Tuesday night I saw an excellent documentary on Arctic Dinosaurs found in Alaska on Nova. This program showed that the paleontologists were able to determine the average annual temperature of the region 70 million years ago using the ratio of smooth edged leaves to toothed edged leaves.
What was truly interesting is that the paleontologists were able to establish a correlation between this ratio and the average temperatures in modern ecosystems which enabled them to predict, within 1 degree C, which is almost better than what modern meteorology technology can produce.
How can you use this information to come up with your own earth science fair experiments? Well first of all you can see if this ratio really is a good predictor of average annual temperatures. You can start by replicating the experiment using the plants found in your local area.
You will need to collect as many leaves as possible and then divide them into smooth edged and toothed edge specimens. Find the ratio of smoothed to toothed edge leaves and then compare them to the ratio that was developed by the paleontologists.
Finding correlations between modern ecosystems and ancient ecosystems is just one way in which we learn about ancient environments. Use what you have learned from the above example to develop your own paleontology or paleon botany science fair projects. Start by gathering information about your local ancient history.
Try to find fossil sites near your house. You will be surprised at how many plant fossils you can find and how many invertebrate fossils you can find along the highway. Collect samples and try to put together a model of what your ecosystem looked like during the last ice age, or during the time of the dinosaurs.