Saturday, 28 July 2018

Thursday, 26 July 2018

Saturday, 14 July 2018

GLACIAL FJORD: SEA TO SKY















A short 90-minute drive north of the city of Vancouver, the nation's gateway to the Pacific, is a recreational Shangri-La that attracts four season adventurers from around the globe to ski, board, hike, mountain bike, kayak and climb the local peaks.

It also attracts professional photographers, and weekend warriors, eager to capture the lively footprint of the village or the perfect stillness in nature. This Saturday, it was the destination of one of my new colleagues, Richard, armed with a camera in his pocket to shoot the scenes that took his fancy. A keen thesis editor and some unpredictable rain dampened those plans.

The North Shore mountains, Grouse, Cypress and Seymour, provide easy access for the happy winter adventurer and a beautiful backdrop to the young city of Vancouver -- Canada's third-largest metropolis, year-round.

They also bring us some of the rainiest, snowiest, coldest and windiest climates in Canada. Combined with the westerly winds off of the Pacific, those lovely peaks make for a panoply of weather extremes on any given day.

Certainly, not as cold as in recent past. And not as warm as millions of years ago. Ice cores tell tales of the ebb and flow of temperatures in this part of the world. Rock cores and sedimentary deposits tell other tales.

While the city sits on relatively young sandstone and mudstone, the North Shore Mountains are made of granite that formed deep within the Earth more than 100 million years ago. There are Cretaceous outcrops of sedimentary rock just off Taylor Way at Brother's Creek that reveals familiar fossilized plant material. Species common in the Cretaceous and still extant today.

This treasure trove wilderness playground stretches along the breathtaking Sea-to-Sky Highway affording breathtaking views of the Pacific as it follows the coastline of Howe Sound, a glacially carved fiord which extends from Horseshoe Bay (20 km northwest of Vancouver), past Lions Bay to the hamlet of Squamish.

It is a short jaunt further north that takes you into picturesque Whistler Valley.

Carved from the granitic mountainside high above Howe Sound, this scenic pathway, blasted into the rock of the steep glacial-valley slope, has been a rich recreation corridor and traditional First Nation hunting ground.

The ground you move over has seen oceans rise and fall, glaciers advance and retreat, the arrival of early explorers, the miners of the Gold Rush and now the rush of tourism.



Friday, 6 July 2018

Thursday, 5 July 2018

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

FORTUNE FAVORS THE BOLD

Audaces fortuna iuvat
Ursus curious! A young Black Bear (Ursus americanus) cub checks out a frisky, startled Striped Skunk (Mephitis mephitis) both native species in southern British Columbia. Generally, the aroma from a skunk is enough of a deterrent to keep curiosity at bay. Not in this case.

Bear cubs are known for being playful. They usually stick pretty close to Mamma but sometimes an intriguing opportunity for discovery will cross their path and entice them to slip away just for a few minutes to check it out.

The karma gods were good to this wee one. Nobody was skunked in this quest for exploration, though not for lack of trying.

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Monday, 2 July 2018

TOPSY TURVY: PROCYON LOTOR

A wee babe finds his world upside down. I have a raccoon friend who lives in the base of the trees behind my place. He was the runt of last year's litter.

Everything you've read about them falls short of this wee fellow. While meant to be nocturnal, he's out in the day. I've read that they are shy and avoid human contact, but he's playful, curious and would love to be social. While sitting on my deck, he'll slowly sneak up to check out what I'm doing.

I've seen him roll around in the flowerbed in full sun, clearly loving his time, sit up to examine his toes for 30-40 minutes at a time. I've read somewhere that they are bright little fellas, and it's true for this guy. He's figured out how to get the unlockable compost container unlocked and harvested for all it's tasty, rotten veggies. Mmmm, quite a charmer!

Sunday, 1 July 2018

HAPPY CANADA DAY

Happy Canada Day. Someone cue the beaver. This fellow was having a tasty snack of fresh dandelions by the side of the road. Completely uninterested in my approach or paparazzi moment he just munched away. Must get that all the time...

Thursday, 14 June 2018

TERRACOTTA WARRIORS

The Terracotta Army is a collection of more than 7,000 life-size figures depicting the armies of Qin Shi Huang, First Emperor of China, set in military formation found in an archaeological excavation near Xi'An, Shaanxi Province, China.

Monday, 11 June 2018

WASH ON, WASH OFF

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 mogul 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.

Sunday, 10 June 2018

Sunday, 3 June 2018

CaCO3 + CO2 + H2O → Ca (HCO3)2

 
Those of you who live near the sea understand the compulsion to collect shells. They add a little something to our homes and gardens.

With a strong love of natural objects, my own home boasts several stunning abalone shells conscripted into service as both spice dish and soap dish.

As well as beautiful debris, shells also played an embalming role as they collect in shell middens from coastal communities. Having food “packaging” accumulate in vast heaps around towns and villages is hardly a modern phenomenon.

Many First Nations sites were inhabited continually for centuries. The discarded shells and scraps of bone from their food formed enormous mounds, called middens. Left over time, these unwanted dinner scraps transform through a quiet process of preservation.

Time and pressure leach the calcium carbonate, CaCO3, from the surrounding marine shells and help “embalm” bone and antler artifacts that would otherwise decay. Useful this, as antler makes for a fine sewing tool when worked into a needle. Much of what we know around the modification of natural objects into tools comes from this preservation.

Calcium carbonate is a chemical compound that shares the typical properties of other carbonates. CaCO3 is common in rocks and shells and is a useful antacid for those of you with touchy stomachs. In prepping fossil specimens embedded in limestone, it is useful to know that it reacts with stronger acids, releasing carbon dioxide: CaCO3(s) + 2HCl(aq) → CaCl2(aq) + CO2(g) + H2O(l)

For those of you wildly interested in the properties of CaCO3, may also find it interesting to note that calcium carbonate also releases carbon dioxide on when heated to greater than 840°C, to form calcium oxide or quicklime, reaction enthalpy 178 kJ / mole: CaCO3 → CaO + CO2.

Calcium carbonate reacts with water saturated with carbon dioxide to form the soluble calcium bicarbonate. Bone already contains calcium carbonate, as well as calcium phosphate, Ca2, but it is also made of protein, cells and living tissue.

Decaying bone acts as a sort of natural sponge that wicks in the calcium carbonate displaced from the shells. As protein decays inside the bone, it is replaced by the incoming calcium carbonate, making makes the bone harder and more durable.

The shells, beautiful in their own right, make the surrounding soil more alkaline, helping to preserve the bone and turning the dinner scraps into exquisite scientific specimens for future generations.

Saturday, 12 May 2018

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Monday, 30 April 2018

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Thursday, 5 April 2018

AMMONITE BEAUTY

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, Madison and Melaina. 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.

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Friday, 16 March 2018

LATE OLIGOCENE SOOKE FORMATION

Desmostylus, Royal Ontario Museum Collection
The late Oligocene Sooke Formation outcrops at several coastal localities along the South-west coast of Vancouver Island. The most well-known and most collected of these are the exposures to the west of Muir Creek.

The formation contains marine fossils including a diversity of intertidal and near shore gastropods, bivalves, abundant barnacle (Balanus) plates, and rare coral, echinoid (sand dollar) and mammal (Desmostylus) fossils.

When these fossils were laid down, the Northeastern Pacific had cooled to near modern levels and the taxa that were preserved as fossils bear a strong resemblance to those found living today beneath the Strait of Juan de Fuca. In fact, many of the Sooke Formation genera are still extant.

We find near shore and intertidal genera such as Mytilus (mussels) and barnacles, as well as more typically subtidal predatory globular moon snails, surf clams (Spisula, Macoma), and thin, flattened Tellin clams.

In several places, there are layers thickly strewn with fossils, suggesting that they were being deposited along a strand line. The rock is relatively coarse-grained sandstone, suggesting a high energy environment as would be found near a beach.

The outcrops at Muir Creek make for a great day trip. This is a family friendly site best enjoyed and collected at low tide.

Saturday, 10 March 2018

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Sunday, 21 January 2018

GIANT'S CAUSEWAY: NORTHERN IRELAND

The Giant's Causeway is a spectacular expanse of interlocking hexagonal basalt columns formed from volcanic eruptions during the Paleocene some 50-60 million years ago.

Highly fluid molten basalt intruded through chalk beds which later cooled, contracted and cracked into hexagonal columns, creating a surreal visual against a dark and stormy Irish Sea.

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Friday, 22 December 2017

Saturday, 2 December 2017

HOLA TITAN!

Mike Trask, Titan occidentalis, Fernie, BC
Titanites occidentalis, the second of these giant ammonite fossils recovered at Coal Mountain near Fernie, British Columbia.

The first was about one-third the size and was identified as Lytoceras, a fast-moving nektonic carnivore. This specimen, found in 2004, is significantly larger and relatively rare in North America. With no ruler of an appropriate size, you can see Mike Trask sitting in for scale.

It has been identified as a Titanites occidentalis, (Western Giant), the second known specimen of this extinct fossil species. The first was discovered in 1947 in nearby Coal Creek by a British Columbia Geophysical Society mapping team.

Titanities is an extinct ammonite cephalopod genus within the family Dorsoplanitidae that lived during the upper Tithonian state of the Late Jurassic, some 152 to 145 million years ago.

In the summer of 1947, a field crew was mapping coal outcrops for the BC Geological Survey east of Fernie. One of the students reported finding “a fossil truck tire.” Fair enough. The similarity of size and optics are pretty close to your average Goodridge.

A few years later, GSC Paleontologist Hans Frebold described and named the fossil Titanites occidentalis, after the large Jurassic ammonites from Dorset, England.

The name comes from Greek mythology. Tithonus, as you may recall, was Prince of Troy. He fell in love with Eos, the Greek Goddess of the Dawn. Eos begged Zeus to make her mortal lover immortal. Zeus granted her wish but did not grant Tithonus eternal youth. He did indeed live forever, aging hideously. Ah, Zeus, you old trickster.

It is a clever play on time placement. Dawn being the beginning of the day and the Tithonian being the dawn of the Cretaceous.

Clever Hans!

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

RED-TAILED RAPTOR

The majestic Buteo jamaicensis are easily identified by the red upper surface of their broad tails. They are powerful raptors with strong hunting skills.

Most red-tailed hawks have rich brown upperparts with a streaked belly and a dark bar on the underside of the wing, easily viewed when seen from below. The fine detail in their plumage is breathtaking, like little-feathered works of art.

Monday, 20 November 2017

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

CANADIAN PALEONTOLOGY

Wanneria dunnae
There is so much more to Canada than meets the eye. Deep in the ground beneath our feet is window into our past. It speaks of ancient oceans, continents on the move, powerful forces upthrusting whole coastlines and creating mountains.

And through that window, on the west side of the Kootenay River at its confluence with the St. Mary's, we find some of the oldest fossils in Canada.

This specimen of Wanneria dunnae is from the Lower Cambrian Eager Formation of British Columbia and is typical of the group.

He's from the Rifle Range outcrop near Cranbrook. The site is just a shade older than the Burgess Shale, Middle Cambrian deposits though the species found here are much less varied. Trilobites were amongst the earliest fossils with hard skeletons. While they are extinct today, they were the dominant life form at the beginning of the Cambrian.

Back in the late 1990's and early 2000's, it was a glorious place for fossil collecting. I have many beautifully preserved Wanneria and abundant Olellenus from here along with a few rare and treasured Tuzoia.

The shale matrix lends itself to amazing preservation. This specimen of Wanneria is a big fellow. Five inches long and four inches wide. Wanneria are slightly less common here than Olenellus. Olenellus are slightly smaller in size with a large, semi-circular head, a body of 15 segments and a long spine on the 15th segment with a wee tail. You find a mixture of complete specimens and head impressions from years of perfectly preserved molts.

The Wanneria are their bruising cousins by comparison with their large heads lacking conspicuous furrows and a robust body without an expanded third segment.

As luck would have it, the plate he is in split him right down the centre. Bless the hardness of shale for preservation and it's sheer irony for willfully cracking exactly where you least desire it.

What is missing in this photograph is any detail around the specimen's eyes. Trilobite eyes were compound like those found in modern crustaceans and insects.

The eyes of these earliest trilobites are not well known. They were built in such a way that the visual surface dropped away and was lost during molting or after death throwing a wrench in studying them.

We may learn more from the Burgess Shale and the lovely soft mud that was the foundation of their preservation.

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Friday, 13 October 2017

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Sunday, 3 September 2017

WIDGEON ESTUARY

Interested in getting out on the water? Consider an easy day paddle or overnight to Widgeon Estuary. The paddling is easy. You can do the trip via kayak or canoe and stay for the night or do it as a day trip. There are spots all along the river. You can also camp near the base of the trail to the falls.

From Trail Peak:

There is nothing better than to cruise flat water with rippling reflections of big snowy mountains cascading off your bow.

The estuary of Widgeon Creek at the south end of Pitt Lake at Grant Narrows is the perfect place to enjoy this sensation.

If you like quiet peaceful waterways teaming with bird life this is the place to go for the whole estuary is a protected bird sanctuary. After making the 300m crossing of Grant Narrows, expect to see tons of waterfowl and other species from herons to Harlequins that make this area their habitat. You might even see a fleeting glimpse of muskrat or beaver if you are lucky.

If Widgeon Creek is high in the spring or early summer you can paddle quite a distance up under lazy overhanging branches draped in moss and lichen. Huge lush ferns and skunk cabbage line the shoreline in the marshy areas and neat little gravel bars are gathered in the bends of the creek. When you are there you will be amazed that you can be so close to the city yet so far away.

A campsite is located near the west end of the estuary if you want to stay longer. This is probably best to do in the shoulder season when it isn't so busy. If the water is high more secluded sites are located up the river.

Saturday, 2 September 2017

CINQUE TERRE: LIGURIAN COASTLINE

Riomaggiore or Rimazuu in the local Ligurian language is a lovely seaside village that can trace its roots to the good taste of Monks who settled here in the early thirteenth century.

Here, great wine is produced and consumed along with a huge variety of seafood, figs, olives, capers and Limoncello in the wee restaurants and bars along the Via Colombo that look out onto the Gulf of Genoa.

Inspired by the praise of Dante, Petrarch and Boccaccio, I had the great pleasure to venture there with my friend, Guylaine. Drawn to the picturesque beauty of the Liguria region, ancient vineyards and the irresistible "photo a moment" scenery, we traveled from village-to-village, all along the Cinque Terre.

Liguria remains one of the wildest parts of the Ligurian littoral east of Genoa. The coastline is home to incredibly complex and exciting geology. It is composed of the Maritime Alps in the west and the Ligurian "nappies," continental margin ophiolities, of the Apennines in the east.

Along the coast, the north-northwest convergence of the Alpine orogeny gives way to the active east-northeast convergence along the Apennines. All of this tasty geology can be observed while walking from town to town from Riomaggiore through Manarola, Corniglia and Vernazza. We stayed in Monterosso al Mare during our visit, meeting up with friends and then visiting them in their home city of Milan. If one is lucky enough to be invited as a guest, the geology of the Via deli'Amore is true to its name sake and well worth the trip.

In my mind's eye, thinking back on the experience, I picture stormy seas, colorful rowboats, sheer cliffs and exotic meals of black squid pasta washed down with Albarola.