Monday, 31 December 2012

AMON OF KARNAK

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 smorgasbord with just a dash of crazy. Now add water.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

OKANAGAN HIGHLANDS

Plant fossils from the Okanagan highlands, an area centred in the Interior of British Columbia, provide important clues to an ancient climate.

While the area is referred to as the Okanagan, 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.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Thursday, 13 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

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Friday, 6 July 2012

TANGIERS: ANCIENT TUSKS


During the Miocene and Pliocene, 12-1.6 million years ago, a diverse group of extinct proboscideans, elephant-like animals walked the Earth.

Most of these large beasts had four tusks and likely a trunk similar to modern elephants. They were creatures of legend, inspiring myths and stories of fanciful creatures to the first humans to encounter them.

Beyond our neanderthal friends, one such fellow was Quintus Sertorius, a Roman statesman come general, who grew up in Umbria. Born into a world at war just two years before the Romans sacked Corinth to bring Greece under Roman rule, Quintus lived much of his life as a military man far from his native Norcia. Around 81 BC, he travelled to Morocco, the land of opium, massive trilobites and the birthplace of Antaeus, the legendary North African ogre who was killed by the Greek hero Heracles.

The locals tell a tale that Quintus requested proof of Antaeus, hard evidence he could bring back to Rome to support their tales so they took him to a mound at Tingis, Morocco, where they unearthed the bones of a Neogene elephant, Tetralophodon.

Tetralophodon bones are large and skeletons singularly impressive. Impressive enough to be taken for something else entirely. By all accounts these proboscidean remains were that of the mythical ogre Antaeus and were thus reported back to Rome as such. It was hundreds of years later before their true heritage was known.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Monday, 25 June 2012

FOSSILS AND RED OCHRE


Around 45-50 million years ago, during the middle Eocene, a number of freshwater lakes appeared in an arc extending from Smithers in northern British Columbia, south through the modern Cariboo, to Kamloops, the Nicola Valley, Princeton and finally, Republic, WA.

The lakes likely formed after a period of faulting created depressions in the ground, producing a number of basins or grabens into which water collected - imagine gorgeous smallish lakes similar to Cultus Lake near Chiliwack, British Columbia.

The groaning Earth, pressured by the collision of tectonic plates producted a series of erupting volcanoes around the Pacific Northwest. These spouting volcanoes blew fine-grained ash into the atmosphere and it rained down on the land. The ash washed into the lakes and because of its texture, and possibly because of low water oxygen levels on the bottoms that slowed decay beautifully preserved the dead remains of plant, invertebrate, and fish fossils - some in wonderful detail.

In and around the town of Princeton, there are many places to collect. The fossils you find here are all middle Eocene, Allenby Formation and most have a high degree of detail in their preservation.

A crack of the hammer yields fossil maple, alder, fir, pine, dawn redwood and ginko fossil material. Several species of fossilized insects can be found in the area and rare, occasional fossil flowers and small, perfectly preserved fish. It is also home to one of the world's oldest bee's - a find by Rene Saveneye - naturalist and keen paleo hunter who will be much missed.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

LOVE YOUR WORLD. BE IDLE FREE

When we are out enjoying the gorgeous wilderness that surrounds us, we think more about air quality and how amazing our world really it. When we get back to the city, we sometimes forget the little things we can do to help protect our air and water quality.

I met two enthusiastic environmentalist today, Megan and Eric, who would like us to take up a couple of easy habits to do our part. They are raising awareness around greenhouse gas emissions and what you can do to make a difference. Idling your engine for more than 10 seconds uses more fuel and causes more emissions that turning it off entirely and restarting it.

So, what can you do? Turn off your vehicle while waiting at train crossings, schools, drive-thrus, community centres and other places you may need to wait in the car. They recommend you drive your vehicle to warm it up rather than idling the engine and telling others to stop their engine, helping them save money and protect the environment.

If you have trouble remembering, keep a delicious bar of dark chocolate on hand at all times and a small post-it note that reads, "turn off your car and indulge yourself." Eating antioxidant-rich chocolate is good for your brain and will help you save the environment. Make your own commitment to be healthy, green and idle free!

For more information visit tol.bc.ca/idlefree

Sunday, 3 June 2012

POND SCUM... AND OTHER HOT SPRING BEAUTIES


Slimeball, a derogative term to be sure from the modern usage, but before it was ever dragged down to the world of insults and verbal nastiness we know it for today, the scum of which we speak and the small bacteria that form them were simply the catalysts for the many beautiful colours we see in hot springs.

While a whole host of thermophilic (heat-loving) microorganisms are responsible, it is the cyanobacteria, one of the more common fellows from this group, which form most of the scum. Cyanobacteria grow together in huge colonies (bacterial mats) that form the delightfully colourful scums and slimes on the sides of hot springs.

You can tell a fair bit about the water temperature and chemistry by just looking at the colour of the pools… as cyanobacteria, while not considered picky pool dwellers, do prefer one pool to another. So, the next time you hear someone fling this insult your way, stop and tell them how attractive scum make this world.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Monday, 16 April 2012

Thursday, 12 April 2012

The dinosaurs of Australia disappeared at the end of the Cretaceous, as they did the world over. Their departure marked the end of the supercontinent of Gondwana. By the middle of the Eocene, some fifty-five million years ago, only Australia, Antarctica and South America remained as it straddled the South Pole.

Free of ice and the giant marine and flying reptiles, a new line-up of mammals, flightless birds, crocodiles, snakes and turtles thrived in the warm, wet climate, rapidly adapting and dominating the forests, oceans and skies.

New and fanciful creatures, the monotremes, marsupials and placentals explored and took root in the Gondwanan forests as conifers gave way to broad-leaved trees in an ever changing landscape.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

ANCIENT WETLAND

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.

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.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Thursday, 8 March 2012

WOLVERINE RIVER: DINOSAUR SITE

No visit to BC's Peace Region is complete without a trip to the Tumbler Ridge Museum. In 2000, Mark Turner and Daniel Helm were tubing down the rapids of Flatbed Creek just below Tumbler Ridge. As they walked up the shoreline excitement began to build as they quickly recognized a series of regular depressions as dinosaur footprints.

Their discovery spurred an infusion of tourism and research in the area. The Hudson's Hope Museum has an extensive collection of terrestrial and marine fossils from the area. They feature ichthysaurs, a marine reptile and hadrosaur tracks.

At a British Columbia Paleontological Symposium in Tumbler Ridge, I joined Jen Becker for an impromtu late night tour of Wolverine River. There are two types of footprints at the Wolverine River Tracksite, carnivorous theropods and plant eating ankylosaurs.

During the day, the trackways at Wolverine are difficult to see. Many of the prints are so shallow that they can only be recognized by the skin impressions pressed into the tracks. By night, we filled them water and lit them by lamplight to make them stand out, reflecting the light.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Monday, 13 February 2012

Saturday, 11 February 2012

PADDLING BEFORE THE FRONT

We soak up the breathtaking views after a long morning's paddle. The east and south sides of our 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.

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. Warm and dry with bellies filled full of soup and crisps, we head back out to explore more of nature's bounty.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

HATSHEPSUT: FIFTH PHARAOH OF THE 18TH DYNASTY

Hatshepsut, whose name means, "Foremost of Noble Ladies, was the fifth pharaoh of the Eighteenth dynasty of Ancient Egypt, the time of the joint reign of Hatshepsut and Thutnose III, ca. 1473-1458 B.C. 

Here she is lovingly carved out of indurated limestone, a fitting homage as Hatshepsut is regarded by Egyptologists as one of the most successful pharaohs, reigning longer than any other woman of an indigenous Egyptian dynasty. 


This piece, originally from Hathshepsut's temple at Deir el-Bahri, now resides at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

DRAGONFLY ON AMMONITE: 366 PROJECT

Dragonflies, from the order Odonata, have been around for over 250 million years. The most conspicuous difference in their evolution over time is the steady shrinking of their wingspan from well over two and a half feet down to a few inches.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

TECTONIC FORCES: PACIFIC NORTHWEST


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 the recent history of the Pacific Northwest.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Monday, 9 January 2012

FROZEN IN TIME: MAMMOTHS

We may one day have wooly mammoths (Mammuthus primigenius), extinct since the Pleistocene, roaming around zoos and colder climes. At least it looks that way.

Because of their massive size and icy cold environment, many mammoths have been preserved as frozen carcasses instead of being turned to stone, thus they are prime candidates for genetic reproduction. When originally touted in the news as a possibility, most audiences took the science to be too far fetched.

Researchers harvesting DNA and deciphering their genome feel they are on the edge of doing just that. Science as we know it is sliding down the double helix to science fiction. DNA, long bits of genetic code that form the roadmap of how we are built, is relatively easy to harvest and remarkably hardy.

Even with the abuse of time, small amounts can be extracted and with that the genetic wizards are able to put the puzzle pieces back together. Frozen sperm is used in fertility clinics around the globe, the difference here is that the entire mammal is frozen before harvesting the sperm. Once harvested, the frozen sperm from long extinct male mammoths is injected into eggs from females of closely related species.

While positive results have been made and papers published (see the National Academy of Sciences) a baby mammoth has yet to be conceived.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Monday, 2 January 2012

ORCHIDS: CREATIVE366PROJECT

Orchidaceae get their name from the Greek ὄρχις (órkhis), which literally means "testicle", a nod to the naughty nub shape of their roots.

In Greek mythology, Orchis was the son of a ugly a nymph and a satyr who came upon a festival for Dionysios deep in the woods. Liking his fermented grapes a wee bit too much, he overindulged on wine then tried to have his way with a priestess of Dionysios.

As a result the Bacchanalians tore him limb from limb. His grieving father prayed to the Gods for him to be restored. Not that keen on folk of his ilk but feeling kindly, they turned him into a flower instead.