2016 Wooster Paleontologists Field Trip

September 11th, 2016

paleo-class-2016-smallIt was a beautiful day for fieldwork. Every fall I take Wooster’s Invertebrate Paleontology class into the field to collect specimens for study and analysis during the rest of the semester. It’s fun because these students have only completed two weeks of the course and almost everything is new. One steady change over the years has been in the number of paleo students. Gone are the days when we could all pile into a 15-passenger van and spend three days in Kentucky. Now we have to take a bus, and tight student schedules limit us to one day. These constraints mean that going to Caesar Creek Lake in Warren County, Ohio, is the best choice. We’ve been here now several times. here we examine Ordovician fossils in limestones and shales of the Waynesville, Liberty and Whitewater Formations (all of which equal the Bull Fork Formation).

collecting-091116The weather was ideal, but the night before saw heavy rains. Bit of a mud fest today.

brach-slab-091116The fossils, of course, are world-class in the Cincinnati area. Here’s a wonderful slab of strophomenid brachiopods with Josh Charlton’s hand for scale. At least the rains washed the rocks clean!

lab-sink-091116Next stop for the students: washing their specimens in the lab sink at Wooster. Anyone who has worked in the Cincinnatian knows that the clay can be particularly tenacious. Students learn paleo from the very basics!

 

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: Tiny athyridide brachiopods from the Lower Carboniferous of the West Midlands of England

September 9th, 2016

1 Hustedia radialis 585These little brachiopods were also in the recent gift package from Clive Champion, our English brachiopod expert and friend. They tested my photographic skills, being too large for our photomicroscope and at the limit of resolution for my camera with its extension tubes. They are the athyridide Hustedia radialis (Phillips, 1836) from the Chadian-Arundian Limestone (Viséan, Lower Carboniferous) exposed near Wetton, Staffordshire, England. Brachiopods of this size are often referred to as “micromorph“, with some debate as to whether they are dwarfed adults or juveniles. With this fauna the consensus is the former.

Athyridide brachiopods are “spire-bearing”, meaning they have complexly-spiraled lophophore supports (brachidia) inside their shells. The lophophore is a tentacular device that creates a water current and traps organic bits from it for nutrition. These tiny critters thus had surprisingly elaborate feeding systems. The first paleontologist to grind through these minuscule shells to sort out the twists and turns of their microscopic brachidia is a hero of science.
2 John Phillips (1800-1874)Hustedia radialis was named in 1836 by one of the most important English geologists of the 19th Century, John Phillips (1800-1874). He originally called it Terebratula radialis, a common genus name applied at the time to biconvex brachiopods with pedicle openings (the hole for the attaching stalk visible at the pointy end of the shell).
3 Geology of YorkshireHe named it in the second volume of his Geology of Yorkshire series.
4 Brachs PhillipsSee if you can find the two figures of Terebratula radialis in Plate XII of the book. (Hint: small, triangular and ribbed!)

John Phillips was born in Wiltshire in 1800. His mother was a sister of the famous William “Strata” Smith, another founding father of modern geology. Phillips father and mother died when he was only seven years old, so William Smith took over raising him, despite his genteel poverty. Phillips traveled with Smith throughout England in the course of making Smith’s famous 1815 map. Phillips had a spotty formal education, but was clearly a quick study. By 1824 he was organizing museum fossil collections in Yorkshire, and in 1826 he became keeper of the Yorkshire natural history museum. Phillips then advanced very quickly, helping organize the new British Association for the Advancement of Science, becoming a professor of geology at King’s College London, and then at the age of 34 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. All the while he kept up a prodigious rate of publication. The honors and positions continued for Phillips, with him eventually becoming a Reader of Geology at Oxford University. A remarkable career with such an unpromising start.
5 Phillips 1841 160Phillips published the first geological time scale in 1841, inventing the term “Mesozoic” in the process. The above clip is from Phillips (1841, p. 160).
6 Phillips 1860 time scaleHere is his 1860 version of the geological time scale (Phillips, 1860, p. 51).

After an April 1874 dinner at All Souls College in Oxford, John Phillips fell down a flight of stone steps, dying the next day. No doubt but for this fall he would have continued producing geological work into the next decade.

References:

Brunton, C.H.C. 1984. Silicified brachiopods from the Viséan of County Fermanagh, Ireland (III). Rhynchonellids, spiriferids and terebratulids. Bulletin of the British Museum (Natural History), Geology 38: 27–130.

Brunton, C.H.C. and Champion, C. 1974. A Lower Carboniferous brachiopod fauna from the Manifold Valley, Staffordshire. Palaeontology 17: 811–840.

Mottequin, B., Sevastopulo, G. and Simon, E. 2015. Micromorph brachiopods from the late Asbian (Mississippian, Viséan) from northwest Ireland (Gleniff, County Sligo). Bulletin of Geosciences 90: 307-330.

Phillips, J. 1836. Illustrations of the geology of Yorkshire, Part 2. The mountain limestone district. 253 pp. John Murray, London.

Phillips, J. 1841. Figures and Descriptions of the Palaeozoic Fossils of Cornwall, Devon and West Somerset. 231 pp. Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans, London.

Phillips, J. 1860. Life on the earth: its origin and succession. 224 pp. Macmillan and Company, London.

7 Gould bookplateFun feature of that last reference: Google Books scanned a personal copy of Stephen Jay Gould, a famous American paleontologist and evolutionary theorist.

8 Darwin quoteOn one of the front pages is this penciled note: ‘Unreadable, dull’ – Charles Darwin to [unknown] 15/1/61. [UPDATE: See comment from Katherine Marenco below.]

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: Mystery fossil solution — an oyster from the Middle Jurassic of southern England

August 30th, 2016

Mystery fossils 081916 585Last week I gave my students in Wooster’s Invertebrate Paleontology course a fossil to identify (shown above), using any techniques they want. This was their first task in the course, so it was difficult for most of them. I hope it was a good introduction to practical paleontology and the mysteries of taxonomy. One student, Josh Charlton, nailed it all the way to the species. Several other students got close.

These are Middle Jurassic oysters properly identified as Praeexogyra hebridica (Forbes, 1851). I collected them many years ago from the Frome Clay (Bathonian) at Langton Herring along the coast of Dorset, southern England. They are extremely common fossils there, crunching underfoot as they erode out into the surf. These oysters lived in estuaries, where there was a mix of fresh and marine waters. In 1976, John Hudson and our friend Tim Palmer sorted out the systematics and  evolution of this oyster species, moving it from Ostrea and Liostrea to the genus Praeexogyra.
Forbes diagramThis oyster species was originally described in 1851 as Ostrea hebridica by Edward Forbes (1815-1854) from Jurassic sediments on the Scottish Isle of Skye in the Inner Hebrides (hence the name). As was typical of many nineteenth century fossil descriptions, the illustrations (above) and diagnoses are not particularly helpful. Forbes (1851) wrote, “Being very familiar with the oysters of the Wealden and Purbeck I cannot admit this identification, nor can I refer the Loch Staffin shell to any known fossil, although, as usual in this variable genus, it is difficult to express in words its marked distinctions.” We wouldn’t get away with such a conclusion for a new species today, but to be fair, oysters are notoriously difficult to describe. Forbes knew that this species “inhabited brackish water” in the Jurassic.

Forbes bust to useEdward Forbes FRS, FGS (above) was born on the Isle of Man in 1815, the year of Waterloo. He was, as they said then, a sickly child unable to attend a regular school for long. He traveled to London when he was 16, though, to study art. That didn’t work out, so he became a medical student at the University of Edinburgh. Forbes was intrigued more with natural history than medicine (a common story!), so he dropped his medical plans and set out to become a naturalist skilled in paleontology, mineralogy, zoology, anatomy and botany. His younger brother David became a well-known mineralogist. Edward Forbes caught on quickly. In 1838 he published a summary of the mollusks found on the Isle of Man. He was 23 years old. Forbes traveled widely, accumulating more observations, experiences and colleagues. He had many publications and advocated numerous hypotheses about the distribution of life forms. Some had lasting value (like the distribution of flora before and after glaciation intervals) and others were a bit naive (such as his idea that there is no marine life below 300 fathoms). He was a president of the Geological Society of London (1853), and in 1854 became the Professor of Natural History at Edinburgh, his driving ambition. Unfortunately his health problems caught up with him and he died that year at age 39.

Edward Forbes played a critical role in the history of science by being a mentor of Thomas Henry Huxley. Forbes advised Huxley as a young man and helped him publish his earliest works. Forbes introduced Huxley to his circle of colleagues, which eventually led to the latter’s election to the Royal Society while only 26 years old. Huxley wrote a touching obituary for his young friend Edward Forbes.

References:

Anderson, F.W. and Cox, L.R. 1948. The “Loch Staffin Beds” of Skye; with notes on the molluscan fauna of the Great Estuarine Series. Proceedings of the Royal Physical Society of Edinburgh 23: 103-122.

Anderson, T.R. and Rice, T. 2006. Deserts on the sea floor: Edward Forbes and his azoic hypothesis for a lifeless deep ocean. Endeavour 30: 131-137.

Forbes, E. 1851. On the Estuary Beds and the Oxford Clay at Loch Staffin, in Skye. Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society 7(1-2): 104-113; plate 5, figs. 4a-4c.

Hudson, J.D. and Palmer, T.J. 1976. A euryhaline oyster from the Middle Jurassic and the origin of the true oysters. Palaeontology 19: 79-93.

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: A puzzle for my paleo students!

August 26th, 2016

Mystery fossils 081916 585Every year I start my Invertebrate Paleontology course by giving every student an “unknown” fossil to identify. (Here is last year’s version.) This is not always easy since each student gets the same species from the same horizon and with the same preservation. As classes get larger (I have 27 students this semester) I have to dig deeper into my collections. I found some good ones today that have enough variation to challenge them.

These students are just beginning the journey, of course, so they usually know little about fossils. This exercise gets them into the online fossil literature immediately, and provokes early questions about the information used in taxonomy and the dilemmas of systematics based on morphology alone. Their task:

  1. Identify the fossil by scientific name as narrowly as possible. Phylum is a start, then Class, Order and so on down to the grand prize of correctly determining the species.
  2. Estimate the age of the fossil. Finding the period during which it lived is good; the actual stage it was found in, better.
  3. Make an educated guess at where this fossil was found. Chances are if you are right about the name and age, and then consider the places my students and I do fieldwork, you’ll come up with at least a region.

Next week I will post here the identity and collecting location of these fossils, along with the name of the student who came the closest to the right answers. You, Dear Reader, can make a guess in the comments!

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: Another molluscan assemblage from the Miocene of Maryland (side two)

August 19th, 2016

1 Calvert 2 585Last month we featured a fossil slab kindly donated by Dale Chadwick of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Dale is an enthusiastic fossil collector with a very useful website for his favorite sites and specimens. I promised to show the other side of this rock, and here it is.

Again, this is a fine sandstone from the famous Calvert Formation (lower to middle Miocene) exposed at the Calvert Cliffs, Plum Point, Calvert County, Maryland, in the stratigraphic Shattuck Zone 10. Some horizons are especially fossiliferous with large numbers of gastropods and bivalves. This is what we refer to us a death assemblage, meaning these shells are not preserved in their life positions but how they accumulated just before final burial. These rocks and their fossils were the initial basis of Susan Kidwell’s important work on taphonomic feedback, or how shell accumulations affect the succeeding living communities.

So what are the prominent fossils in this slab? Dale has the answers on his website. I’ve annotated the image and made a list below:

2 Calvert 2 585 labelsA Astarte sp. (a veneroid bivalve)
B Glycymeris parlis (an arcoid bivalve)
C Siphonalia devexa (a buccinid gastropod)
D Turritella variablis (a turritellid gastropod)

Thank you again to Dale Chadwick for this gift! I will use it in my paleontology course this very month.

References:

Kelley, P.H., 1983, Evolutionary patterns of eight Chesapeake Group molluscs: Evidence for the model of punctuated equilibria: Journal of Paleontology 57: 581–598.

Kelley, P.H. 1988. Predation by Miocene gastropods of the Chesapeake Group: stereotyped and predictable. Palaios 3: 436-448.

Kidwell, S.M. 1986. Taphonomic feedback in Miocene assemblages: Testing the role of dead hardparts in benthic communities: Palaios 1: 239–255.

Kidwell, S.M., Powars, D.S., Edwards, L.E. and Vogt, P.R. 2015. Miocene stratigraphy and paleoenvironments of the Calvert Cliffs, Maryland, in Brezinski, D.K., Halka, J.P. and Ortt, R.A., Jr., eds., Tripping from the Fall Line: Field Excursions for the GSA Annual Meeting, Baltimore, 2015: Geological Society of America Field Guide 40, p. 231–279.

Wooster’s Fossils of the Week: Trepostome bryozoans, burrow systems, and bedding features in an Upper Ordovician limestone from southeastern Minnesota

August 12th, 2016

1 DSC_1322One of the little mysteries on the recent Minnesota research trip by Wooster students, faculty and staff is the origin of thin limestone beds in the middle of the thick shales of the Decorah Formation (Upper Ordovician). How did such accumulations of almost pure carbonate develop on such a muddy seafloor? Are they storm beds? Some sort of diagenetic feature? The records of brief sealevel changes? Brief interruptions in the supply of silicate sediments to the basin? Turbidites of carbonate material swept into a deeper basin? Above is a view of the top surface of such a limestone bed, this one found in the middle of the Decorah in Shop Quarry (N 43.97232°, W 92.38332°). The light-colored twiggy objects are broken colonies of trepostome bryozoans; the network of holes are burrows of a trace fossil called Chondrites.

3 Wangs carbonate bedAn outcrop view of one of these carbonate beds in the Decorah Formation, this one at Wangs Corner (N 44.41047°, W 92.98338°). These units are only a few centimeters thick, and have a variety of petrographic fabrics. This one appears to be an almost pure biosparite with Thalassinoides burrows penetrating from above carrying down a light brown sediment.

2 DSC_1325Back to our slab from the Decorah at Shop Quarry with a closer view of the trepostome bryozoans and round holes representing the trace fossil Chondrites.

3 DSC_1333Sawing a rock and then polishing a cut surface is always fun and profitable! This is a cross-section through the Shop Quarry slab, oriented with the top upwards. A little bit of iron oxide diffused through the sediments provides the touches of red in the fabric of the limestone.

4 DSC_1341This closer view of the cut surface shows the exquisite bedding features, along with the bryozoans (B) and trace fossils (T) in cross-section. The burrows pass through the bedding and pie down into the rock a brownish sediment from above. These burrows were made by some sort of deposit-feeding organism that was mining the sediment for organic material. The bedded sediment may be slightly graded in grain size, meaning the many beds may consist of thin fining-upwards sequences. Note how the beds are contorted around the bryozoans as if they were dropped into the sediment while it was still accumulating.

This slab of bryozoans, trace fossils and contorted laminae looks to me like a storm bed formed quickly during and after the seafloor was significantly disturbed by currents. When conditions returned to normal some worm-like deposit-feeders in the fine sediment above sent their mining tunnels down deep into the carbonate looking for food. We have a hypothesis to test!

Wooster’s Fossil of the Week: A mytilid bivalve from the Middle Jurassic of southern Israel

August 5th, 2016

1 Mytilus (Falcimytilus) jurensis 585This week’s specimen comes from one of my favorite fossiliferous units: the Matmor Formation (Middle Jurassic, Callovian) of Makhtesh Gadol in southern Israel. I’ve been delighted by the fossils and lithologies of the Matmor since 2003. This particular fossil is exposed in a bedding plane of the very rich subunit 65, which I’ve mentioned before in this blog. It is a mytilid bivalve identified as Mytilus (Falcimytilus) jurensis It has the classic wing shape of its order.
2 Mytilus (Falcimytilus) jurensisM. jurensis is very common in the Matmor Formation, especially in the upper third where it can be seen protruding from limestones at a variety of angles. The species was widespread throughout the Tethys Ocean, now recorded by sediments in the Middle East and Mediterranean regions.
3 mytilids090809Mytilid bivalves are very common today as well, and they have the same life mode as they did at least 150 million years ago. They attach to hard substrates in shallow waters with strong fibers they secrete called byssal threads. Above we see our M. jurensis shell with several others clustered around a gastropod shell to which they were attached. The organic byssal threads are long gone, of course, but the shells remain in their living positions.

I like to use these Fossils of the Week to explore their taxonomic histories. The specimens, after all, are usually not exceptionally well preserved or rare, but they all have stories. Mytilus (Falcimytilus) jurensis proved to be a challenge when it came to identifying the author of the species.
4 MNHN figFirst I went to the online catalogue of the Muséum National D’Histoire Naturelle in Paris — an excellent resource. There I found the above image and information. Someone named Roemer named the species in 1836. So who was this Roemer and what was the publication?
5 Friedrich Adolph RoemerAfter considerable searching, I learned our taxonomist was Friedrich Adolph Roemer (1809-1869), a German geologist born in Hildesheim, part of the Kingdom of Westphalia. He had a younger brother, Carl Ferdinand von Roemer, who was also a geologist, creating some confusion.
6 Oolithen-GebrigesFriedrich Roemer has an 1836 book (above) that roughly translates as The Fossils of the North German Oolitic Mountains, “oolitic” referring to a kind of limestone common in the European Jurassic; for awhile it was essentially synonymous with “Jurassic”.
7 Plate IV, fig 10On Plate IV, fig. 10, of this 1836 book is a pair of drawings of Mytilus jurensis. So far all is on track for sorting out the taxonomic history of the species.
8 p 89Surprise! When we look at the description in the text on page 89, we see that Roemer gives an undated credit for the species to “Merain”. Who is Merain?
9 Thurmann p 13I thought I’d never find the identity of this “Merain”, but through the extraordinary resource of Google Books, I uncovered the earliest record of Mytilus jurensis. It is on page 13 of Thurmann (1833). Note that following the species (fourth line above) is “Mèr.” and then “n. sp.”, meaning “new species”. (I have no idea what the intervening “M. Bas.” indicates. [Update: See comment by Christopher Taylor below.]) There is no description of the species, and no illustration, but there’s the first mention of it.

So is “Mèr.” short for Roemer’s “Merain”? Turns out Roemer misspelled the last three letters — it is “Merian”.
10 Peter_MerianPeter Merian (1795-1883) was a Swiss geologist and paleontologist who was born in Basel. He studied scientific topics at the University of Basel, the Academy of Geneva, and the University of Gottingen. After two years in Paris, Merian returned to Baasel and began to specialize in the geology and fossils of the Jura Mountains. He was appointed a professor of physics and chemistry at the University of Basel, and later an honorary professor of geology and paleontology. He was also Director of the Natural History Museum in Basel. Along with his work on Triassic and Jurassic fossils, he also made contributions to glaciology and meteorology. Peter Merian died in Basel in 1883 after a long, notable career. He certainly looked the part of a dashing 19th Century Swiss geologist. Kevin McNally could play him in the movie! And now we know that he was the man who named Mytilus jurensis in 1833. Roemer (1836) was probably credited with the species at one point because he had the first description and figures. Merian, apparently, just provided the name in someone else’s book.
11 Merian map JuraHere is an 1829 geological map by Peter Merian of a portion of the Jura Mountains, one of the first of the region.

References:

Cox, L.R. 1937. Notes on Jurassic Lamelibranchia V. On a new subgenus of Mytilus and a new Mytilus-like genus. Journal of Molluscan Studies 22: 339-348.

Freneix, S. 1965 – Les Bivalves du Jurassique moyen et supérieur du Sahara tunisien (Arcacea, Pteriacea, Pectinacea, Ostreacea, Mytilacea). Annales de Paléontologie, t. 51, vol. 1, p. 51-113.

Liu, C. 1995. Jurassic bivalve palaeobiogeography of the Proto-Atlantic and application of multivariate analysis method to palaeobiogeography. Beringeria 16: 31123.

Liu, C., Heinze, M. and Fürsich, F.T. 1998. Bivalve provinces in the Proto-Atlantic and along the southern margin of the Tethys in the Jurassic. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 137: 127-151.

Merian, P. 1829. Geognostischer Durchschnitt durch das Jura-Gebirge von Basel bis Kestenholz bey Aarwangen, mit Bemerkungen über den Schichtenbau des Jura im Allgemeinen. Zürich.

Roemer, F.A. 1836. Die Versteinerungen des Nordeutschen Oolithen-Gebirges. Hahn. 218 pages.

Thurmann, J. 1833. Essai sur les soulèvemens Jurassiques du Porrentruy, avec une description géognostique des terrains secondaires de ce pays, et des considérations générales sur les chaines du Jura. Mém. Soc. Hist. Nat. Strasbourg 1: l-84.

A wet cave and the Mighty Mississippi River

August 1st, 2016

1 Niagara Cave 1Rochester, Minnesota — Since Team Minnesota efficiently finished its fieldwork yesterday, we have two days before the students fly out of the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport. The good weather has given us a gift of time, so we’re using it like enthusiastic geologists.

This morning we drove down to Harmony, Minnesota, near the Iowa border to visit Niagara Cave. This cave is unusual because it has a stream with a 60-foot waterfall and (a new term to me) active vadose canyons. The cave is entered down a sinkhole into the Dubuque Formation, and then it descends through the Stewartville Formation and reaches its lowest level in the Prosser Formation. These are Ordovician units above the Platteville-Decorah-Cummingsville sequence we did our work with. The cave passages follow joint patterns inn these limestones. It is plenty wet down there.

2 Cave joint NiagaraMy cave photos are not the best with my small flash. Here at least we can see a vertical joint passage and flowstone structures.

3 Cave StreamThe fast-moving stream running through Niagara Cave.

4 Waterfall top Niagara CaveThe top of the 60-foot waterfall.

5 Cave stratThis view up into a dome shows the internal stratigraphy visible in the limestones.

6 Ceiling gastropodsPlenty of fossils are exposed in the cave. These are sections of gastropods in the ceiling of one section. They were high up so I have little idea of their sizes. I’m just amazed the photo worked out.

7 Queens BluffIn the afternoon we drove northeast to Great River Bluffs State Park on the Mississippi. We had spectacular views of the river and its opposite bank in Wisconsin. Above is a view eastward of Queen’s Bluff overlooking the river.

8 Black River DeltaThe main navigation channel of the Mississippi is in the foreground, with the Black River Delta in the middle ground. In the distance are the bluffs on the Wisconsin side, about 4-5 miles away.

9 Team Minnesota 080116Team Minnesota is ready to answer any geological questions!

 

Team Minnesota finishes its work (in Iowa, funny enough)

July 31st, 2016

1 Decorah outcrop 073116Rochester, Minnesota — We returned to Decorah, Iowa, today to measure and sample the Decorah Shale (Upper Ordovician) in its type locality. It was much drier here than on our last attempt! Above is the gray Decorah Shale topped by the brown Cummingsville Formation.

2 Dean sampling 073116We started below the quarry exposure along the road to get the top of the Platteville Formation. This is the main locality for Dean Thomas (above) who is sampling these three units for conodonts and their associated carbonate petrographic facies. You may see tiny red ribbons on the outcrop that mark where we removed small blocks of limestone for lab analysis back in Wooster.

3 Decorah sampledHere are some of Dean’s sampled strata in the Decorah. He also collected a few samples from the base of the overlying Cummingsville.

4 Etienne collecting 073116While Dean measured section and took samples, Etienne Fang (pictured), Rachel Wetzel and Nikki Bell worked through the Decorah Shale collecting fossils, with special concentration on the beautiful “gumdrop” bryozoan Prasopora.

5 Minnesota lunch 073116It was a sunny day, so we took shade where we could find it!

6 Cummingsville blocksAt the end of the day we explored the richly-fossiliferous Cummingsville in blocks fallen from the face of the old quarry wall.

7 Traces and brachsThe Cummingsville is rich with both body fossils (brachiopods, crinoids, gastropods, bryozoans, especially) and trace fossils. A future Senior IS project?

8 Team Minnesota signTeam Minnesota has now completed its fieldwork! From the left, Etienne Fang (Bethesda, Maryland), Nikki Bell (Santa Monica, California), Rachel Wetzel (Sewickley, Pennsylvania) and Dean Thomas (Montpelier, Virginia). These students did fine work, setting themselves up for several months of lab analyses back in Wooster. I’m proud of this group!

We still have a couple of days in Minnesota before the students fly to their homes and Nick Wiesenberg and I make the long drive back to Wooster with our samples and equipment. We plan to see the geological and historical sights within range of Rochester, which will, of course, be duly reported here.

Paleontological fieldwork in southeastern Minnesota

July 30th, 2016

1 Nikki brachs 073016Rochester, Minnesota — It was a good day for fossil collecting on the Minnesota prairie. Above you see a handful of articulated orthid brachiopods collected by Nikki Bell at the Shop Quarry exposure near Rochester.

2 Shop Quarry 073016Shop Quarry (N 43.97232°, W 92.38332°) has long been abandoned and is quickly reverting back to woodlands except for the steepest parts of the old walls. The grey streak visible through the trees is our site where the Decorah Shale is exposed.

3 Shop Quarry 073016 closeAs usual, we worked on steep slopes with plenty of foliage. The fossils, though, were easy to find.

4 HCS at Shop QuarryThe shale has thin limestone beds penetrated thoroughly by the trace fossils Chondrites (the small holes visible in the slab above). This particular rock shows hummocky cross-stratification on its top surface (the dips and ridges), almost certainly an indication it was deposited during an Ordovician storm.

6 Rachel 073016Rachel Wetzel (Pennsylvania) is working with the fossils from this quarry and our other Decorah outcrops to put together a general paleoecological reconstruction and then explore in detail the bryozoans. She is particularly adept at effortlessly clinging to steep slopes!

5 Nikki 073016Nikki Bell (California) is working on the Decorah fossils with Rachel. Her specialty will be the brachiopods.

7 Etienne 073016Etienne Fang (Maryland) is studying the “iron ooids” found in the Decorah Shale at Shop Quarry and several other sites.

8 Dean 073016Dean Thomas (Virginia) will be assessing the carbonate petrology and conodonts of the Decorah Shale, along with the underlying Platteville and overlying Cummingsville Formations. His main outcrop will be in Iowa, but he’s also collecting limestone specimens within the Decorah at other locations for biostratigraphic correlation. All four student projects are integrated, with the whole team collecting data and samples for each individual project.

9 Nick 073016Our superb geological technician Nick Wiesenberg has also been collecting fossils for us.

10 Lunch 073016A typical lunch in the woods for us. We’ve had surprisingly few mosquitoes, and very patchy interactions with parasites. Dean is a tick magnet, and I’ve been badly chiggered!

11 Golden Hill 073016Our last stop of the day was the annoying Golden Hill roadcut (N 43.98788°, W 92.47962°). It is next to an off-ramp of US 52/63 so we have to reach it by descending through a bouldery, overgrown culvert from above. The students did their jobs, though, and did good sampling.

12 Wild Parsnip bushThis spindly green bush is wild parsnip (Pastinaca sativa), a plant we’re careful to avoid despite its abundance in some very inconvenient places. It is often referred to as poison parsnip for good reasons. These plants contain “furocoumarins, chemicals that when combined with skin and ultraviolet light can cause what’s known as a phytophotodermatitis”. You have to contact the sap of the plant and then be exposed to the sun, so brushing against it is not a problem. We worry about grabbing a stalk and breaking it in our hands while clinging to slippery slopes.

13 Wild parsnip closeHere’s a closer view of the wild parsnip. We also deal with poison ivy, stinging nettles, thistles and other sticker bushes. Sometimes I miss my desert fieldwork!

14 Yellow flower 073016Of course, most plants here are benign and often beautiful. These yellow flowers were abundant today at Shop Quarry. I suspect this is Lotus corniculatus (Birds-foot Trefoil). Unfortunately the description of this flower says, “This is a terrible pest plant …”

It was a successful day for Team Minnesota, especially since we were able to end our work just before a bout of thunderstorms. Tomorrow we return to Iowa, which we hope will be much drier than it was yesterday.

 

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