Friday, 17 July 2020


Exposures of the Upper Triassic (Early Norian, Kerri zone), Luning formation, West Union Canyon, just outside Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park, Nevada.

The Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park in central Nevada is a very important locality for the understanding of the Carnian-Norian boundary (CNB) in North America.

Rich ammonoid faunas from this site within the Luning Formation were studied by Silberling (1959) and provided support for the definition of the Schucherti and Macrolobatus zones of the latest Carnian, which are here overlain by well-preserved faunas of the earliest Norian Kerri Zone. Despite its importance, no further investigations have been done at this site during the last 50 years.

Jim Haggart, Mike Orchard and Paul Smith (all local Vancouverites) collaborated on a project that took them down to Nevada to look at the conodonts (Oh, Mike) and ammonoids (Jim's fav); the group then published a paper, "Towards the definition of the Carnian/Norian Boundary: New data on Ammonoids and Conodonts from central Nevada," which you can find in the proceedings of the 21st Canadian Paleontology Conference; by Haggart, J W (ed.); Smith, P L (ed.); Canadian Paleontology Conference Proceedings no. 9, 2011 p. 9-10.

They conducted a bed-by-bed sampling of ammonoids and conodonts in West Union Canyon during October 2010. The eastern side of the canyon provides the best record of the Macrolobatus Zone, which is represented by several beds yielding ammonoids of the Tropites group, together with Anatropites div. sp. Conodont faunas from both these and higher beds are dominated by ornate 'metapolygnthids' that would formerly have been collectively referred to Metapolygnathus primitius, a species long known to straddle the CNB. Within this lower part of the section, they resemble forms that have been separated as Metapolygnathus mersinensis. Slightly higher, forms close to Epigondolella' orchardi and a single Orchardella n. sp. occur. This association can be correlated with the latest Carnian in British Columbia.

Higher in the section, the ammonoid fauna shows a sudden change and is dominated by Tropithisbites. Few tens of metres above, but slightly below the first occurrence of Norian ammonoids Guembelites jandianus and Stikinoceras, two new species of conodonts (Gen et sp. nov. A and B) appear that also occur close to the favoured Carnian/Norian boundary at Black Bear Ridge, British Columbia. Stratigraphically higher collections continue to be dominated by forms close to M. mersinensis and E. orchardi. after BC's own Mike Orchard.

The best exposure of the Kerri Zone is on the western side of the West Union Canyon. Ammonoids, dominated by Guembelites and Stikinoceras div. sp., have been collected from several fossil-bearing levels. Conodont faunas replicate those of the east section. The collected ammonoids fit perfectly well with the faunas described by Silberling in 1959, but they differ somewhat from coeval faunas of the Tethys and Canada.

The genus Gonionotites, very common in the Tethys and British Columbia, is for the moment unknown in Nevada. More in general, the Upper Carnian faunas are dominated by Tropitidae, while Juvavitidae are lacking.

After years of reading about the correlation between British Columbia and Nevada, I had the very great pleasure of walking through these same sections in October 2019 with members of the Vancouver Paleontological Society and Vancouver Island Palaeontological Society. It was with that same crew that I'd originally explored fossil sites in the Canadian Rockies in the early 2000s. Those early trips led to paper after paper and the exciting revelations that inspired our Nevada adventure.