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The Fourth International Palaeontological Congress starts well

September 29th, 2014

Zaton092914MENDOZA, ARGENTINA–After an excellent opening lecture last night by Dr. Beatriz Aguirre-Urreta (“Palaeontology in the Southern Hemisphere: Benchmarks in the History of Discovery and Research”), we got down to the technical talks today in the Mendoza Sheraton for the 4th International Paleontological Congress. There were many presentations to choose from, as usual, so I had an eclectic mix today. Above is my colleague Michał Zatoń delivering an interesting talk on Devonian faunas in Laurussia. I also enjoyed a presentation by Linda Frey on Devonian paleoecology in Morocco (full disclosure: Paul Taylor and I were in the long list of co-authors), Andrei Dronov on Ordovician trace fossils in Siberia, and Bruce Runnegar on the classic Ediacaran fossil Dickinsonia. It is a joy to have so many of my people in the same place at the same time.

Posters092914Well, usually. As you can quickly deduce from this scene, the almost 1000 attendees at this meeting have stretched the capacity of the venue. This is one of the lanes for the poster session. I got in about six feet. Nevertheless, I had a good time speaking with Marcelo Carrera about his Lower Ordovician tabulate corals, and Alycia Stigall (whose poster is visible on the right) on her fantastic online Ordovician Atlas program.

Tomorrow I have a Paleontological Society meeting in the morning, and then I give my talk in the afternoon. As always, I’ve divided this meeting mentally into two parts: pre-talk and post-talk!

Wooster Geologist over the Andes

September 27th, 2014

Andes092714

MENDOZA, ARGENTINA–I have just arrived in Argentina for the Fourth International Palaeontological Congress to be held in this city all next week. I thank me colleagues at Wooster for making this possible, especially Shelley Judge who is teaching my History of Life class in my absence. I also thank the Faculty Development Fund at Wooster.

It was a treat to have a window seat in the last leg of our air journey from Santiago, Chile, to Mendoza over the Andes. Sure, it was cloudy over the crest of the mountains, but the views were still fantastic on either side. Above is a view of the Argentinian foothills just at the edge of cloud cover.

DSC_4521Soon after take-off from Santiago I was impressed with the lush greenery of the Chilean foothills leading to the Andes themselves. This is the rainy side of the mountains.

DSC_4527The contrast is dramatic between the western and eastern sides. This is a classic rain shadow effect.

DSC_4531Here is an Argentine oilfield near Mendoza. Each of the cleared spots has a pump jack, and the tank farm is visible near the middle.

DSC_4532This is the scene from my hotel window of Mendoza. Not exactly enchanting, I must say, but the views on the other side of the hotel show the tall, snow-capped mountains.

All is well with me (as in no kidney stones). It is a joy to see so many very good friends as we gather together for what will be a spectacular meeting of hundreds of international paleontologists.

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A crinoid calyx from the Upper Ordovician of southern Ohio

September 26th, 2014

Xenocrinus baeri (Meek, 1872)_585This week’s contribution from the Wooster collections will be short. If all is going well, as this is posted I’m on my way to the Fourth International Palaeontological Congress in Mendoza, Argentina. I hope to have a few posts from that exotic place!

The fossil above is the crown of a monobathrid crinoid called Xenocrinus baeri (Meek, 1872). It was found by Bianca Hand (Wooster ’14) in the Bull Fork Formation (Upper Ordovician, Richmondian) on an Invertebrate Paleontology field trip to the emergency spillway at Caesar Creek State Park in southern Ohio (seen below). Thank you to my friend Bill Ausich of The Ohio State University for identifying this fossil. It is an unprepared specimen of a common species, and it is not nearly so flashy as in other collections. Still, it is one of the best finds from our class field trips, and it is cool. The calyx is on the right and mostly buried in matrix. Four filter-feeding arms extend to the left. Where the matrix is broken away on the far right you can see tiny ossicles from the pinnules on the arms. Someone using a needle very carefully under a microscope could expose more details of this crinoid, but I like leaving something to the imagination!
CaesarCreek2011References:

Schumacher, G.A. and Ausich, W.I. 198). New Upper Ordovician echinoderm site: Bull Fork Formation, Caesar Creek Reservoir (Warren County, Ohio). The Ohio Journal of Science 83: 60-64.

Dating Houses and Reconstructing Climate

September 22nd, 2014

porchThe Wooster Geology Climate Change class spent a beautiful fall day in Stony Creek, Ohio coring beams in three structures of historical significance. They will determine the cut dates (calendar dates when the timber for the houses were felled) for the homeowners and then examine the tree-ring data that results to help reconstruct drought for the region. The class will write a report for the homeowner as part of the project. The Wooster tree-ring lab has dated over 50 buildings. Many of the reports are archived here.

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Willy coring a hand hewn beam with an increment borer in the basement of one of the structures.

dan

Dan cores into the white oak beam as Meredith keeps the utilities at bay.

 julia

Julia identifies the outer (bark year) rings of a large oak beam and sets the spoon to extract the core.

haloMeredith and Haley team up to extract another core from a structure.

mounting2Zach shows how the 5 mm core is mounted in a slotted core mount.

coreSarah glues the carefully oriented core into the mount.

mounting

Orienting the core properly is crucial for the next step of sanding the surface. This interdisciplinary group of historians, archaeologists, communication studies and geologists will learn bit about history of Ohio while learning some of the statistics of climate change and earning a Q (quantitative) course credit.

houseThe group should be able to determine when the timber was cut to build this restored structure. Sometime in early November the analyses should be completed.

extra_coringSome extracurricular coring of young white pines in the area.

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: A nest of cornulitid tubeworms and friends from the Upper Ordovician of northern Kentucky

September 19th, 2014

Cornulitids and bryozoan Bellevue 585This fascinating and complicated little cluster of cornulitid wormtubes was found by my current Independent Study student William Harrison while we were doing fieldwork near Petersburg, Kentucky. (Just down the road from the infamous Creation Museum, ironically.) It was collected from a roadcut in the Bellevue Member of the Grant Lake Formation (Upper Ordovician, locality C/W-152). We’ve seen all the elements before (cornulitids, bryozoans and stromatoporoids), but not in such a tight set of relationships. I find this aspect of paleontology to be one of the most delightful: who lived with whom and how?
reconstr1The tubes are of the common Paleozoic genus Cornulites Schlotheim 1820, and the species is Cornulites flexuosus (Hall 1847). These long-extinct little marine animals had calcitic shells and likely bore a filter-feeding lophophore, as shown in the reconstruction above by my friend Olev Vinn. They appear to be related to brachiopods, bryozoans, phoronids, and some other tubeworms that shared this feeding device and certain features of the shell. Their life goal was to keep their lophophore or equivalent apparatus free of obstructions so they could collect nutrients from the surrounding seawater.
cornulitid whole specimen 091214The bryozoan, which makes up the primary substrate of the specimen (seen above) is a trepostome. Its skeleton contains hundreds of tiny tubes (zooecia) that held individuals (zooids) in the colony (zoarium — these terms are for my paleo students this week!). Each zooid in this type of bryozoan had a lophophore for filter-feeding.
cornulitid, dermatostroma, bryozoanAbove we see a thin, light-colored, bumpy sheet in the center of the image covering three of the cornulitid tubes and some of the bryozoan. This is the stromatoproid Dermatostroma papillatum (James, 1878). Stromatoporoids were a kind of sponge with a skeletal base, so this organism was also a filter-feeder. (It was originally known as Stromatopora papillata James, 1878.) Here we see the interesting symbioses (living together) aspects of this tiny assemblage. In the top right you see a cornulitid tube growing over the bryozoan, but the bryozoan in turn is overgrowing its proximal parts. The bryozoan and the cornulitid were thus alive at the same time. The stromatoporoid is growing over the bryozoan and the three cornulitids, but it is overgrown by cornulitids on the left. In addition, the stromatoporoid did not obstruct the cornulitid apertures, an indication that they were occupying living tubeworms. My hypothesis, then, is that all three of these characters were alive at the same time growing in response to each other.

It could be that this represents a tiny hard substrate tiered assemblage, meaning that the organisms were selecting food resources at slightly different heights and particle sizes (see Ausich and Bottjer, 1982, for a start on the tiering literature). The cornulitids may have taken the largest bits, the bryozoans the next size, and then the stromatoporoids, as minuscule sponges, got the finest particles. This is another paleontological hypothesis that can be tested with further specimens.

It is also an example of the value of getting sharp-eyed students on the outcrops as often as possible. Good work, William!

References:

Ausich, W.I. and Bottjer, D.J. 1982. Tiering in suspension feeding communities on soft substrata throughout the Phanerozoic. Science 216: 173-174.

Galloway, J.J. and St. Jean, J., Jr. 1961. Ordovician Stromatoporoidea of North America. Bulletins of American Paleontology 43: 1-102.

Morris, W. R. and H. B. Rollins. 1971. The distribution and paleoecological interpretation of Cornulites in the Waynesville Formation (Upper Ordovician) of southern Ohio. The Ohio Journal of Science 71: 159-170.

Parks, W.A. 1910. Ordovician stromatoporoids of America. University of Toronto Studies, Geology Series 7, 52 pp.

Schlotheim, E.F. von. 1820. Die Petrefakten-Kunde auf ihrem jetzigen Standpunkte durch die Beshreibung seiner Sammlung versteinerter und fossiler Ueberreste des their-und Planzenreichs der Vorwelt erlaeutert. Gotha, 437 p.

Taylor, P.D., Vinn, O. and Wilson, M.A. 2010. Evolution of biomineralization in ‘lophophorates’. Special Papers in Palaeontology 84: 317-333.

Vinn, O. and Mutvei, H. 2005. Observations on the morphology and affinities of cornulitids from the Ordovician of Anticosti Island and the Silurian of Gotland. Journal of Paleontology 79: 726-737.

Twenty-Eight Annual Report of the Geology Department at The College of Wooster

September 18th, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-09-18 at 3.03.45 PMEvery year our Administrative Coordinator Patrice Reeder puts together the Annual Report of Wooster’s Geology Department. Every year this document grows in detail, creativity and information. This year’s report is now available on this webpage. The Annual Report is our primary means of communicating with our alumni, current and future students, parents, administrators, and other friends of the department. It is a lot of fun to read, and over the years the previous reports have become repositories of our departmental history. Thanks, Patrice, for such dedicated and skilled work.

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: The mysterious Paleozoic encrusters Ascodictyon and Allonema

September 12th, 2014

 

1 Slide01The above pair of fossils are small sclerobionts commonly found on hard substrates in shallow marine sediments through much of the Paleozoic, especially the Silurian and Devonian. Paul Taylor and I have been studying them for a few years now and our first paper on them was published this summer (Wilson and Taylor, 2014). Ascodictyon (Silurian-Carboniferous) is on the left and Allonema (Silurian-Permian) is on the right. Both are calcitic encrusters and look, at least in this view, very different from each other. We present evidence in our paper, though, that strongly suggests Ascodictyon and Allonema are actually manifestations of the same organism. What that organism is, exactly, still eludes us. We are persuaded at the very least that they are not bryozoans as originally described by Nicholson, Ulrich and Bassler. Since they are so common their identity is important for studies of fossil diversity and paleoecology.
2 Slide07The above view through a light microscope of Ascodictyon and Allonema shows the perspective paleontologists have had of these encrusters until recently. The clear calcite skeletons sitting on a calcitic brachiopod shell (this is from the Devonian of Michigan) makes for little contrast and poor resolution, and the microscope-camera combination has a very limited depth of field. The rest of the images in this post were made with a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) expertly operated by Paul. The difference in morphological detail is not just astonishing, it is a revolution in the study of tiny fossils like this.
3 Slide16 siluriense UKThis is a typical view of Ascodictyon. It consists of stellate clusters of inflated vesicles (like little calcite balloons) connected by thin calcitic tubes called stolons. (Ascodictyon siluriense from the Silurian of the England.)

4 Slide24 waldronense S GotlandThis is a typical Allonema. The primary form is a series of porous vesicles attached in chains like sausages. (Allonema waldronense from the Silurian of Gotland, Sweden.)

5 Slide29 Silica MIHere is where these obscure little encrusters get interesting. This is a specimen from the Silica Shale (Middle Devonian) exposed in Michigan. It was collected in a beautiful suite of fossils by that intrepid citizen scientist, Brian Bade. It consists of Allonema sausages connected to Ascodictyon stolons which are themselves connected to Ascodictyon stellate vesicle clusters. Clear evidence that Allonema and Ascodictyon are end members of a morphological continuum produced by the same organism.

7 Slide33 Silica MIA critical feature we see in this Ascodictyon/Allonema complex is the occurrence of “sockets” at the bases of vesicles like the above from the Silica Shale. These are almost certainly places where some erect portion of the organism extended above the substrate. Maybe these were feeding devices? Reproductive parts? We’ve found no trace of them.

8 Slide39 S GotlandOur hypothesis is that Allonema (left) and Ascodictyon (right, both from the Silurian of Gotland, Sweden) are the basal parts of some as yet unknown erect organism. They may have stored nutrients for the creature. We are convinced they were not bryozoans, foraminiferans, corals or sponges. Unfortunately we can only classify them as incertae sedis or Microproblematica. At some point we’ll have to figure out how to name this complex with two genera and over a dozen species.

It was fun work, and the project continues. For more detail, see Wilson and Taylor (2014).

References:

Nicholson H.A. and Etheridge R. 1877. On Ascodictyon, a new provisional and anomalous genus of Palæozoic fossils. J. Nat. Hist., Series 4, 19: 463-468.

Ulrich E.O. and Bassler R.S. 1904. A revision of the Paleozoic Bryozoa. Smith. Misc. Coll. (Quart.) 45: 256-294.

Wilson M.A. and Taylor P.D. 2001. “Pseudobryozoans” and the problem of encruster diversity in the Paleozoic. PaleoBios 21 (Supplement to No. 2): 134-135.

Wilson, M.A. and Taylor, P.D. 2014. The morphology and affinities of Allonema and Ascodictyon, two abundant Palaeozoic encrusters commonly misattributed to the ctenostome bryozoans. In: Rosso, A., Wyse Jackson, P.N. and Porter, J. (eds.), Bryozoan Studies 2013. Studi trentini di scienze naturali 94: 259-266.

Different Views of the Bog

September 9th, 2014

dr_andersonDr. Anderson describing the moisture gradient measured from the bog to the crest of the kame where the old growth remnant oak forest resides.

 

Our Climate Change class visited Browns Lake Bog with the Plant Communities and Ecosystems class from Ohio Weslyan University’s Biology class taught by Dr. Laurie Anderson. Dr. Chuck Goss, a stream ecologist from the OARDC also joined us. Both Laurie and Chuck offered new insights (and measurements) for us to consider.

One of the themes we discussed is how an influx of dust with land use change during European Settlement about 200 years ago may have “fertilized” the low nutrient bog and may have forced (is still forcing) plant communities in the bog to change. An additional challenge of to think about how the natural succession of the bog and disturbance contribute to observed changes.

header_2Sediment cores (on the tailgate) are being looked at with the thought of lithologic and plant community changes potentially being caused by clearing of the land and increased dust flux.
moisture_meterInstrument that measure soil moisture – from the wet groundwater fed bog areas to the drought-sensitive forests.

 

chuck_profileDr. Goss explains the various measurements taken in the water column beneath the floating bog and the class puzzles over how this may be reflected in the lake cores we are analyzing in the lab.

 

sundewSphagnum moss and a few Sundew plants. The moss is a primary component of the peat in our cores and the Sundew is another of the carnivorous plants that grow in the low nutrient environment of the bog.
pitchersPitcher plants – digesting insects, nice adaptation to a low nutrient environment.
teaching coringAssistant Directors of the Tree Ring Lab, Willy and Zach provide instruction on how to core a white oak to the eager group.
elmTwo folks in the group seemed to catch on (but this is an elm…).
lookBack on track with a mighty oak – Tom takes a turn.

Plot 1

We also wondered why the tree-ring width chronology from Browns Lake (above) maintains a 2-3 fold increase in growth after clearing of the land in the early 1800s. Is it because of changes in competition, carbon dioxide, nitrogen, dust, precipitation or some combination of all these. Seems to be a story in the lake and tree cores – will take some work to sort it out.

Extracting High Quality Mud from Cedar Creek Bog

September 7th, 2014

sitea1

Tom Lowell and graduate student Stephanie Allard from Cincinnati and Jacklyn Rodriguez from the University of Illinois made the trip to Morrow County to core mud from a bog adjacent to the Cedar Creek Mastodon site. We will be working with the cores in Climate Change over the next several weeks and collaborating with this team.

ext1

Extracting a meter of marl with many species of snails and even clams? We will need Dr. Wilson’s help on this.

marl

Another meter of marl.

exta

Stephanie describes the lower “glacial lake clays”, while Jacklyn takes notes.

excav1

Adjacent to our work is the excavation of the Cedar Creek Mastodon. The tripods are the sieves and the actual excavation is under the tent.

dig

A closer look at the stratigraphy in the excavation – we hope to be able to link the bog cores to this site. It may take a backhoe pit from the excavation to the bog to really understand how the stratigraphy here links with the former lake.

deep

Another meter to complete this 7-meter core. This layer represents the late glacial (~13,000 years ago) about the time when the Mastodon roamed the shores.

core_boss

The master takes another core. We look forward to the analyses of the cores that include an upper anthropogenic layer, a peat, a marl, an interval of gyttja and blue clays.

A special thanks to Clint Walker who owns the site for his interest and permission to core. Clint helped out moving our gear with his tractor and saved us hours of shuttling. Jesse Wiles provided photographs and carried gear.

2directions

 

 

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: A hardground with rugose corals from the Upper Ordovician of southern Ohio

September 5th, 2014

Hdgd small 090114The above slab is a carbonate hardground from the Liberty Formation (Upper Ordovician) of southern Ohio. Carbonate hardgrounds are cemented seafloors, so we’re actually looking at the hard rocky bottom of an Ordovician sea. I’ve long found the idea of a hardground fascinating — it is like a bit of ancient time frozen before us. This hardground is especially interesting because of the fossils associated with it. The knobby nature of the surface is probably due to a burrow system that was preferentially cemented and then exhumed by currents that washed away the loose sediment. The intersecting tunnels, now ridges, provided numerous crannies for encrusting, boring and nestling organisms to inhabit. The high points hosted encrusting bryozoans that needed currents for their filter-feeding.

brach coral 090114There are several shelly fossils found in the low points of this hardground surface. The brachiopod in the upper left is the orthid Plaesiomys subquadrata (Hall, 1847), and the conical rugose coral in the lower right is Grewingkia canadensis (Billings, 1862)

two corals 090114Here is another detailed view of the hardground showing a second rugose coral on the left. I suspect that the corals and maybe even the brachiopod are actually in place (or “in situ” to use the fancy words). I’ve seen such occurrences before and passed them off as just examples of loose fossils rolling into holes. Here, though, we can see that both corals have the calyx (the cup in which the coral polyp was located) facing upwards. These G. canadensis corals did not attach to hard substrates like some of their cousins, but lay recumbent and curved upwards on the seafloor. What better place to do so than in the cozy hollows of a hardground?

This slab is certainly a nice vignette of a marine community nearly 450 million years old.

References:

Billings, E. 1862. New species of fossils from different parts of the Lower, Middle, and Upper Silurian rocks of Canada. Paleozoic Fossils, Volume 1, Canadian Geological Survey, p. 96-168.

Hall, J. 1847. Paleontology of New York, v. 1: Albany, State of New York, 338 p.

Palmer, T.J. 1982. Cambrian to Cretaceous changes in hardground communities. Lethaia 15: 309–323.

Wilson, M.A. and Palmer, T.J. 1992. Hardgrounds and hardground faunas. University of Wales, Aberystwyth, Institute of Earth Studies Publications 9: 1–131.

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