Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Sunday, 30 March 2014

WASH THAT FOR YOU MISS?



If you were a fish living in the warm turquoise waters off the coast of Bonaire, you may not hear those words, but you'd see the shrimp sign language equivalent. It seems Periclimenes yucatanicus or Spotted Cleaner Shrimp is doing a booming business in the local reefs by setting up a fish washing service.

That's right, a Fish Wash. You'd be hard pressed to find a terrestrial Molly Maid with two opposable thumbs as studious and hardworking as this wee marine beauty.

This quiet marine mogel is turning out to be one of the ocean's top entrepreneurs. Keeping its host and diet clean and green, the spotted shrimp hooks up with the locals, in this case, local sea anemones and sets up a fish wash... picture a car wash but without the noise and teenage boys. The signage posted is the shrimps natural coloring which attracts fish from around the reefs.

Wash on, wash off.

Once within reach, the shrimp cleans the surface of the fish, giving the fish a buff and the shrimp its daily feed. The credit for this lovely photo goes to Paul Sutherland

Friday, 14 February 2014

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

HAIDA GWAII: ISLANDS OF MIST

Steeped in mist and mythology, the islands of the Queen Charlottes abound in local lore that surrounds their beginnings.

Today, the Hecate Strait is a tempestuous 40-mile wide channel that separates the mist-shrouded archipelago of Haida Gwaii from the BC mainland. Haida oral tradition tells of a time when the strait was mostly dry, dotted here and there with lakes. During the last ice age, glaciers locked up so much water that the sea level was hundreds of feet lower than it is today. Soil samples from the sea floor contain wood, pollen, and other terrestrial plant materials that tell of a tundra-like environment.

The court is still out on whether or not the strait was ever completely dry during these times, but it certainly contained a series of stepping-stone islands and bridges that remained free of ice.

An ancient Haida tale, recorded in the late 1800s by a Hudson’s Bay Company trader, records the island's glacial history. Scannah-gan-nuncus, a boy who lived in the village now called Skidegate, had canoed up the Hunnah, a once roaring tributary to Skidegate Channel that is now a rocky creek, seldom deep enough to navigate.

The Haida the legend accurately records that it used to be several times deeper. Tired from paddling upstream, Scannah-gan-nuncus landed to take a nap. “In those days at the place where he went ashore were large boulders in the bed of the stream, while on both sides of the river were many trees. While resting by the river, he heard a dreadful noise upstream. Looking to see what it was, he was surprised to behold all the stones in the river coming toward him. … all the trees were cracking and groaning … he went to see what was crushing the stones and breaking the trees. On reaching them, he found that a large body of ice was coming down, pushing everything before it.”

Scannah-gan-nuncus’ experience with the glacier would have been familiar to the inhabitants of the Queen Charlottes. In recent years, the highest peaks are often bare of vegetation and snow-covered during most of the year, but back in the time of the glaciers, these same local mountains were the birthplace of advancing ice.

Precipitation and a significant drop in temperature gave rise to the Queen Charlottes ice-sheet, a thick mass of flowing ice that ran tandem with the Cordilleran sheet in the Hecate Lowlands.

Strolling around you can see where the glaciers left their mark on the Islands’ U-shape valleys, once a steep V-shape, now scoured smooth by glaciers that also deposited the erratic boulders can been seen sitting like sentinels on the beach.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Monday, 28 October 2013

Thursday, 17 October 2013

GODS AND CEPHALOPODS

A great temple to the god Amon was built at Karnak in Upper Egypt around c. 1785. It is from Amon that we get his cephalopod namesake, the ammonites and also the name origin for the compound ammonia or NH3.

Ammonites were a group of hugely successful aquatic molluscs that looked like the still extant Nautilus, a coiled shellfish that lives off the southern coast of Asia.

While the Nautilus lived on, ammonites graced our waters from around 400 million years ago until the end of the Cretaceous, 65 million years.

Varying in size from millimeters to meters across, ammonites are prized as both works of art and index fossils helping us date rock. The ammonites were cousins in the Class Cephalopoda, meaning "head-footed," closely related to modern squid, cuttlefish and octopus. Cephalopods have a complex eye structure and swim rapidly. Ammonites used these evolutionary benefits to their advantage, making them successful marine predators. I shared some ammonites with my wee paleontologist cousins this weekend, Maddison and Malena. They were impressed with the amazing range of species and body styles. Their favorites were the ones from Alberta and England with their original mother of pearl still intact.

Ammonites cruised our ancient oceans expertly capturing prey with their tentacles. We danced around the deck pretending to be predators from ancient seas. Picture a hungry fellow at a smorgasborg with just a dash of crazy. Now add water.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

SEA SCORPIONS: PREDATORS OF ANCIENT SEAS

About two dozen families of eurypterids “sea scorpions” are known from the fossil record.

Although these ancient predators have a superficial similarity, including a defensive needle-like spike or telson at their tail end, they are not true scorpions. They are an extinct group of arthropods related to spiders, ticks, mites and other extant creepy crawlies.

Eurypterids hunted fish in the muddy bottoms of warm shallow seas some 460 to 248 million years ago before moving on to hunting grounds in fresh and brackish water during the later part of their reign. Their numbers diminished greatly during the Permian-Triassic extinction, becoming extinct by 248 million years ago.

Euripterids are found in Canada, mostly notably at the Ridgemount Quarry near Niagara Falls. This near perfect specimen of Eurypterus remipes, held by my young cousin Sivert, was named the official state fossil of New York in 1984.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

MUIR WOODS, CRICKET THERMOMETER

Out in the woods and wondering what the temperature is? Slip down to the nearest stand of deciduous trees to search for the wee Snowy Tree Cricket, Oecanthus Fultoni, part of the order orthoptera.

Snowy Tree Crickets and their cousins double as thermometers and wee garden predators, dining on aphids and other wee beasties. Weather conditions, both hot and cold, affect the speed at which they rub the base of their wings together and consequently regulate their rate of chirping.

Listen for their tell-tale high pitch triple chirp sound in the early evening. Being in Canada, our crickets chirp in Celsius. Simply count the number of chirps over a seven second period and add five to learn your local temperature.

If didn't bring your calculator with you into the woods and you're still operating in old-skool Fahrenheit use this handy conversion. Double the temperature in Celsius, add 32 you'll get the approximate temperature in Fahrenheit.

This beautiful photo of Muir Woods outside San Francisco is by Aussie photographer, Paul McClure.

Monday, 8 July 2013

ELASMOSAURS: GRIT & GASTROLITHS

Elasmosaurs swam the seas for over 130 million years, feeding on the plentiful fish and shellfish. They used grit and gastroliths in their large stomachs to break down their seafood diet.

Gastroliths – round, polished stomach stones – have been found amid their bones. These stones would have been swallowed to help grind down their catch and lower their natural buoyancy. In their selection of these pebbles, elasmosaurs displayed, at times, a remarkable geological discernment.

The Puntledge elasmosaur from Courtenay, British Columbia, for example, had a yen for basalt. When the fossilized skeleton was excavated, the stones in its abdominal cavity were all basalt, an indication that this particular elasmosaur had somehow learned to discriminate between basalt stones and all others.

Basalt, as any geologist will tell you, is harder (and therefore longer lasting as a grinding material) than many other rocks. Yet over time, even basalt will erode, particularly when subjected to the digestive juices of such an enormous creature. From the elasmosaur’s long neck and bulky body, paleontologists have concluded that that their fishing technique was probably a sudden snake-like strike with the head, sweeping the meal into their cage-like mouth long before the tell-tail body loomed in sight through the depths.

Swimming beneath a school of fish, they would have been hidden by their dappled camouflage, allowing them to swing their toothy mouths up into the schools and capture hapless fish to be swallowed whole. Less stealth was probably required to hunt ammonites – free-swimming shellfish that jetted along like armoured squid. During the Jurassic, ammonites, distant relatives of the chambered nautilus, populated the seas.

The ammonites’ heavy protection would have meant that their backward-looking view of the world was no problem when dealing with most predators, but the marine reptiles of the day were a fatal exception to the rule. Ammonite fossils with clear teeth marks have been found, putting both elasmosaurs and mosasaurs at the scene of the crime and solving murder mysteries millions of years old.

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Friday, 28 June 2013

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Friday, 24 May 2013

Thursday, 9 May 2013

STAWAMUS CHIEF: SQUAMISH RISING


Eagles, bears and breathtakingly beautiful scenery await those who travel north of Vancouver, British Columbia to the town of Squamish.

I had the great pleasure of meeting one of those travelers last evening while enjoying a stunning sunset dinner at the Boathouse on Kitsilano Beach -- Barbara Samways, a delightfully interesting woman and wonderful conversationist out exploring the West Coast via tour and rail.

British by descent, Barbara has traveled the world. living in what was once Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, and finally settling down in the isolated beauty that is Perth. We talked of the world's great beauties and a shared love of travel with friends and family. Canada is new to her and a geologic playground that I love to call home.

While we lack the turquoise waters and kaleidoscope of colorful fish that warmer waters offer, I wax poetic about our deep blue Pacific, mountain peaks, rich geologic and interesting early history -- all of the things that captivate me and I hope she'll enjoy. I'm looking forward to meeting up with her after her three-week sojourn to hear what sights from our young country delighted her, viewed from a fresh set of eyes.

Situated at the head of Howe Sound and surrounded by mountains, Squamish is cradled in natural beauty as only a West Coast community can be. Growing in fame as the Outdoor Recreation Capital of Canada, visitors will discover the abundance of attractions, activities and opportunities to explore in this wilderness community.

Before Europeans came to the Squamish Valley, the area was inhabited by the Squohomish tribes. These Indians lived in North Vancouver and came to the Squamish Valley to hunt and fish. The first contact the Indians had with the white man was in 1792, when Captain George Vancouver came to Squamish to trade near the residential area of Brackendale.

During the 1850s gold miners came in search of gold and an easier gold route to the Interior. Settlers began arriving in the area in 1889, with the majority of them being farmers relocating to the Squamish Valley. The first school was built in 1893 and the first hotel opened in 1902, on the old dock in Squamish.

Squamish means Mother of the Wind in Coast Salish, which is testimony to the winds that rise from the north before noon and blow steadily until dusk, making Squamish a top wind surfing destination, and host to the annual PRO-AM sailboard races.

The Stawamus Chief, the second largest freestanding piece of granite in the world, has made Squamish one of the top rock climbing destinations in North America. This magestic peak is said to have been one of the last areas of dry ground during a time of tremendous flooding in the Squamish area.

Many cultures have a flood myth in their oral history and the Coast Salish people of Squamish are no exception. They tell of a time when all the world save the highest peaks were submerged and only one of their nation survived. Warned in a vision, a warrior of the Squamish nation escaped to safety atop Mount Chuckigh (Mount Garibaldi) as the waters rose.

After the flood, a magestic eagle came to him with a gift of salmon to tell him that the world below was again hospitable and ready for his return. He climbed down the mountain and returned to find his village covered by a layer of silt.

All his people had perished, but the gods gave him another gift, a second survivor of the flood, a beautiful woman who became his wife. For their gift of generosity they had shown, the couple took the eagle as their chief totem and have honored it through generations of Coast Salish people.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

BRITISH COLUMBIA'S GREAT BEARS


Hiking in BC, both grizzly and black bear sightings are common. Nearly half the world's population, some 25,000 grizzlies, roam the Canadian wilderness. This photo of Edward (yes, we named him) was taken off the west coast of Vancouver Island by Larissa Harding of Great Bear Nature Tours.

Both bear families descend from a common ancestor, Ursavus, a bear-dog the size of a raccoon who lived more than 20 million years ago. Seems an implausible lineage given the size of their very large descendents.

An average Grizzly weighs in around 800 lbs (363 kg), but a recent find in Alaska tops the charts at 1600 lbs (726 kg). This mighty beast stood 12' 6' high at the shoulder, 14' to the top of his head. It is one of the largest grizzly bears ever recorded. This past month this king of the forest was seen once again in the Washington Cascades -- the first sighting in 50 years.

Monday, 29 April 2013

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

MOUNTAINS, WATER & SKY: CARIBOO COUNTRY


The Bowron Canoe Circuit is a 149,207 hectare geologic wonderland, where a fortuitous combination of plate tectonics and glacial erosion have carved an unusual 116 kilometre near-continuous rectangular circuit of lakes, streams and rivers bound on all sides by snowcapped mountains. From all descriptions, something like heaven.

The east and south sides of the route are bound by the imposing white peaks of the Cariboo Mountains, the northern boundary of the Interior wet belt, rising up across the Rocky Mountain Trench, and the Isaac Formation, the oldest of seven formations that make up the Cariboo Group (Struik, 1988). Some 270 million years ago, had one wanted to buy waterfront property in what is now British Columbia, you’d be looking somewhere between Prince George and the Alberta border. The rest of the province had yet to arrive but would be made up of over twenty major terranes from around the Pacific.

The rock that would eventually become the Cariboo Mountains and form the lakes and valleys of Bowron was far out in the Pacific Ocean, down near the equator.

With tectonic shifting, these rocks drifted north-eastward, riding their continental plate, until they collided with and joined the Cordillera in what is now British Columbia. Continued pressure and volcanic activity helped create the tremendous slopes of the Cariboo Range we see today with repeated bouts of glaciation during the Pleistocene carving their final shape.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Monday, 28 January 2013

MAGNOLIA TOOTHPASTE

A traditional Chinese extract from the bark of the magnolia tree, an ancient genus that goes back some 95-million years, gives you fresh breath by killing off the nasty oral microbes that cause halitosis.

My favorite individual tree is the magnolia growing on the grounds at Balboa Park. It is a magnificent example of the family Magnoliaceae and takes up nearly a whole city block. Older magnolia have this elegant quality of long draping branches, perfect for avoiding a predator while enjoying an afternoon's snooze.

Given that our ancestors decended from the trees, pre Lucy now it seems, and that we've seen bits of magnolia bark in firepits from 10,000 to 80,000 years ago, we may have enjoyed Magnoliaceae as a comfortable perch, hearth and perhaps even some additional oral benefits -- magnolia toothpaste anyone?

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Monday, 31 December 2012

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Friday, 5 October 2012

DIATRYMA: EOCENE FLIGHTLESS BIRD

Rare bird, reptile and mammal tracks have been immortalized in the outcrops of the Chuckanut Formation. We found these tracks from a Diatryma high up on a slope a few field seasons ago. George Mustoe from the University of Washington did some latex peels then flew them out to be studied.

These massive flightless birds reached up to 9 feet in height and made a living in the grasslands and swamps of the Eocene. The largest of the prints you see here measures 11 inches wide and 12 inches high. Truly a big bird!

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Thursday, 27 September 2012

EGYPTIAN OWL: INDURATED LIMESTONE


QUEEN NEFERTITI: EGYPTIAN ALABASTER

While at the Metropolitan Museum of Art this week in New York, I was struck by the beauty of many of their pieces. A sculptured jar that stopped me dead in my tracks was the striking face representing one of the royal women of Amarna. 

Her hairstyle of overlapping curls, known as the Nubian wig, was popular among the female members of Akhenten's family. The hole at the centre of her forehead once secured the separately carved upper body of a rearing cobra whose tail is visible across the top of the wig. This royal protector was exclusively worn by kings and queens.


A beautifully rendered Egyptian alabaster (calcite); obsidian, steatite Canopic Jar from Thebes, Valley of the Kings, Dynasty 18, reign of Akhenaten, ca. 1353-1336 B.C. Since its discovery in 1907, the face has been identified as that of Queen Tiye, Akhenaten's mother, Queen Nefertiti.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

JURASSIC BOUNTY: AMMONITE

Those working in the Jurassic exposures on Vancouver Island are a determined crew. Most of the sedimentary deposits of the Jurassic are exposed in the hard to reach areas between Nootka Sound and Cape Scott.

By the time these ammonites were being buried in sediment, Wrangellia, the predominately volcanic terrane that now forms Vancouver Island and the Queen Charlotte Islands, had made its way to the northern mid-laditudes.

This detail of the Jurassic ammonite, Paltechioceras sp. shot with an ultra-low f-stop, is from an all but inaccessible site in Sayward, Bonanza Group, Vancouver Island.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Saturday, 1 September 2012

BLOSSOMS: ALLIUM TANGUTICUM


PALEAOCENE-EOCENE THERMAL MAXIMUM

In 2004, a scientific crew braced the cold and the odds to extract a sediment core from 400m below the seabed of the Arctic Ocean. The core showed that Fifty-five million years ago, deep in the Eocene, the North Pole was ice-free and enjoying tropical temperatures. It also told us that the temperature of the ocean was 20C, instead of the coolish –1.5C we see today… a truth that is hard to imagine with all the hype around global warming.

The bottom end of that core helped explain the fossils found at Eocene sites around British Columbia, species commonly seen in more tropical environments today.

The warmer temperatures seen at McAbee and around the globe were recorded in the core sample and reveal evidence for a global event known at the Palaeocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum. Back in the Eocene, a gigantic emission of greenhouse gases was released into the atmosphere and the global temperature warmed by about 5C.

While the bookends of the geologic time scale slide back and forth a wee bit, the current experts in the geologic community set the limits to be 33.9 +_ 0.1 to 55.8 +_ 0.2 million years ago. The fossil record tells us that this part of British Columbia and much of the Earth was significantly warmer around that time, so warm in fact that we find temperate and tropical plant fossils in areas that now sport plants that prefer much colder climes, or as is the case in the Arctic, snow and ice.

The Okanagan Highlands is an area centred in the Interior of British Columbia, but the term is used in a slightly misleading fashion to describe an arc of Eocene lakebed sites that extend from Smithers in the north, down to the fossil site of Republic Washington. The grouping includes the fossil sites of Driftwood Canyon, Quilchena, Allenby, Tranquille, McAbee, Princeton and Republic. These fossil sites range in time from Early to Middle Eocene, and the fossil they contain give us a snapshot of what was happening in this part of the world because of the varied plant fossils they contain..

While the area around the Interior of British Columbia was affected. McAbee was not as warm as some of the other Middle Eocene sites, a fact inferred by what we see and what is conspicuously missing. In looking at the plant species, it has been suggested that the area of McAbee had a more temperate climate, slightly cooler and wetter than other Eocene sites to the south at Princeton, British Columbia and Republic and Chuckanut, Washington. Missing are the tropical Sabal (palm), seen at Princeton and the impressive Ensete (banana) and Zamiaceae (cycad) found at Republic and Chuckanut, Washington.

While we are the likely culprits of much of the warming of the Arctic today, natural processes operating in the not too distant past have also resulted in significant temperature fluxuations on a world-wide scale.

Friday, 31 August 2012

Tuesday, 21 August 2012