Workshop – Planktonic Foraminiferal Biostratigraphy and Taxonomy

Time: August 19 -23, 2024

Location: University of Massachusetts Amherst, Amherst, MA, USA

Instructor Team: Adriane R. Lam (Binghamton University), R. Mark Leckie (University of Massachusetts Amherst), Marci M. Robinson (USGS), Brian Huber (Smithsonian)

Biostratigraphy, the establishment of the relative age of marine sediments, is a critical first-order priority to create a robust age model for the stratigraphic interval of interest. In addition to the relative age provided by planktonic foraminifera and other marine microfossils, biostratigraphy establishes a means of correlation between sites. The microfossil assemblages provide key information about paleoenvironment, paleoecology, paleoceanography, and paleoclimatology, while foraminiferal tests provide the substrate for a wide range of geochemical analyses and paleoceanographic proxies. Correct identification of species (i.e., taxonomy) is vital to all of these goals: age, correlation, paleoenvironment, and geochemistry.

The unfortunate reality is that the number of foraminiferal specialists globally is declining and will likely continue to decline in the coming years, in large part due to micropaleontology not being taught within geoscience programs. This is occurring just as the science community seeks to continue the extraordinary 60-year legacy (1968–2028) of scientific ocean drilling. Another reality is that many who work with foraminifera become specialized in a narrow stratigraphic range of taxa, such as the Quaternary, the Neogene, or PETM interval. The future of scientific ocean drilling and the field of biostratigraphy will depend on micropaleontologists who have broad experience across Mesozoic-Cenozoic sedimentary sequences, which record tectonic, paleoclimatic, and paleoceanographic events, including ancient global warming events with societal relevance for our current climate and biotic crises.

Micropaleontologists are sedimentary problem-solvers.  As such, they are critical to the needs of others who work with the sedimentary record. The problems associated with sedimentary record research ranges from age of deposition and correlation, to paleoenvironment and reworking of older material; from paleoecology and life history of the organisms to geochemical analyses and potential diagenesis. Key questions regarding micropaleontology and biostratigraphy include how old the sediments are (i.e., microfossil zones) and if the microfossil calcite is good enough for geochemical analyses. Micropaleontologists are the keyholders to these fundamental questions, and provide the foundation for robust and high-resolution studies that rely on age models and geochemistry. For example, micropaleontological studies can inform about changes in a species’ depth preference over time, which has implications for reconstructing the water column.

This workshop is designed to create a more global network of micropaleontologists with a speciality on planktonic foraminifera, as current training opportunities in planktonic foraminiferal taxonomy, biostratigraphy, and paleoecology are all located outside of the U.S. Participants will hone their skills using the extensive reference collections and deep sea drilling samples housed in the Micropaleontology Lab at UMass Amherst. The workshop is ideal for students and early career scientists, and mid- to late-career scientists seeking to expand their stratigraphic experience. This workshop will bring critical skills to those based at U.S. institutions, and thus begin a more global network of microfossil training experiences.

The goals of this workshop are three-fold. It will provide:

1) A review of the basic science, contributions, and impact of planktonic foraminifera, including a thorough and comprehensive review of planktic foraminiferal biostratigraphy and taxonomy.

2) Hands-on training and extensive microscope time with the species used in biostratigraphy.

3) Increased confidence in planktic foraminiferal identification and interpretation of geologic events using the microfossil record, preparing participants for real-world applications.

The instructors will create a learning environment to meet the three workshop goals through a blend of lectures, extensive microscope work, and group and individual projects. In addition, participants will:

  • Gain experience using the extensive online taxonomic database, pforams@mikrotax.
  • Learn the fundamental skills of creating taxonomic descriptions and synonymies needed for publishing taxonomic papers.
  • Learn to identify key age marker species from the middle Cretaceous through Cenozoic
  • Create individual digital timescale and planktic foraminiferal zonal schemes for future reference.
  • Learn how to generate age-depth curves and calculate sample ages using the Age-Depth Plot program

Watch this space for a more expansive schedule of activities and lecture topics. More information will be provided in early 2024.

The workshop will be held in Morrill Science Center, in the Department of Earth, Geographic, and Climate Sciences, on the beautiful campus of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, located in Amherst, MA.

Travel will be covered by USSSP for workshop participants.

Participants will stay at the Hotel UMass, located on the campus of UMass Amherst. Hotel accommodations for participants (August 18 to August 24, 2024) will be provided and covered by the workshop. Parking for participants who will be driving is included with the hotel stay.

Breakfast will be provided by the hotel, and participants will also have lunches covered. Participants will have access to UMass’ award-winning dining halls.  Morning and afternoon snacks and drinks will also be provided.

The application process for the Summer 2024 Planktic Foraminiferal Biostratigraphy and Taxonomy Workshop is now open!

  • All applicants are required to complete the application form.
  • Applicants should email ( to the committee a CV no longer than 2 pages highlighting your educational background, research, teaching, and publications (if applicable).
  • For graduate students, a letter of support from your primary advisor should be emailed directly to the committee at The email header should contain the applicant’s first and last name.

Applications will close on May 1, 2024, and prospective workshop participants will be sent invitations by May 15, 2024.