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.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

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, 4 September 2013

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

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

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.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

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