Because the instrumental record is short and does not extend to periods before the initiation of significant human impacts, full understanding of the processes and dynamics involved in the modern phase of very rapid global change depends on the interpretation of high resolution and precisely dated proxy archives. The identification of very long-lived species of bivalve mollusc in the extratropical marine environment has been a crucial recent advance. These molluscs form patterns of periodic (usually annual) banding in their shells that are synchronous within populations, so that long (centennial and millennial) stacked chronologies can be built by crossdating from live collected to fossil shells. The variable growth rates and precisely dated geochemical data from the shell material provide long term real world data that can in principle be used to constrain climate models and to define long baselines for environmental monitoring. However, the signals in these data usually result from the complex interaction of multiple influences, and the deconvolution and understanding of these influences is a major target of the scientific field of sclerochronology.
This special issue presents some of the latest research into the sclerochronology of mollusc shells. It includes contributions to our understanding of shell growth, including the identification of endogenous (non-environmental) growth rhythms that persist throughout ontogeny, and analysis in two papers of variability through ontogeny in the season of growth and the implications of such variability for temperature reconstruction. One paper presents a new network of bivalve chronologies for UK waters, with a 200-year seawater temperature reconstruction. Three papers cover trace element geochemistry, including a novel approach to sampling for LA-ICP-MS that enables giant clam shells to be sampled at daily resolution, an attempt to identify an independent temperature proxy for coastal waters using limpet shells, and a detailed study of the drivers of variability in Sr/Ca and Ba/Ca ratios. One study looks at shell microstructure as a temperature proxy, finding a coherent temperature response in the shape of the prisms.