Wednesday, 16 December 2009

HAIDA GWAII: ISLANDS OF FIRE

Located as they are in Canada’s most active earthquake zone, the Queen Charlotte Islands have had their share of shake-ups and scourings. Many of the Islands’ hillsides are scarred by slides. But the rock beneath speaks of an even more violent past.

Very few people know that the rock in the Queen Charlottes holds the key to a catastrophic event from eons ago. We’ve heard tales and seen images of the cataclysmic damage caused by meteriorites smashing into the Earth’s surface.

Until recently, it was a meteorite impact that was blamed for the worldwide Triassic/Jurassic Mass Extinction. This wholesale dying out of species occurred some 200 million years ago. New evidence challenges the meteorite theory. Experts now believe that tectonic forces may have caused hundreds of volcanoes around the world to erupt simultaneously. The subsequent showers of volcanic ash would have altered the composition of the atmosphere dramatically and plunged the world into near total darkness for years until it settled from the sky.

The picture painted of the sun flickering fitfully through inky clouds, paling against the torrents of glowing lava, while everywhere life is smothered, poisoned, or starved, rivals the most apocalyptic imaginings of Hollywood or religion. We know from worldwide evidence that the extinction was dramatic and affected upwards of 70% of the world’s biota.

Perhaps counterintuitively, for one might think of water as a refuge from fire, smoke, and lava, it was marine lifeforms that suffered the most. This is particularly well documented in the rocks of the Queen Charlottes, especially at Kennecott Point and Kunga Island.

Radiolarian microfossils, tiny, siliceous, single-celled microrganisms, tell the tale. In the Upper Triassic rocks, which predate the extinction by about 10 million years, radiolarians are preserved in hundreds of forms. Just above them, in the early Jurassic rock layers laid down about the time of the great die-offs, only a fraction of the previous number of forms are represented. The more recent Jurassic rock shows a rebound of radiolarian diversity, though of course, in different forms, a diversity which continues to flourish and expand in today’s oceans.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Friday, 16 October 2009

ALPINE ADVENTURE FOSSIL FIELD TRIP

Camping at about 7,500 ft, we were treated to all four seasons and some great collecting.

Over the course of the week we collected some beautiful ammonites, several of which are new species, and saw a buck with a sexy set of horns, flocks of Franciscans and a majestic lone wolf.

The area is home to active research by UBC paleontologist, Louise Longridge, and boasts abundant fossil marine specimens and a chance to see the Triassic-Jurassic boundary, a rare treat.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

LUSH BOUNTY

The Bowron Lake Circuit is home to a variety of plant life. Large sections of the forest floor are carpeted in the green and white of dogwood, a prolific ground cover we are lucky enough to see in full bloom. Moss, mushrooms and small wild flowers grown on every available surface.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Friday, 2 October 2009

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Monday, 28 September 2009

Friday, 25 September 2009

RADIALARIANS: TIMEKEEPERS OF ANCIENT SEAS

Radiolarian microfossils, tiny, siliceous, single-celled organisms, make for excellent timekeepers. Think of them as the world's smallest clocks. These wee fellows have been living in the world’s oceans for about 600 million years. Because they occur in continuous and well-dated sequences of rock, they act like a yardstick, helping geologists accurately date rock from around the globe.

KENNECOTT TO KUNGA: A FIERY PAST

Located as they are in Canada’s most active earthquake zone, the Queen Charlotte Islands have had their share of shake-ups and scourings. Many of the Islands’ hillsides are scarred by slides. But the rock beneath speaks of an even more violent past.

Very few people know that the rock in the Queen Charlottes holds the key to a catastrophic event from eons ago. We’ve heard tales and seen images of the cataclysmic damage caused by meteriorites smashing into the Earth’s surface.

Until recently, it was a meteorite impact that was blamed for the worldwide Triassic/Jurassic Mass Extinction. This wholesale dying out of species occurred some 200 million years ago. New evidence challenges the meteorite theory. Experts now believe that tectonic forces may have caused hundreds of volcanoes around the world to erupt simultaneously. The subsequent showers of volcanic ash would have altered the composition of the atmosphere dramatically and plunged the world into near total darkness for years until it settled from the sky.

The picture painted of the sun flickering fitfully through inky clouds, paling against the torrents of glowing lava, while everywhere life is smothered, poisoned, or starved, rivals the most apocalyptic imaginings of Hollywood or religion. We know from worldwide evidence that the extinction was dramatic and affected upwards of 70% of the world’s biota.

Perhaps counterintuitively, for one might think of water as a refuge from fire, smoke, and lava, it was marine lifeforms that suffered the most. This is particularly well documented in the rocks of the Queen Charlottes, especially at Kennecott Point and Kunga Island.

Radiolarian microfossils, tiny, siliceous, single-celled microrganisms, tell the tale. In the Upper Triassic rocks, which predate the extinction by about 10 million years, radiolarians are preserved in hundreds of forms. Just above them, in the early Jurassic rock layers laid down about the time of the great die-offs, only a fraction of the previous number of forms are represented. The more recent Jurassic rock shows a rebound of radiolarian diversity, though of course, in different forms, a diversity which continues to flourish and expand in today’s oceans.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Monday, 21 September 2009

MEGAFAUNA: EXTINCT GIANTS

Megafauna were part of a cohort of "giant" animals, species of large animals, reptiles, birds and mammals that went extinct during the Pleistocene as our rellies, the homeo sapien sapiens, were spreading out of Africa and southern Asia to populate the globe. Our rise marked the demise of many of the Earth's most interesting beasts. The term, 'megafauna' refers only to those species larger than forty-five kilograms. Many smaller animals who lived along side these giants also disappeared during the Pleistocene, but it is the largest of the lot who get the title and our attention.

While the fossil record shows that most of the megafauna from North and South America, northern Eurasia and Australia went extinct during this time, it is not the case for all large beasts. Blue Whales, hippopotamus and elephants are notable exceptions, surviving into modern times.

Were we to blame? The court is still out, but most scientists agree that we played a small role at least. Larger scale hunting, climate change, and spreading disease have all been fingered as the culprit for the loss, but, like most ancient mysteries, evidence is mixed and the truth is complicated. My vote is that their ultimate demise is a combination of the three.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

FIRST LIGHT: HAIDA GWAII

The enormous difference between high and low tide in Haida Gwaii – up to twenty three vertical feet – means that twice a day, vast swathes of shellfish are unveiled, free for the taking.

An ancient Haida saying is still often heard today, “When the tide is out, the table is set.”

Archaeological evidence shows that by about five thousand years ago, gathering shellfish replaced hunting and fishing as their primary food source. The shellfish meat was skewered on sticks, smoked and stored for use in winter or for travel.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Friday, 4 September 2009

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Sunday, 23 August 2009

SQUAMISH: MOTHER OF WIND


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

If you happen down the Sea to Sky Highway anytime between May to October, stop by the BC Museum of Mining or Squamish Adventure Centre.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

OPIUM :: NECTAR OF THE GODS

DISCOVERY: PADDLING GRIZZLY COUNTRY

There are some trips that count as once in a lifetime. Great friends, gorgeous vistas, perfect paddling days and enough adrenaline to make the memories and campfire tales legendary. A few years ago, I shared just this kind of trip...

A cool morning breeze keeps the mosquitoes down as we pack our kayaks and gear for today’s paddling journey. It is day four of our holiday, with two days driving up from Vancouver to Cache Creek, past the Eocene insect and plant site at McAbee, the well-bedded Permian limestone near Marble Canyon and onto Bowron Provincial Park, a geologic gem near the gold rush town of Barkerville.

The initial draw for me, given that collecting in a provincial park is forbidden and all collecting close at hand outside the park appears to amount to a handful of crushed crinoid bits and a few conodonts, was the gorgeous natural scenery and a broad range of species extant. It was also the proposition of padding the Bowron Canoe Circuit, 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 plus 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.

We brace our way into a head wind along the east side of the fjord-like Isaac Lake. Paddling in time to the wind, I soak up the view of this vast, deep green, ocean-like expanse that runs L-shape for nearly 38 kilometres, forming nearly half of the total circuit. The rock we paddle past is primarily calcareous phyllite, limestone and quartzite, typical of the type locality for this group and considered upper Proterozoic (Young, 1969), the time in our geologic history between the first algae and the first multicellular animals.It is striking how much this lake fits exactly how you might picture pristine wilderness paddling in your mind’s eye. No power boats, no city hum, just pure silence, broken only by the sound of my paddle pulling through the water and the occasional burst of glee from one of the park’s many songbirds.

We’ve chosen kayaks over the more-popular canoes for this journey, as I got to experience my first taste of the handling capabilities of a canoe last year in Valhalla Provincial Park. The raised sides acted like sails and kept us off course in all but the lightest conditions. This year, Philip Torrens, Leanne Sylvest, and I were making our trek in low profile, Kevlar style. One single & one double kayak would be our faithful companions and mode of transport. They would also be briefly conscripted into service as a bear shield later in the trip.

Versatile those kayaks.

The area is home to a variety of plant life. Large sections of the forest floor are carpeted in the green and white of dogwood, a prolific ground cover we are lucky enough to see in full bloom. Moss, mushrooms and small wild flowers grown on every available surface. Yellow Lily line pathways and float in the cold, clear lake water. Somewhere I read a suggestion to bring a bathing suit to the park, but at the moment, I cannot imagine lowering anything more than my paddle into these icy waters. To reach the west side of the paddling route, we must first face several kilometres portaging muddy trails to meet up with the Isaac River and then paddle rapids to grade two.

At the launch site, we meet up with two fellow kayakers, Adele and Mary of Victoria, and take advantage of their preceding us to watch the path they choose through the rapids. It has been raining in the area for forty plus days, so the water they run is high and fast. Hot on their heels, our short, thrilling ride along the Isaac River, is a flurry of paddle spray and playing around amid all the stumps, silt and conglomerate. The accommodation gods smile kindly on us as we are pushed out from Isaac River and settle into McLeary Lake. An old trapper cabin built by local Freddie Becker back in the 1930’s, sits vacant and inviting, providing a welcome place to hang our hats and dry out. From here we can see several moose, large, lumbering, peaceful animals, the largest members of the deer family, feeding on the grass-like sedge on the far shore. The next morning, we paddle leisurely down the slower, silt-laden Cariboo River, avoiding the occasional deadhead, and make our way into the milky, glacier fed Lanezi Lake.

Like most mountainous areas, Bowron makes its own weather system and it appears you get everything in a 24-hour period. In fact, whatever weather you are enjoying seems to change 40 minutes later; good for rain, bad for sun. Wisps of cloud that seemed light and airy only hours early have become dark. Careful to hug the shore, we are ready for a quick escape from lightening as thundershowers break.

Paddling in the rain, I notice bits of mica in the water, playing in the light and the rock change here to greywacke, argillite, phyllite and schist. Past Lanezi, we continue onto Sandy Lake, where old growth cedars line the south-facing slopes to our left and grey limestone, shale and dolostone line the shore. Mottled in with the rock, we sneak up on very convincing stumps posing as large mammals. Picking up the Cariboo River again, we follow it as it flows into Babcock Lake, an area edged with Lower Cambrian limestone, shale and argillite. At the time these rocks were laid down, the Earth was seeing our earliest relatives, the first chordates entering the geologic scene.

As we reach the end of Babcock Lake and prepare for our next portage I get my camera out to take advantage of the angle of the sun and the eroded rounded hilltops of the Quesnel Highlands that stand as backdrop.Leanne remarks that she can see a moose a little ways off and that it appeared to be heading our way. Yes, heading our way quickly with a baby moose in tow. I lift my lens to immortalize the moment and we three realized the moose are heading our way in double time because they are being chased by a grizzly at top speed. A full-grown moose can run up to fifty-six kilometres per hour, slightly faster than a Grizzly. They are also strong swimmers. Had she been alone, Mamma moose would likely have tried to out swim the bear. Currently, however, this is not the case. From where we stand we can see the water turned to white foam at their feet as they fly towards us.

We freeze, bear spray in hand.

In seconds the three were upon us. Mamma moose, using home field advantage, runs straight for us and just reaching our boats, turned 90 degrees, bolting for the woods, baby moose fast on her heels.

The Grizzly, caught up in the froth of running and thrill of the kill, doesn’t notice the deke, hits the brakes at the boats and stands up, confused. Her eyes give her away. This was not what she had planned and the whole moose-suddenly-transformed-into-human thing is giving her pause. Her head tilts back as she gets a good smell of us.

Suddenly, a crack in the woods catches her attention. Her head snaps round and she drops back on all fours, beginning her chase anew. Somewhere there is a terrified mother moose and calf hoping the distance gained is enough to keep them from being lunch. I choose to believe both moose got away with the unwitting distraction we provided, but I’m certainly grateful we did.

The Lakes are at an elevation of over 900 m (3000 ft) and both grizzly and black bear sightings are common. 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 having just met one of the larger descendents.While we’d grumbled only hours earlier about how tired we were feeling, we now feel quite motivated and do the next two portages and lakes in good time. Aside from the gripping fear that another bear encounter is imminent, we enjoy the park-like setting, careful to scan the stands of birch trees for dark shapes now posing as stumps. Fortunately, the only wildlife we see are a few wily chipmunks, various reticent warblers and some equally shy spruce grouse.

The wind favours us now as we paddle Skoi and Spectacle Lake, even giving us a chance to use the sails we’ve rigged to add an extra knot of oomph to our efforts. Reaching the golden land of safety-in-numbers, we leap from our kayaks, happy to see the smiling faces of Mary and Adele.

Making it here is doubly thrilling because it means I’m sleeping indoors tonight and I can tell the bear story with adrenaline still pumping through my veins. Tonight is all about camaraderie and the warmth of a campfire. Gobbling down Philip’s famous pizza, Leanne impresses everyone further by telling of his adventures in the arctic and surviving a polar bear attack.

This is our first starlit night without rain, a luxury everyone comments on, but quietly, not wanting to jinx it. We share a good laugh at the expense of the local common loons (both Homeo sapien sapien and Gavia immer). The marshy areas of the circuit provide a wonderful habitat for the regions many birds including a host of sleek, almost regal black and white common loons.

Their cool demeanour by day is reduced to surprisingly loud, maniacal hoots and yelps with undignified flapping and flailing by night. It seems hardly possible that these awful noises could be coming from the same birds and that this has been going for nearly 65 million years, since end of the age of dinosaurs, as loons are one of the oldest bird families in the fossil record.

A guitar is pulled out to liven the quiet night while small offerings, sacred and scare this late in our journey, are passed around.

Tonight is a celebration that we have all, both separately and together, made our way around this immense mountain-edged circuit.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

PALEO 007-STYLE

Eleven elite paleo enthusiasts were flown into the Tyaughton area near Castle Peak north of Goldbridge 007-style in a shiny new Jet Ranger helicopter. We were interested in the local geology and fossils from the Jurassic/Triassic exposures high in the alpine.

Camping at about 7,500 ft, we were treated to all four seasons and some great collecting over the course of the week. Past trips have included grizzlies at close quarters. This trip we saw fresh tracks and fresh scat, but the bears were actively avoiding our camp, just leaving enough evidence to give us the heads up that this is their territory.

Over the course of the week we collected some beautiful ammonites, several of which are new species, and saw a buck with a sexy set of horns, flocks of Franciscans and a majestic lone wolf.

The area is home to active research by UBC paleontologist, Louise Longridge and boasts abundant fossil marine specimens and a chance to see the Triassic-Jurassic boundary – a rare treat.

As with all collecting, our search for treasure has a higher goal. All of our finds are lovingly photographed, catalogued and available for study. If fossils are your thing, visit www.bcfossils.ca to find a local society and get on out there.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Friday, 17 July 2009

Friday, 10 July 2009

KENNECOTT POINT: ROCKY VIEWPOINT

Very few people know that the rock in the Queen Charlottes holds the key to a catastrophic event from eons ago. We’ve heard tales and seen images of the cataclysmic damage caused by meteriorites smashing into the Earth’s surface.

Until recently, it was a meteorite impact that was blamed for the worldwide Triassic/Jurassic Mass Extinction. This wholesale dying out of species occurred some 200 million years ago. New evidence challenges the meteorite theory. Experts now believe that tectonic forces may have caused hundreds of volcanoes around the world to erupt simultaneously. The subsequent showers of volcanic ash would have altered the composition of the atmosphere dramatically and plunged the world into near total darkness for years until it settled from the sky.

The picture painted of the sun flickering fitfully through inky clouds, paling against the torrents of glowing lava, while everywhere life is smothered, poisoned, or starved, rivals the most apocalyptic imaginings of Hollywood or religion. We know from worldwide evidence that the extinction was dramatic and affected upwards of 70% of the world’s biota.

Perhaps counterintuitively, for one might think of water as a refuge from fire, smoke, and lava, it was marine lifeforms that suffered the most. This is particularly well documented in the rocks of the Queen Charlottes, especially at Kennecott Point and Kunga Island.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Saturday, 4 July 2009

40 DEGREES OF LATITUDE

The Rocky Mountains, vast yet quietly humbling, define this part of the world. Vertically, they soar above 14,440 feet(4,401 m). Spanning 40 degrees of latitude, some 4,800 kilometres((2,980 mi), they run the length of North America from Liard Plain in BC's north to the Rio Grande in New Mexico. The mountains you see north of the Liard river, into the Yukon, are often grouped in with the Rockies, but are actually part of the Mackenzie Mountain system. The river systems that gather and wind their way out of these mountains head in all directions.

Four individual raindrops falling on these high peaks could easily end up thousands of miles apart -- one flowing north to the Beaufort Sea, another reaching the the Gulf of Mexico, a third would be absorbed into Hudson Bay to the east and the last into the vast Pacific.

Friday, 3 July 2009

OKANAGAN ARC

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.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Monday, 22 June 2009

CATACLYSMIC FORCE: THE BUILDING OF BC

Waterfront Property fetches a high price today, even in this economy. Investing early is clearly the way to go. We've all heard tales of folk who bought up acreage in the early days for pennies and much to their delight, the bit of land they chose is now worth millions.

How early is early is a matter of perspective. Some 270 million plus 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 the Pacific Northwest and helped to shape British Columbia.

Continued pressure and volcanic activity pushed and shoved, sculpting the tremendous slopes of the Cariboo Range we see today. Repeated bouts of glaciation during the Pleistocene carved the valleys and mountainside into the slightly smoother finish we see today. Wish I'd been around to stake a claim, even a little bit earlier... land as far as the eye can see... open vistas... and all for a penny.

The image above was taken from a jet ranger helicopter on the way to the fossil exposures near Castle Peak. I've flown in many times to search for exquisite Hettangian ammonites. These extinct cephalopods, now find high in the rockies, lived in the open ocean while BC was still being formed.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

HORNBY ISLAND PALEONTOLOGY

Hornby, one of the northern Gulf Islands on the west coast of British Columbia, draws me back year upon year. Both for its picture perfect sunny days, stormy seas and the island's own rugged beauty.

Hornby also has some of the best preserved fossil specimens of the Pacific Northwest. Many species of ammonites (mainly Pachydiscus), crabs, bivalves, sharks teeth, echinoids, wood and bone can be found in the Upper Cretaceous shales and concretions of the Lambert Formation. Interestingly, they are remarkably similar to the ones you find in the French and Tamil areas of Pondicherry, India, telling us a great deal about what was happening back in the Maastrichtian some 70-million years ago.

If you happen to find yourself in Pondicherry, be sure to take in the exceptional cuisine and fossils at Thriuvakkarai. Photo by Tina Beard, beautiful friend and artist, on a particularly lovely afternoon.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Friday, 12 June 2009

QUARTZITE KIND OF BLUE

Paddling in time to the wind, I soak up the view of Isaac Lake, a vast, deep green, ocean-like expanse that runs L-shape for nearly 38 kilometres. The strata I paddle past is primarily calcareous phyllite, limestone and quartzite, typical of the type locality for this group and considered upper Proterozoic, the time in our geologic history between the first algae and the first multicellular animals.

It is striking how much this scene fits exactly how you might picture pristine wilderness paddling in your mind’s eye. No power boats, no city hum, just pure silence, broken only by the sound of my paddle pulling through the water and the occasional burst of glee from one of the park’s many songbirds. Somewhere in the back of my head Miles Davis is working through Kind of Blue, in time to the wind and my slow, smooth strokes - perfect pairing for this lazy day.

Friday, 5 June 2009

THROW ANOTHER SHRIMP ON THE BARBIE

What looked to be a small stroke of genius in the fight against global warming has resulted in huge disaster.

Planktos, a California-based company that sells “carbon credits” to businesses looking to reduce their carbon footprint and contribution to global emissions has been taken down by a swarm of shrimp. They had planned to harness the photosynthetic power of algae to lower greenhouse gases.

Algae come cheap, requiring light and water. They also require iron, which may be the sixth most abundant element in the Universe, but still relatively rare in the ocean. The small bits algae utilize are blown in by the wind and runoff from rivers and streams.

While some scientists and environmental groups object to their plan fearing harmful changes to the ecosystem, Planktos went ahead and dumped a hundred tons of iron dust mixed with seawater into international waters off the coast of the Argentina.

Expecting a plankton bloom and carbon credit riches to follow, their plans were literally eaten alive by a swarm of algae-loving shrimp. They did get their bloom, but it was not the algae they were expecting.

Instead of large diatom algae, they got millions and millions of haptophytes, a tiny algae common in the open ocean and extremely abundant in the fossil record. They are also the fellows responsible for the white foam you sometimes see on the edge of beaches.

Most importantly, however, they are the food of choice for the equally common copepod, a shrimp-like crustacean who complete with krill for forming the largest animal biomass on earth. And perhaps, having the largest appetite.

Sometimes brilliance arises from thinking outside the box. Sometimes not. The copepods ate all the haptophytes and Planktos' dreams. It seems the wee shrimp-like fellows didn’t get the memo. Instead they got an all you can eat coupon to a fine seafood buffet.

HIGH-ELEVATION ICE CAPADE

Our base camp near the Tyaughton fossil exposures, Taseko Lake area, British Columbia.

Thursday, 4 June 2009