Saturday, 30 July 2011

Friday, 29 July 2011

SLOTHS & BLUE GREEN ALGAE

Ever wonder why the slow moving sloth has a slightly greenish hue? Ever consider the sloth at all? Well, perhaps not. Location, location, location, is the mantra for many of us in our macro world, but it is also true for the small world of algae.

Blue green algae is a term used to describe any of a large, heterogeneous group of prokaryotic, principally photosynthetic organisms.

These little oxygenic (oxygen-producing) fellows appeared about 2,000,000,000 to 3,000,000,000 years ago and are given credit for greatly increasing the oxygen content of the atmosphere, making possible the development of aerobic (oxygen-using) organisms and some very special relationships with some of the slowest moving mammals on the planet, the sloths or Folivora.

The tribes of South America who live close to these insect and leaf-eaters, call these arboreal browsers "Ritto, Rit or Ridette, which roughly translates to variations on sleep, sleepy, munching and filthy. Not all that far off when you consider ths sloth and their lifestyle.

The sloth's body and shaggy coat, or pelage, provides a comfy habitat to two types of wee blue-green algae along with various other invertebrates. The hairs that make up the sloth's coat have grooves that help foster algal growth.

And, while Kermit the Frog says, "it's not easy being green," it couldn't be further from the truth for this slow-moving tree dweller. The blue-green algae gives the sloth a natural greenish camouflage, an arrangement that is certainly win-win.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

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.

This treasure trove wilderness playground stretches along the breathtaking Sea-to-Sky Highway affording breathtaking views of the Pacific as it follows Highway 99 north out of the sparkling gem of Vancouver from Lions Bay, through Squamish and Garibaldi and into the picturesque Whistler Valley.

As you drive out of the city, look at the mountains to the north. Grouse, Cypress and Seymour mountains provide easy access skiing for the happy winter adventurer and a beautiful backdrop to the young city of Vancouver, Canada's third-largest metropolis, year-round.

While the city sits on relatively young sandstone and mudstone, the North Shore Mountains are made from granite that formed deep within the Earth more than 100 million years ago.

Cretaceous plant material can be found at Brother's Creek as you head towards Whistler and the Sea-to-Sky highway. Following Highway 99, you’ll hug the coastline of Howe Sound, a glacially carved fiord which extends from Horseshoe Bay (20 km northwest of Vancouver) to the hamlet of Squamish. The road is perched high above the water, blasted into the rock of the steep glacial-valley slope and has been the chosen path for First Nation hunters, early explorers, the miners of the Gold Rush and now the rush of tourism.

Carved from the granitic mountainside high above Howe Sound, this scenic pathway has been a rich recreation corridor and traditional First Nation hunting ground for many years.

Steeped in a First Nations history, bountiful wildlife and gorgeous vistas, the Whistler corridor is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful spots on the globe with something for everyone.

Monday, 11 July 2011

CHUCKANUT DRIVE: EOCENE TROPICAL PARADISE

A trip along Chuckanut Drive, in northwestern Washington is a chance to view incredible diversity from sea to sky.

An amazing array of plants and animals call this coastline home. For the fossil enthusiast, it is a chance to slip back in time and have a bird’s eye view of a tropical paradise preserved in the Eocene strata of various fossil sites. Snug up against the Pacific Ocean, this 6000m thick exposure yields a vast number of tropical and flowering plants that you might see in Mexico today.

Easily accessible by car, this rich natural playground makes for an enjoyable daytrip just one hour south of the US Border.

Over vast expanses of time, powerful tectonic forces have massaged the western edge of the continent, smashing together a seemingly endless number of islands to produce what we now know as North America and the Pacific Northwest. Intuition tells us that the earth’s crust is a permanent, fixed outer shell – terra firma.

Aside from the rare event of an earthquake or the eruption of Mount St. Helen’s, our world seems unchanging, the landscape constant. In fact, it has been on the move for billions of years and continues to shift each day. As the earth’s core began cooling, some 4.5 billion years ago, plates, small bits of continental crust, have become larger and smaller as they are swept up in or swept under their neighboring plates. Large chunks of the ocean floor have been uplifted, shifted and now find themselves thousands of miles in the air, part of mountain chains far from the ocean today or carved by glacial ice into valleys and basins.

Two hundred million years ago, Washington was two large islands, bits of continent on the move westward, eventually bumping up against the North American continent and calling it home. Even with their new fixed address, the shifting continues; the more extreme movement has subsided laterally and continues vertically. The upthrusting of plates continues to move our mountain ranges skyward – the path of least resistance. This dynamic movement has created the landscape we see today and helped form the fossil record that tells much of Washington’s relatively recent history – the past 50 million years.

Chuckanut Drive is much younger than other parts of Washington. The fossils found there lived and died some 40-55 million years ago, very close to where they are now, but in a much warmer, swampy setting. The exposures of the Chuckanut Formation were once part of a vast river delta; imagine, if you will, the bayou country of the Lower Mississippi. The siltstones, sandstones, mudstones and conglomerates of the Chuckanut Formation were laid down about 40-54 million years ago during the Eocene epoch, a time of luxuriant plant growth in the subtropical flood plain that covered much of the Pacific Northwest.

This ancient wetland provided ideal conditions to preserve the many trees, shrubs & plants that thrived here. Plants are important in the fossil record because they are more abundant and can give us a lot of information about climate, temperature, the water cycle and humidity of the region. The Chuckanut flora is made up predominantly of plants whose modern relatives live in tropical areas such as Mexico and Central America. If you are interesting in viewing a tropical paradise in your own backyard, look no further than the Chuckanut. Images and tag lines: Glyptostrobus, the Chinese swamp cypress, is perhaps the most common plant found here. Also abundant are fossilized remains of the North American bald cypress, Taxodium; Metasequoia (dawn redwood), Lygodium (climbing fern), large Sabal (palm) and leaves from a variety of broad leaf angiosperm plants such as (witch hazel), Laurus (laurel), Ficus (fig) and Platanus (sycamore), and several other forms.

While less abundant, evidence of the animals that called this ancient swamp home are also found here. Rare bird, reptile, and mammal tracks have been immortalized in the outcrops of the Chuckanut Formation. Tracks of a type of archaic mammal of the Orders Pantodonta or Dinocerata (blunt foot herbivores), footprints from a small shorebird, and tracks from an early equid or webbed bird track give evidence to the vertebrates that inhabited the swamps, lakes and river ways of the Pacific Northwest 50 million years ago.

The movement of these celebrity vertebrates was captured in the soft mud on the banks of a river, one of the only depositional environments favorable for track preservation.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Sunday, 3 July 2011

TRIASSIC PAPER CLAMS

Paper clams or "flat clams" were widespread in the Triassic. They often dominate the rocks in which they are found, as in these specimens from Pine Pass near Chetwynd found on a wee pit stop enroute to a paleontological conference near Tumbler Ridge.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Friday, 1 July 2011