Thursday, 28 February 2019

OUR CAMBRIAN PAST

Wanneria dunnae / Eager Formation
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.

Tuesday, 26 February 2019

MAMMOTH HOT SPRINGS

Mammoth Hot Springs Yellowstone National Park

Thursday, 21 February 2019

URSAVUS: BLACK BEAR CUB

Hiking in BC, both grizzly and black bear sightings are common. Nearly half the world's population, some 25,000 grizzlies, roam the Canadian wilderness.

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 given the size of their very large descendents. An average Grizzly weighs in around 800 lbs (363 kg), but a recent find in Alaska tops the charts at 1600 lbs (726 kg). This mighty beast stood 12' 6' high at the shoulder, 14' to the top of his head. It is one of the largest grizzly bears ever recorded.

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

PERFECT SYMMETRY: BRACHIOPODS

Brachiopods are bottom-feeding marine animals that appeared at the beginning of the Cambrian. They are abundant little fellows with more than 35,000 known species. Some have lived their time on Earth and are now extinct. Others have done well and we see them in our oceans today.

Sunday, 17 February 2019

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Sunday, 10 February 2019

BRITISH COLUMBIAN ICE AGE

It has long been accepted that the most recent series of ice ages began approximately 1.6 million years ago, beginning as ice accumulations at higher altitudes with the gradual cooling of the climate. Four times the ice advanced and receded, most recently melting away somewhere around 10,000 years ago. Ice retreated from southwestern British Columbia and the Puget Sound area around 15,000 years ago.

In the southern Interior, ice built up first in the northern Selkirk Mountains, then slowly flowed down into the valleys. Once the valleys were filled, the depth of the ice increased until it began to climb to the highlands and finally covered most of the Interior of British Columbia.

Between ice advances, there were times when the Kamloops area was ice free and the climate warm and hospitable. Glacial ice was believed to have initiated its most recent retreat from the South Thompson area around 11,000 to 12,000 years ago, but salmon remains from 18,000 years ago suggest that it may have actually began its northwest decline much earlier and indicating a much warmer climate in the Interior than archaeologists or geologists had originally estimated.

Saturday, 9 February 2019

CAMPANIAN NAUTILUS

A picture perfect Campanian nautilus, Eutrophoceras irritilansis, from deposits near Coahuila, northern Mexico. Collection of Jose Ventura.

Friday, 8 February 2019

SUMAS EOCENE FOSSIL SLIDE SITE

George Mustoe, Sumas Fossil Slide Site
The Sumas Fossil Slide Site revealed wonderfully preserved Eocene plant fossils. Here a fossil Palm Trunk impression is getting prepped for a mold by George Mustoe.

Thursday, 7 February 2019

WASHINGTON FOSSIL FIELD TRIP

Sumas Slide Site, Sumas, Washington State
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.

The shifting continues, subtling changing the landscape like a breath. We only notice when pockets of resistance manifest as earthquakes, some newsworthy, some all but unnoticed. For now, the more extreme movement has subsided laterally and continues vertically, pushing California towards the North Pole. Hello Baja-BC.

The upthrusting of plates moves our mountain ranges skyward – the path of least resistance. And it is this dynamic movement that's created the landscape we see today.

The 3,000 meters of stratigraphic section on Chuckanut Drive spans an age range of just a few million years. The lower part is late Paleocene with a radiometric age of around 56 million years. The upper part of the section is early Eocene. The fossils found here lived and died very close to where they are now but in a much warmer, wetter, 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 this formation were laid down during 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 and plants that thrived here giving 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. 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.

Fossil mammals and bird trackways from Washington cause great excitement. 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.

Hence the terrestrial paleontological record of Washington State at sites like Chuckanut and Racehorse Creek (U-Pb 53 Ma.) is primarily made up of plant material with some wonderfully enticing mammal, shorebird and large Diatryma bird tracks to shake things up.

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

YORKSHIRE COAST AMMONITE

A stunning example of the ammonite Androgynoceras from the Yorkshire Coast, England. This beauty is in the collection of the deeply awesome Harry Tabiner ❤️

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

EOCENE FOSSIL PALM FROND


Eocene Fossil Palm Frond

Monday, 4 February 2019

MASSIVE BOULDERS: SUMAS SLIDE SITE

Sumas Fossil Slide Site
There was a large downpour that hit Washington State causing massive slides. The blocks you see here all came crashing down on the hillside.

Once the skies cleared, hikers found plant impressions in the rock and alerted the local paleo community. I was invited to tag along on a trip to photograph the site while George Mustoe took molds of the palm trunks and trackways.

The slide site at Sumas Mountain revealed many large exposures of fossil plants. Some exposures were 10 feet across. There was great excitement at seeing shorebird tracks and trackways of the large flightless bird Diatryma.

Sunday, 3 February 2019

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 and all together too curious. 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.

Saturday, 2 February 2019

LASALLE LIMESTONE CRINOIDS

Two beautiful fossil crinoid specimens, Stellarocrinus virgilensis and Braneocrinus, from Pennsylvanian deposits, Bond Formation, LaSalle limestone, Ocoya, Illinois. Collection of Michael O'Shea.

Friday, 1 February 2019