Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Vertical zonations of marsh foraminifera as accurate indicators of former sea-levels


MANY attempts to reconstruct the pattern of apparent sea-level rise that took place during the Holocene have used salt-marsh deposits as indicators of former sea level1,2. Contemporary mature salt marshes occupy a vertical range covering the upper half of the tidal range, from mean sea level to higher high water3,4, and geologists have arbitrarily equated ancient marsh deposits with various fixed elevations within this range. This method, disregarding any other source of inaccuracy, can introduce an error of 1–5 m depending on the tidal range. Apparent sea level movements during the late Holocene (2,000–3,000 yr BP) have been of the order of 1–2 m; hence such a method introduces errors larger than the movements being measured. Even less adequate sea-level estimates are derived from other commonly used indicators such as raised beaches, oyster beds, and submerged or emerged terraces and deltas. We describe here how marsh foraminifera can be used to delimit small-scale vertical zones along modern marsh surfaces generally corresponding to the floral zones in vertical range. This relationship was first established in the marshes of southern California5, and has recently been shown to be valid in other areas6.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.


  1. 1

    Redfield, A. C. Science 157, 687–692 (1967).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2

    Grant, D. R. Can. J. Earth Sci. 7, 676–689 (1970).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3

    Chapman, V. J. Salt Marshes and Salt Deserts of the World (Leonard Hill, London, 1960).

    Google Scholar 

  4. 4

    Chapman, V. J. Coastal vegetation 2nd edn (Pergamon, Toronto, 1976).

    Book  Google Scholar 

  5. 5

    Scott, D. B. 1st Int. Symp. Benthonic Foraminifera of Continental Margins Spec. Publ. 1, 153–170 Halifax, Nova Scotia (1976).

    Google Scholar 

  6. 6

    Scott, D. B. thesis, Dalhousie Univ. (1977).

  7. 7

    Phleger, F. B. Limnol. Oceanogr. 10, R169–R184 (1965); Bol. Soc. Geol. Mexicana 28, 1–44 (1966); Ann. Inst. Biol. Univ. Nat. Auton. Mexico, 38, Ser. Ciencias del Mar y Limn. 1, 11–38 (1967); Limnol. Oceanogr. 4, 522–534 (1970).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  8. 8

    Phleger, F. B. & Bradshaw, J. S. Science 154, 1551–1553 (1966).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  9. 9

    Ellison, R. L. & Nichols, M. M. 1st Int. Symp. Benthonic Foraminifera of Continental Margins. Spec. Publ. 1, 131–151 Halifax, Nova Scotia (1976).

    Google Scholar 

  10. 10

    Albani, A. D. & Johnson, K. R. J. geol. Soc. Austr. 22, 435–446 (1975).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11

    Kaye, C. A. & Barghoorn, E. S. Geol. Soc. Am. Bull. 75, 63–80 (1964).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12

    Murray, J. W. J. Foram. Res. 1, 153–161 (1971).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. 13

    Scott, D. B. J. Foram. Res. 6, 312–321 (1976).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information



Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

SCOTT, D., MEDIOLI, F. Vertical zonations of marsh foraminifera as accurate indicators of former sea-levels. Nature 272, 528–531 (1978).

Download citation

Further reading


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing