy pending individual project needs.

Carbon isotope profile of the bulk carbonate for the middle Eocene Climatic Optimum, compared to that of benthic foraminifera from deep sea sections worldwide. From Bijl et al., Science 330, p819, 2010



Sequence stratigraphy

Besides stratigraphic tools, dinocysts provide a very sensitive tool for interpreting sequence stratigraphy on the shelf. The distinct dinocyst morphologies are strictly confined to specific shelf niches. Particularly for the Paleogene, but also increasingly so in older and younger sediments, the wealth of data from shelf sections and drill holes have built a thorough model for the ecological niche of specific dinocyst taxa. We use this information to be able to reconstruct in high detail the sequence stratigraphy of marginal marine successions. Particularly in warm episodes of the geologic past, where sea level fluctuations were relatively subtle, sedimentological information is sometimes not definite enough to reconstruct sequences. Particularly here dinocysts are good tracers of systems tracts on the shelf. A good example is the PETM, where we recorded a global sea level rise of 20-30 meters in a world that is generally considered ice-free.


Sequence stratigraphic correlation of a set of late Paleocene-early Eocene sections scattered over the globe. From Sluijs et al., Paleoceanography 23, PA4216, 2008






The LPP has developed a computer database (PALSYS) for Paleozoic-Mesozoic-Cenozoic organic-walled dinoflagellate cysts including imagery, taxonomic descriptions and stratigraphic occurrence. PALSYS serves as a backbone for dinoflagellate cyst taxonomy and biostratigraphy. Together with TNO Utrecht we are currently working on an updated version of PALSYS. click here for more information.


The PALSYS computer database





Peter K. Bijl, PhD  Director

Heidelberglaan 2
3584 CS Utrecht
the Netherlands

tel: +31 30 253 9318
fax: +31 30 253 5096
cell: +31 6 4497 4474