Mark Wilson June 17th, 2014
SOSNOWIEC, POLAND — The above full-scale model of Tyrannosaurus rex is one of my favorite dinosaur reconstructions. It sits in front of the Earth Sciences Building at the University of Silesia. Since it is outside the lighting is always dramatic, and the artists paid close attention to even tiny details like the reported coat of downy feathers on its back (see below).
The roughening you see in the upper half of the image represents the feathery covering. We can only imagine what colors were present in the original.
Here is a new Polish colleague I met this morning. Alina Chrząstek is a paleontologist at the University of Wroclaw. She is a specialist in invertebrates and trace fossils. A few months ago she sent me photos of rock and fossil specimens she had questions about, and I told her we could meet when I was in Poland. She came today with boxes and bags of specimens, a few of which are shown below.
These are glacial erratics from a moraine in southwestern Poland. They are rocks of a variety of types and ages scraped up by glaciers in the north and deposited in the south. Alina is sorting through what fossils are in them. It is a fun collection because it contains rocks from the Cambrian to the Cenozoic, with all manner of trace and body fossils. They can be quite a challenge to identify because the stratigraphic context is gone.
Half my day was spent writing, so I have nothing else to report. Tomorrow, though, is going to contain a field trip to the Góra Świętej Anny Mountain. (I hope everyone is noticing how hard I work at getting the Polish letters correct!)
Mark Wilson June 16th, 2014
SOSNOWIEC, POLAND — On this beautiful day I began research at the University of Silesia with Michał Zatoń and Tomasz Borszcz in this impressive building. (It is reportedly the tallest Earth Science building in the world, although the Chinese are on the case.) Our first project, and the one I will devote most of my remaining Polish time to, is an analysis of fish-bitten echinoid (sea urchin) spines from the Middle Jurassic Matmor Formation of southern Israel (see below).
We have dozens of these crunched rhabdocidarid spines, which are critical evidence of early predation on regular echinoids. We hope our work will help illuminate the evolution of predator adaptations in the echinoids, and the actions of the hungry fish. More on this later.
Here we have a simple sorting of the spines in relation to their likely position on the echinoid test (body skeleton). Pretty simple, but it was an easy way for us to discuss spine morphology and function.
To give you a glimpse of my new surroundings, here is a view of Michał’s office. As with every working paleontologist, there are plenty of specimens, books and papers!
The view from Michał’s office of Sosnowiec.
This is looking from Michał’s department building towards a series of dormitories for students at the University of Silesia.
You know at some point I need to show some Polish food. This is today’s lunch. Note the crunchy latke and the pierogis. You pay for this food by its weight on the plate. This scrumptiousness plus a Sprite cost me $4.
This is my hotel in neighboring Będzin.
Będzin Castle, which is a short walk from my hotel. You can expect a history post coming up soon!
Mark Wilson June 15th, 2014
We have a very simple trace and body fossil combination this week that provides a stratigraphic and structural geologic tool. Above is a bit of scleractinian coral from the Matmor Formation (Middle Jurassic, Callovian) of Makhtesh Gadol in southern Israel. The coral skeleton was originally made of aragonite. It has been since recrystallized into a coarse sparry calcite, so we can no longer see the internal skeletal details of the coral. In the middle of this polished cross-section is an elliptical hole. This is a boring made by a bivalve (the trace fossil Gastrochaenolites). Inside the boring you see a separate elliptical object: a cross-section of a bivalve shell. This could be the bivalve that made the boring or, more likely, a bivalve that later occupied the boring for a living refuge. This, then, is the trace fossil (Gastrochaenolites) and body fossil (the bivalve shell) juxtaposition.
That stratigraphic and structural interest is that the boring and the bivalve shell are partially filled with a yellow sediment. This sediment has gravitationally settled to the bottom of these cavities (at slightly different levels). These holes have thus acted as natural builders’ levels showing is which way was down and which was up at the time of deposition. We can tell without any clues from the recrystallized coral the “way up” before any later structural deformation (or in this case rolling around on the outcrop) changed the orientation of the coral. Pretty cool and simple, eh? The name for this feature is a geopetal structure. There are some faulted and folded sedimentary rock exposures in the world where we search diligently for these little clues to original orientation (see, for example, Klompmaker et al., 2013). Not all geopetal structures have fossil origins (i.e., Mozhen et al., 2010), but most do. A little gift from paleontology to its sister disciplines.
Klompmaker, A.A., Ortiz, J.D. and Wells, N.A. 2013. How to explain a decapod crustacean diversity hotspot in a mid-Cretaceous coral reef. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 374: 256-273.
Mozhen, G., Chuanjiang, W., Guohui, Y., Xueqiang, S., Guohua, Z. and Xin, W. 2010. Features, origin and geological significance of geopetal structures in Carboniferous volcanic rocks in Niudong Block, Santanghu Basin. Marine Origin Petroleum Geology 3: 15.
Wieczorek, J. 1979. Geopetal structures as indicators of top and bottom. Annales de la Societé géologique de Pologne 49: 215-221.
Mark Wilson June 15th, 2014
SOSNOWIEC, POLAND — Today my friend and colleague Tomasz Borszcz and I had a ten-hour train trip from Sopot to Sosnowiec in southern Poland. Our destination was the University of Silesia to meet with Michał Zatoń for research. I didn’t see any inspiring scenes from the train window, so I photographed Tomasz sitting opposite me. We had excellent conversations about many scientific topics of mutual interest. I was grateful for both his companonship and skills in knowing where this mysterious train was at any given time.
Mark Wilson June 14th, 2014
SOPOT, POLAND — It was a rainy, windy, cold day in northern Poland, but our able leader Piotr Kuklinski organized an enjoyable educational field trip to the ancient city of Gdansk, once known primarily by its German name, Danzig. The old parts of the city are gorgeous, especially considering that about 90% of the city was destroyed in World War II. Above is a view north of the Vistula River filled with hardy kayakers. While delightful, the city, cathedral and town hall views will not surprise anyone who has visited the old cities of eastern Europe. For me the best parts of the visit were when we saw places significant for recent Polish and world history.
This 17th Century armory building is a good example of architecture in Gdansk at the height of its wealth and influence. It was built by Dutch engineers and builders using bricks brought as ship’s ballast from western Europe.
We took a boat ride into the freezing wind and rain to see the monuments of Westerplatte at the mouth of the Vistula. This is where World War II began when German ships fired without warning on Polish fortifications in the early morning of September 1, 1939. The Polish garrison surprised everyone, especially the Germans, by holding out for seven days under terrific fire and continuous attacks. Above is a Soviet-style marker of the main center of resistance to the invaders.
I was moved by our visit to the “Roads to Freedom” underground exhibition. It represents the history of Poland’s post-war struggles to escape Communist oppression and Soviet imperialism. A major theme is that actions of the Polish people in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s encouraged the rest of Europe’s captive states to seek their own freedom and independence.
A Polish militia armored vehicle sits outside the exhibition entrance. This kind of vehicle figures often in the exhibition’s archival films of street violence in Gdansk and other large cities.
The history of the Solidarity movement is one of the most dramatic stories of the late 20th Century.
This is the most famous gate into the Gdansk Shipyards, where Lech Walesa led striking workers into what eventually became a national resistance movement. Now under the awning on the right is a 24-hour ATM!
One of the demands of the striking workers is that they be allowed to construct a monument to their comrades who were killed in a previous strike in 1970. This is one of the plaques near the structure.
To show the global nature of the Polish political revolution, the exhibition organizers obtained a piece of the Berlin Wall to place outside the museum. Geologist for scale. (Thanks, Tomasz Borszcz, for the photo.) I remember the dramatic events televised from Gdansk and would have never dreamed in, say, 1983 that I would someday stand by a piece of a dismantled East German wall in the free city of Gdansk.
Mark Wilson June 13th, 2014
SOPOT, POLAND — After lunch today the Larwood 2014 meeting participants had an excellent field trip to the aquarium in Gdynia on the Baltic coast (above). This aquarium has a diverse and interesting collection, but for me the two historic ships docked alongside were just as fascinating.
This is the Dar Pomorza, a fully rigged ship built in Hamburg, Germany, in 1909 as the Prinzess Eitel Friedrich. It was used as a training ship in the Baltic Sea by the German Navy, and then surrendered to France in 1919 as part of reparations for World War I. The Polish bought it as a training ship for naval cadets in 1929, adding a diesel engine. It was interned in Stockholm during World War II, returning to Polish service in 1946. It became a museum ship in 1983.
The Dar Pomorza is being refurbished, so we had only this close view of new planking being laid on the deck.
This magnificent ship (above and below) had a long and distinguished career in World War II. It is the Błyskawica, which means “lightning” in Polish. It was built in 1935-1937 by a British firm on contract for the Polish government. On August 30, 1939, the Polish Navy secretly evacuated this ship along with two other destroyers to Great Britain just before the Germans invaded Poland. It was thus able to participate in the war against the Germans throughout the North Sea, Atlantic and Mediterranean. It covered operations in Norway, the evacuation of British and French troops from Dunkerque, and the Allied landings in both North Africa and France. It must have been deeply satisfying for the Polish sailors on board the Błyskawica to be able to fight back so long and effectively against the Nazis.
Polish sailors by an anti-aircraft gun and torpedo tubes.
The Błyskawica in the North Atlantic during the war.
I couldn’t resist. Thanks to my friend Tomasz Borszcz for taking this photo on the Błyskawica.
Mark Wilson June 13th, 2014
SOPOT, POLAND — This morning we had the final set of talks at Larwood 2014. Out of all the presentations, the one that struck me the most was by Paul Taylor and Andrea Waeschenbach entitled “Molecular phylogeny and the adequacy of skeletal characters in cyclostome taxonomy: The alarming case of Diaperorcia purpurascens.” Paul is shown delivering it above. This project represents the best of what these bryozoan conferences are about: the combination of biology and paleontology to further our understanding of the evolution and ecology of this large phylum. It also warned paleontologists to never be complacent about the value of morphology (shape and form) for sorting out systematic and evolutionary relationships.
Diaperoecia purpurascens is a “fixed-walled, tubuliporine” cyclostome bryozoan species common in New Zealand waters today. Molecular sequence data, though, shows it is without a doubt within the “free-walled cerioporine” cyclostome genus Heteropora. You don’t need to know why those terms actually mean to understand that the molecular work has shown that two dissimilar groups share a surprisingly close common ancestor — so close that the systematics are now fully disrupted. When we knew only the morphology of these bryozoans the differences between them were apparent at a high taxonomic level. Now that we have molecular data it is brutally clear that our reliance on shape and form to separate the groups was an illusion. Molecules trump skeletal evidence — and all paleontologists have to work with are the skeletons.
Paul and Andrea did find, though, that in the early colony growth (astogeny) of these bryozoan groups they share a common pattern of tiny pores (pseudopores) on the earliest portion of the colonial skeleton (the protoecium; see above and below). It is this morphological feature, as subtle as it is, that shows the groups share a close common ancestor.
The lesson is that paleontological systematics are always provisional. We do our best with morphology alone because that’s what we have, but we should be forever haunted by the knowledge that we lack full biological evidence.
Mark Wilson June 12th, 2014
SOPOT, POLAND — Our first day of the Larwood Meeting was much fun, especially after I unloaded my presentation in the morning and could relax. We are gathering on the beautiful campus of the Instytut Oceanologii (one building pictured above), which is within an easy walk of the hotels and the beach. Just under 50 people are participating, from beginning PhD students to retired faculty. These meetings are also a mix of biologists and paleontologists who are interested in bryozoans, so everyone learns a lot from the talks and posters. All that is required is some intersection of the presented material and the Phylum Bryozoa, which can include evolution, systematics, physiology, ecology and genetics. This kind of scientific conclave is rare with its interdisciplinary diversity.
Piotr Kuklinski, our leader and senior staff at the Institute, opened this morning’s session with a greeting and orientation. Note the proud Polish eagle behind him.
Here’s a view of my hipster hotel. Hard to tell its a place to stay when you walk in. It looks (and sounds) rather more like a nightclub at times. Very comfortable, though.
I thought Dr. Pollock would appreciate the very distinct intrusion in this glacial erratic found in the nearby park.
Tonight we have a mysterious dinner “in the Eastern European forest”. I shall report later, if the wolves don’t get me.
Mark Wilson June 12th, 2014
SOPOT, POLAND — Our surprise dinner this evening was a Polish barbecue in the forest outside Sopot. I am impressed with how much forested land has been preserved around the three connected cities of Gdansk, Sopot and Gydnia. With a half-hour drive we arrived at a campsite well isolated from the urban build-up. The excellent food included wild boar, chicken, fish, cold beet soup, and various permutations of cabbage. I was pleasantly surprised to find that my dish of roasted potatoes were actually baked and sweetened apples. We talked and talked, of course, and played darts and fired hard beans with a slingshot at suspended buckets. (Some people were scary-good at this.) It was a great social event that tied the group together in new ways.
Nope, nothing spooky about the Polish woods. It’s not like anything happened here …
Mark Wilson June 11th, 2014
SOPOT, POLAND — Yes, that’s a view from my hotel window. I’ve suddenly found myself in an old resort town on the Baltic coast of Poland near the cities of Gdansk and Gydnia. Another one of those astonishing geographic transformations we can so easily make.
I’m here for the Larwood Meeting, an annual gathering of bryozoologists held in various places around the world. Besides learning more about these complex little colonies (both fossil and recent), I’ll be presenting a summary of the work Steph Bosch (’14), Paul Taylor and I did on the new bryozoans from the Middle Jurassic of southern Israel. After the meeting I travel south by train with Tomasz Borszcz to visit Michal Zaton at the University of Silesia for some joint projects. From there it is on to London for a few days with ace paleontologist Paul Taylor at the Natural History Museum. I’m at the end of a research leave this summer so I have more travel than usual.
For now I’m enjoying an extraordinary day on the Baltic shore before the first meeting event this evening. My next images will be much more prosaic! My posts will be a bit shorter than usual because I have to stand in the shower to get enough wireless signal to connect. (There’s an accident waiting to happen …)