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Another day of research at The Natural History Museum, London

June 15th, 2016

1 Mapped brach 061516London, England — I spent most of my museum time today at a keyboard, but in a splendid and collegial setting. Very productive and stimulating conversations with Paul Taylor and Consuelo Sendino, but mostly screen time. I drew little map boxes on a brachiopod, for example, as shown above.

2 Screen Shot 2016-06-15 at 2.23.30 PMI also used Image J to measure cell sizes, as shown in the above screen shot. More on what this is about tomorrow.

3 Winchendon Road viewFinally, I thought I’d share the view from my attic window of Winchendon Street. I think I hear and see every flight in and out of Heathrow!

4 London helicopterIncluding police helicopters. Often.

A day at the Natural History Museum in London

June 14th, 2016

1 Drawer of brachiopodsLondon, England — My first full day at The Natural History Museum in London was interesting and inspiring as always, but it did have its tedium. This drawer of Ordovician brachiopods, for example. I scanned each with my handlens in the dim lighting looking for a particular kind of encruster.

2 Drawers of brachiopodsDrawer after drawer. Saw many curious fossils, but not one example of what I was looking for. Not an uncommon experience!

3 Harry photographing 061416One of the best parts of a museum visit is meeting skilled staff. Harry Taylor is a master photographer of fossils. Paul Taylor and I took him a fossil this morning and he immediately created a superb image for our work. In my inexpert photograph above, what looks like a blast furnace behind the camera is his lighting and flash system.

4 Harry Paul photographyHarry and Paul discuss the image on screen.

5 Bryo copyHere is a small version of the final result of Harry’s artistry. The original file is 111 megabytes! This is a brachiopod (Rafinesquina ponderosa) from the Cincinnatian rocks of southern Ohio. It is encrusted with something special I’ll describe in a later post. We’ll use this high-resolution image for detailed mapping of this surface.

6 Emanuela Di Martino SEM 061416Paul and I visited our colleague Emanuela Di Martino to congratulate her on Italy’s recent win in the Euro 2016 football tournament. She is operating the Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) Paul and I will be using in two days. I’ve sat here for many hours scanning specimens with Paul.

7 Tony Wighton cuttingPaul and I had a bryozoan we wanted to cut in half to study its interior. Tony Wighton immediately sliced it for us.

8 Tony Wighton polishingTony then gave each half a mirror finish, producing spectacular specimens that considerably enhance the value of the collections.

It was a good day at the museum. The rain stopped long enough for us to get fresh hamburgers at the nearby open market for lunch, and then we had drinks at the Victoria & Albert Museum next door. I don’t take any of this for granted!

Team Dorset in transit

June 13th, 2016

1 Bristol station 061316Bristol to London, England — Cassidy Jester (’17) and I returned to the Bristol train station (above) on our way to London. We grabbed a smidgen of geology along the way:

2 Bristol station stoneThis common stone in the train station looked familiar. It turns out to be the same Triassic wadi deposit I saw with Tim Palmer in Wales last year. The gray clasts in this breccia are from the Carboniferous Limestone.

3 Cassidy in Bristol StationHere is Cassidy ready to board the train for London. All her fieldwork is done and she is soon to be off exploring England, Scotland and Wales with her boyfriend. Nice job, Cassidy!

4 NHM from Exhibition RoadHere is my destination in London: the fantastic Natural History Museum, seen here from Exhibition Road. A cathedral of science.

5 Paul in his office 061316And the mighty Paul Taylor sits in the heart of the museum, surrounded by bryozoans. He has been my very good friend since 1985. I am fortunate again this summer to work with Paul and Tim Palmer — the Three Amigos for 31 years. I will also be working this week with Consuelo Sendino.

6 66 Winchendon RoadFinally, here are my lodgings at 66 Winchendon Road, Fulham, London. I’ve rented the top room (with the roof windows) for the week I’m here.

Wooster Geologists explore Bristol, England

June 12th, 2016

1 Temple Church interior 585Bristol, England — Cassidy Jester (’17) and I spent the day in Bristol as we await our trip to London tomorrow. We began a rainy, gray morning in the harbor region in museums and historical ships. We were turned away from the Cathedral because it was, naturally enough, Sunday morning. We did get a peek at the finery and costumes of people attending a special service for the Queen’s Pretend 90th Birthday. (Her real birthday being in April. Royals get an extra birthday of their choice, apparently.) From our diverse visits today, I want to present two short pictorials.

Above is an interior view of Temple Church in the Redcliffe district of Bristol, about a block from our hotel. The weather had much improved by the afternoon. Tim Palmer introduced me to this site last year.  This building has been in ruins since the night of November 24, 1940.

2 Temple Church 1940German bombers, during the Bristol Blitz, dropped incendiary bombs on the roof of Temple Church, starting a fire that collapsed the roof, damaged the arcades, and destroyed all the wood furnishings. The building was effectively destroyed, but the ruins were not only left standing, they were reinforced against further collapse.

3 Temple Church 1This is a view of the eastern wall showing the skeletal remains.

4 Temple Church 2The surviving tower.

5 Templar Church in Temple ChurchIn an interesting twist, after the destruction, archaeologists were able to dig into the foundations of Temple Church. The tradition was that the original church building was round. Indeed, round outlines appeared, along with column remnants of a monastery built in the early 12th century by the Order of the Knights Templar. This was a Templar Church in their traditional style evoking the Temple in Jerusalem. Only nine of these round churches were built in England.

6 Queen Square 061216Another site that impressed me was Queen Square. In the center is a statue of King William III (William of Orange, “King Billy”, and the William of “William and Mary”). The square was lively today with a refugee relief concert.

7 Queen Square 1831This is Queen Square on a hot night in 1831. The statue of King Billy has lots of company. Queen Square was the epicenter of the 1831 Bristol Riot over the rejection of a Reform Bill by the House of Lords. At that time only 6000 men of the population of 104,000 were franchised. There was great violence and much destruction that had a deep effect on the nation. The Reform Act was passed the next year.

Two brief Bristol stories!

 

Wooster Geologists in Bristol, England

June 11th, 2016

1 Bristol Museum and UniversityBristol, England — Cassidy Jester (’17) and I are spending the weekend in Bristol after finishing our fieldwork in Dorset this week. Our travel and lodging arrangements required a couple of days here before we go to London on Monday and then our separate ways. We’ll continue to sort out our specimens, work on a GSA abstract, and explore the city. This afternoon, while waiting for our hotel rooms to open, we walked through the central part of the city to the Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery. It is the building with the pillars on the left. The magnificent tall building on the right is part of the University of Bristol — the part that houses the Earth Sciences Department.

2 Bristol City Museum and Art GalleryThis museum is a wonderful combination of art, history and science, with considerable space devoted to geology and paleontology.

3 Bristol pregnant ichthyosaurAmong the many exhibits, I picked one to share: a pregnant ichthyosaur from the local Jurassic. Note the tiny arrow in the lower left of the skeleton.

4 Bristol ichthyosaur fetusAt the arrow, among the bones of this female ichthyosaur is this hand-sized skeleton of a fetus, direct evidence that ichthyosaurs, though reptiles, gave live birth. Paleontology is so cool.

Team Dorset finishes its fieldwork

June 10th, 2016

1 Snuffbox serpulidssSherborne, England — Cassidy Jester (’17), Tim Palmer and I today finished our fieldwork. Cassidy is now set for her Senior Independent Study project with plenty of specimens, observations, photographs and ideas to last the next 10 months. This morning we visited the Burton Bradstock beach exposure of the snuffboxes, meeting our great colleague Caroline Buttler (Department of Natural Sciences, Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales, Cardiff) and her husband Simon for lunch on the outcrop. It was great fun, and Caroline had additional discoveries for us, including the exfoliated snuffbox layer shown above with serpulid worm tubes.

2 Ammonite gastropod snuffboxesWe had time to look for more fossils associated with the snuffboxes. Above you see a gastropod on the left and an ammonite on the right, with snuffbox bits scattered about.

3 Burton Bradstock pendentWe also found many examples of burrow systems with cryptic pendent iron-rich layers, including those shown above. (I rotated the image 180° because the block we studied on the beach is upside-down.)

4 Maiden Castle rampartsOn the way back to our lodgings near Sherborne we stopped by the Iron Age hill fort Maiden Castle, a portion of the massive earthen ramparts of which are shown above.

Our collecting, measuring and describing is done. Most of the work for this project, of course, will be in the Wooster geology labs. We will have delightful memories of our sunny days in Dorset, and the invaluable assistance of our colleagues Bob Chandler and John Whicher. I am personally most grateful for the geological and navigational skills of Tim Palmer, our wonderful companion and astute advisor. Without him none of this could be done.

Crew in Whicher MuseumThe Dorset crew in the Whicher Museum. From the left, Bob Chandler, Mark Wilson, Tim Palmer, John Whicher, nd Cassidy Jester (’17).

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A fracture-shaped bioerosion trace from the Pliocene of Cyprus

June 10th, 2016

Caedichnus_01_scale_Mark 500This past semester I worked with three colleagues on a massive trace fossil review paper, which we hope meets success in the next month or so. My primary job on the team was to sort out bioerosion traces, especially those that are macroscopic. As always with such studies, I learned a great deal when forced to do a systematic literature review. One of the ichnogenera new to me was Caedichnus, a wedge-shaped excision found primarily in gastropod shells. It was only described last year by Stafford et al. (2015). Above is an example we happened to have in our collections. Note the fractured margins in this Fusinus shell aperture from the Pliocene of Cyprus. It was likely made by a predatory crustacean (such as a crab or lobster) bashing away at the shell to get to the living snail inside. The predator may have been successful in this case since there is no sign of healing in the snail shell.
Fusinus Cyprus Pliocene 500Above is an undamaged Fusinus showing a complete aperture. This snail also had its travails, though. Note the round, incomplete borehole just above the aperture. This was made by some kind of drilling predator, likely a naticid snail.

These shells come from the 1996 Wooster-Keck expedition to Cyprus with Steve Dornbos (’97) and me. Like the rest of the Cypriot specimens on this blog, it is from the Nicosia Formation (Pliocene) exposed on the Mesaoria Plain in the center of the island. This specimen comes from the “Exploration” locality described in Dornbos and Wilson (1999).

References:

Dornbos, S.Q. and Wilson, M.A. 1999. Paleoecology of a Pliocene coral reef in Cyprus: Recovery of a marine community from the Messinian Salinity Crisis. Neues Jahrbuch für Geologie und Paläontologie, Abhandlungen 213: 103-118.

Molinaro, D.J., Stafford, E.S., Collins, B.M., Barclay, K.M., Tyler, C.L. and Leighton, L.R. 2014. Peeling out predation intensity in the fossil record: A test of repair scar frequency as a suitable proxy for predation pressure along a modern predation gradient. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 412: 141-147.

Stafford, E.S., Dietl, G.P., Gingras, M.P. and Leighton, L.R. 2015. Caedichnus, a new ichnogenus representing predatory attack on the gastropod shell aperture. Ichnos 22: 87-102.

Stafford, E.S., Tyler, C.L. and Leighton, L.R. 2015. Gastropod shell repair tracks predator abundance. Marine Ecology 36: 1176-1184.

Team Dorset makes a cryptic discovery

June 9th, 2016

1 Cassidy Mapperton 060916Sherborne, England — It was a good day for Team Dorset. Cassidy Jester (’17) is shown above in Coombe Quarry near Mapperton, Dorset. She is standing on an erosion surface between the Comptocostosum Bed (Aalenian) below and Horn Park Ironshot (Bajocian) above. These are beds 2d and 3a in the local stratigraphic system, and ammonite zones Scissum and Discites. There is a considerable disconformity here, meaning a significant hiatus of unrecorded time, several ammonite zones worth. The snuffboxes we’re interested in are found jut above this boundary.

2 Pendent layers 060916Tim Palmer picked up the above rock as we started our measurements and descriptions. He deduced right away that he was looking at a cross-section of a burrow now filled with light brown sediment. The darker layers above are ferruginous (iron-rich), serpulid-bearing laminae like those that make up the snuffbox cortices, and they are hanging pendently from the roof of this burrow into the original cavity beneath. At one time this burrow was an open tunnel with cemented walls and the iron-rich layers grew from the ceiling like stalactites. Tim demonstrated with this single specimen that the iron-rich layers grew in dark, cryptic spaces, strongly supporting the hypothesis of Palmer and Wilson (1990) that the equivalent snuffbox layers accumulated on the undersides in gloomy darkness

3 Infilled Thalassinoides MappertonCassidy and I then recognized that the iron-rich “stromatolites” we had seen on our earlier visit to the quarry were actually these iron-rich layers filling Thalassinoides burrow systems that are truncated by the erosion surface. In the above image you are looking down on the erosion surface at a branching burrow filled with iron-rich layers. These are not stromatolites but cryptic burrow fills.

5 Sherborne Thalassinoides 2 585Later in the afternoon we returned to the Sherborne Stone quarry yard and looked at Thalassinoides burrow systems in the Sherborne Building Stone cut by giant saws. We see here a view parallel to bedding showing a box work of tunnels filled with a darker sediment. This matches the pattern seen in the Coombe Quarry erosion surface.

6 Sherborne Thalassinoides section 585This is a cross-section of the same kind of Thalassinoides burrow in the Sherborne Building Stone. We see the vertical connections to the surface and the lateral tubes. These burrows formed the cryptic spaces for iron-rich layer deposition as seen at Coombe Quarry. Or at least that is our hypothesis! Tomorrow we will test it by examining the burrow systems associated with the snuffboxes at Burton Bradstock.

7 Sherborne Castle 585As usual, we ended our day with more historical architecture and stonework, this time at nearby Sherborne Castle, a 16th century Tudor mansion sitting on magnificent estate grounds. Much of our work is on land owned by this estate.

The format below is a bit messy, but here is a download of our GPS data for the localities on this expedition:

GPS# Latitude Longitude Location
138 50.96268903 -2.503268039 Frogden Quarry
139 50.96319797 -2.501848983 Frogden Quarry older
140 50.93710503 -2.601833018 Babylon Hill
141 50.94292902 -2.556813983 Louse Hill
142 50.79496597 -2.71623401 Coombe Quarry, Mapperton
143 50.70015801 -2.734380998 Hive Beach, Burton Bradstock
145 50.81626003 -2.771674013 Horn Park
146 50.70154396 -2.737065973 Burton Bradstock snuffboxes

Snuffboxes! Team Dorset has a project

June 8th, 2016

1 Snuffbox colection BBSherborne, England — Cassidy Jester (’17) now has a Senior Independent Study project: Origin and paleoecology of ferruginous oncoids (“snuffboxes”) from the Middle Jurassic (Bajocian) of southern England and northern France. (We’re not going to France; I have specimens I collected 20 years ago there.) Pictured above is a nice collection of these snuffboxes on the Dorset coast near Burton Bradstock. More on them below. Today Tim Palmer, Cassidy and I had a great time starting our data collection.

2 Whicher museumThe first thing we did this morning, though, was visit the astounding fossil collection of John Whicher, one of our new citizen scientist friends. He has a spectacular collection of exquisite fossils, most from the Inferior Oolite and all meticulously curated. His preparations are amazing, especially when you know what a fossil looks like when first collected.

3 Tim Cassidy Whicher museumTim and Cassidy are here admiring some of the Inferior Oolite ammonites in John’s display cases. Each specimen is numbered and has full locality and stratigraphic context.

4 Whicher workshopJohn has a workshop that would be the envy of any university, along with storage for those specimens awaiting his patient preservation. Here we see our other new friend Bob Chandler cutting a rock for us. Bob has his own equal collection. These indefatigable amateurs are making extraordinary contributions to science.

5 Burton cliff fallAt noon we started our own work along the coast at Burton Bradstock, Dorset. We depended upon cliff falls like this one where the rocks of the Inferior Oolite at the top of the cliff crashed to the beach below.

6 Burton Bradstock large block 060816This gorgeous block is an example of the snuffbox bed fallen into our hands on the Burton Bradstock beach. The long part of the measuring stick is one meter. We are looking at the base of the snuffbox-bearing unit, so the block is upside-down.

7 Cassidy working 060816Cassidy is here studying that above block, with the English Channel in the background and brilliant sunlight.

8 Snuffbox bored shell nucleusThis is one of the snuffboxes with a shell fragment as a nucleus. The shell has many borings that were excavated before it started accumulating the layers of iron oxides.

9 snuffboxes horns ooidsThe snuffboxes have all sorts of details, from the compositions of the nuclei, the structure of the cortices, the fossils found encrusting them, and their overall shapes. Many have “horns” in cross-section like the two above. Note also the iron ooids (rusty red dots) between the snuffboxes. Their origin is another mystery.

10 Cerne Abbey 585We ended the day with a visit to the ruins of Cerne Abbey in Cerne Abbas, which was founded in 987. The remaining buildings are considerably later but still incorporate remnants of the old. This is now a romantic ruin on a small estate.

11 Cerne Abbey signTomorrow we continue to study the snuffboxes in other localities. We hope again to avoid the rains that have affected much of the country this week.

Reference:

Palmer, T.J. & Wilson, M.A. 1990. Growth of ferruginous oncoliths in the Bajocian (Middle Jurassic) of Europe. Terra Nova 2: 142-147.

 

 

Team Dorset closes in on a project

June 7th, 2016

1 Burton Radstock cliffSherborne, England — Another gorgeous day of exploring in the Middle Jurassic of southern England. The weather and the companions could not be better. Today was our last day of reconnaissance and tomorrow Cassidy Jester (’17) begins her Independent Study project fieldwork. Exactly what that project will be will be decided in the morning. So many possibilities. No doubt Tim Palmer and Cassidy are thinking about them as they walk the beach at Burton Bradstock (above).

2 Cassidy on Maperton surfaceWe began the day at Coombe Quarry near Maperton, Dorset. There we saw an interesting combination of snuffboxes (essentially iron-rich, fossiliferous oncoids), a carbonate hardground, and microbially-generated layers of iron oxides. Cassidy is standing above on the top of the most interesting unit.

3 Maperton surfaceAbove is a close view of the Maperton carbonate hardground surface (light-colored) perforated by Gastrochaenolites borings with the microbial iron oxides (darker and brownish) filling in the low spaces. The snuffboxes are just below. These are complex units that are highly condensed, so a few centimeters of section represents multiple depositional events.

4 Hive Beach snuffboxesWe next traveled to Hive Beach at Burton Bradstock along the English Channel (see the topmost image). Here we found blocks of the Inferior Oolite that had fallen down to the beach, enabling us to see the stratigraphy in separate bits. In this limestone cross-section, Cassidy’s hand is at the snuffbox level. The snuffboxes are the elliptical, layered brown objects.

7 Snuffbox in dikeThe layered object above is a snuffbox in cross-section. The center is a bit of limestone that served as the nucleus on which the brown microbial layers grew. The snuffbox occasionally was overturned by currents, allowing the layers to grow completely around the nucleus. These have been called snuffboxes since the 19th century because the inner limestone bit often weathered out, leaving the iron-rich parts looking a bit like a flat box to carry snuff.

5 Cassidy on neptunian dikeAt Burton Bradstock we also saw this very unusual rock along the beach. It has a limestone matrix and very diverse clasts in seemingly random orientations. The clasts include large red blocks (Cassidy has her hand on one), ammonites, and snuffboxes (including the one shown earlier).

6 Dike rubble 060716In this closer view of what is thought to be a neptunian dike rock, Cassidy’s finger is on an ammonite in cross-section. There are many iron-rich layers and calcite-filled veins. This rock appears to have been formed from sediment collecting in a large fissure that cut across rock layers.

8 Stromatactis debrisThese odd flat-bottomed clasts were quite mysterious to us until Tim nailed them as fragments of a stromatactis layer. Still a mystery, though, where these clasts came from.

9 Horn Park surfaceOur last stop of the day was at Horn Park Quarry, a gated natural reserve, reputed to be the smallest in the United Kingdom. The whole of the Inferior Oolite is exposed here, including this remarkable flat surface that we’re told extends for miles.

10 Horn Park ammonite 1The surface is almost perfectly flat, and it truncates thousands of fossils, including this ammonite.

11 Horn Park belemnitesAnd these belemnites with no preferred orientation.

12 caged ammonitesThe site was at one time heavily exploited for its ammonites, some of which are now preserved under this locked cage.

13 Tim Puzzled 060716Tim seems despondent because we have no strong explanation for the origin of this remarkable surface. We think it was likely formed by abrasion processes, but how is unclear. There are numerous such surfaces in this small section, compounding the mystery.

Now Cassidy decides what to do!

 

 

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