Archive for March 12th, 2012

A dusty but successful start on field work in southern Israel

March 12th, 2012

MITZPE RAMON, ISRAEL–Melissa Torma, our friend Yoav Avni (Geological Survey of Israel), and I just ended a productive first day in the field. The two of them are shown above in classic paleontological poses. They are collecting fossils from Subunit 51 of the Matmor Formation (Middle Jurassic) in Hamakhtesh Hagadol in the northern Negev. We found excellent crinoid stems and calyx plates, brachiopods, corals, sponges, echinoid spines, serpulid worms, clams, and oysters.The day was very windy but seasonably cool.

You might be wondering why the sky in the above photograph is not the usual bright blue for this region? It is because the air is filled with dust blown off the Sahara Desert to the eastern Mediterranean countries (see NASA image below from 2011). This is a common occurrence here in the spring when a storm system is on its way. In the course of a year, every square kilometer in Israel receives 30-60 tons of this dust. The storm will bring rain to northern Israel tomorrow and Wednesday, but it is very unlikely to break the drought here in the southern dessert.

Shown below is a curious fossil Yoav found at our new site in the Matmor Formation we’ve called (creatively) “halfway”. It is a crinoid stem with a pair of skeletal galls, each with several holes. It appears some organisms infected the living crinoid, which then responded by growing skeletal tissue around the offending critters. Eventually the walled-in organisms drilled their way out, leaving the holes. This is what it looks like, anyway. Feel free to speculate!

I’ve placed a slightly different view of the fossil below to show that these are not encrusters but rather echinoderm skeletal material.

We had a great day despite the pervasive dust and wind gusts. It feels so good to get back to a desert again.