A free day spent geologically in southwestern Utah

March 19th, 2019

Hurricane, Utah — Team Jurassic Utah finished its fieldwork two days ahead of schedule because I hadn’t calculated just how efficient it is to have Dr. Shelley Judge as a member. Twice as fast, twice as good. We thus were able to have yesterday in Zion National Park and today in the St. George area. With the perfect weather this was the place to be an exploratory geologist.

We first drove down a long dirt road to a site in Warner Valley which has exposed Lower Jurassic dinosaur tracks.

Here I’m photographing the best theropod dinosaur track with Anna’s help. (Image by Nick Wiesenberg.)

Here’s the nice footprint. Notice how the mud was squeezed up between the toes as the theropod sloshed its way across a floodplain. This shape of dinosaur track is given the trace fossil name Eubrontes.

The footprint layer in Warner Valley is in the lower part of the Kayenta Formation (Lower Jurassic).

We next visited a beautiful neighborhood in Bloomington which has in its midst an excellent set of Indian petroglyphs. The Bloomington Petroglyph Park is tiny, but well worth the drive.

Anna is here photographing the largest surface of petroglyphs.

Most of the petroglyphs were made by carefully scraping away a layer of desert varnish on light-colored sandstone blocks. Humans and animals are easily recognizable; other symbols are mysterious.

After lunch we went to the Dino Cliffs site in the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve. We had a nice hike through exposures of the Kayenta Formation. (The top image of this post is also from this area.) We found the dinosaur tracks, but their poor preservation did not merit a photo.

Finally we went to the old 19th century mining town of Silver Reef. The museum was closed, but we were able to walk around the old buildings still preserved, along with antique mining equipment on display.

Most of the old town is long gone, leaving some evocative ruins.

The wildflowers today were uncommon. They included the classic Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja angustifolia) …

… and significant numbers of Spectacle Pod (Dimorphocarpa wislizeni). Thank you to my Mother Corinne Wilson for the identification!


Last day of fieldwork for Team Jurassic Utah 2019

March 17th, 2019

Hurricane, Utah — Our expedition had its final official fieldwork today, which we marked with a group photo overlooking the magnificent Snow Canyon. See the end of this post for alternative flag group images!

Tomorrow the group visits Zion National Park. The next day will be spent exploring the local geology and culture, and then it is packing up our samples for shipment to Wooster. Today, though, The Carmel Formation calls one last time!

We returned to the extensive Carmel outcrops in Dammeron Valley, looking at the northernmost extension of the ooid shoal facies. Here is our short shoal section at Dammeron Valley North (DVN), which consists entirely of cross-bedded limestones placed in four subunits (A-D).

This exposure weathered into many loose slabs from the upper subunit D. The trace fossils are well preserved, including this Planolites with rare branching. It is convex hyporelief.

The traces here include a sinuous bilobed Gyrochorte and a thick trace in the left foreground I can’t yet identify. Anna found this rippled slab.

This big trace Evan found is almost certainly Rhizocorallium.

We originally thought that our section today (DVN) was an extension 638 meters to the west of the DV shoal unit. Nick and Shelley did excellent stratigraphic detective work to show that DVN is about 15 meters below the DV measured unit. We thus found the eastern equivalent of DVN at the DV location, measured and sampled it. For now we call it “DVN at DV”. More detail than anyone wants to know, but these blog entries are also a kind of field notes!

The traditional Wooster flag group photo as taken by Shelley.

The flag group photo taken by Nick.

East of Zion

March 16th, 2019

Hurricane, Utah — Today Team Jurassic Utah traveled to Mt. Carmel Junction, east of Zion National Park, to examine the extensive outcrops of the Carmel Formation in the region. The most famous location is in Mt. Carmel Junction itself (MCJ: N 37.22521°, W 112.68095°). It is this crinoid-rich limestone that is reported to be the youngest encrinite in the geological record.

Anna and I measured a two-meter column in this unit to collect samples for thin-section analysis. Four subunits (A-D) start at the bottom of the ruler here.

This is the base of subunit D. It is full of the star-shaped columnals of the crinoid Isocrinus nicoleti. It is one of only three Jurassic crinoid species in North America.

Fieldwork! Love it. Photo by Nick.

Shelley again measured cross-beds to determine current directions here. This was a complicated task because at least three joint sets intersect in these rocks.

Lunch along the Virgin River. Photo by Nick.

After lunch we went just a bit south of Mt. Carmel Junction to examine a Carmel Formation outcrop that looked superficially like it would be identical to the previous unit. We call the place Carmel Cove (CC: N 37.21548°, W 112.68215°). Turns out the limestone here is very different: no crinoids, no ooids, and relatively abundant bivalves. Amazing variability in sections within sight of each other.


Team Jurassic Utah endures polar conditions

March 13th, 2019

Hurricane, Utah — Well, maybe not fully polar, but it was very cold and windy in southern Utah today. Our glove-less fingers were numb, and the bitter gusts penetrated our pitiful parkas. We collected some samples but put off measuring columns (which inevitably requires working fingers) for a warmer day.

Our mission, as before, was to find ooid-rich units for Anna and mollusk fossils for Evan. We were at the “Water Tank” locality (C/W-751) of last year. It is our least attractive site, having a blue water tower and all.

The bivalves here are numerous and diverse, but only in a narrow horizon (so far). They are certainly more species-rich than at yesterday’s Eagle Mountain Ranch site.Anna found a cross-bedded ooid-rich limestone along the road to the water tank. We will be back to measure and sample this section in detail.For lunch we went to nearby Snow Canyon State Park, where we hoped it would be a tad warmer. (It was — barely.) The sun was out and the colors vivid. This is the Petrified Dunes walk. All you see here is the glorious Navajo Sandstone (Jurassic — beneath the Temple Cap and Carmel Formations).I was entranced by the Moqui Marbles, a kind of iron oxide concretion that weathers out of the Navajo Sandstone. They accumulate in large numbers on the flat surfaces here.

Nick with Moqui Marbles eroded out of the Navajo.Here are Moqui Marbles in place in cross-beds of the Navajo. (Guess whose legs are the scale.) These concretions are diagenetic, forming in the sandstone long after deposition. You can read the latest ideas on their formation in this Moqui Marbles article.

The cold, cold group in Snow Canyon. Image by Shelley.

A productive first day for Wooster Geologists in Utah

March 12th, 2019

Hurricane, Utah — Team Jurassic Utah 2019 started its fieldwork on a cloudy March day with a bit of a chill and some light rain, but it didn’t rain again and the cooler temperatures were comfortable. We worked on the Eagle Mountain Ranch site (C/W-142) looking for ooids (Anna’s Independent Study project) and mollusks (Evan’s I.S. work). Thank you again to ranch owners Hyrum and Gail Smith for permission to work on this important outcrop. (Photo by Nick Wiesenberg.)

Anna and Evan are here describing a critical meter-thick resistant limestone in an otherwise clay-dominated portion of the Co-Op Creek Limestone Member of the Carmel Formation. We think it represents a normal marine incursion into an otherwise restricted lagoonal environment. This is where most of the fossils and ooids at Location C/W-142 come from.

The base of the unit has these very nice wave ripples indicating shallow water.

Nick and Shelley did excellent work measuring the 39 meters of our Carmel interval. They used a Jacob’s Staff with a Brunton compass attached to account for the rock attitude (strike and dip).

Shelley and Nick are the colored dots at the top of our Eagle Mountain Ranch section. They sampled the top of the Carmel here, finding it to be a brecciated limestone below an unconformity with the overlying Upper Cretaceous Iron Springs Formation. The grey wedge of rock thickening to the left is a mysterious claystone. With the breccia discover, we at least know it is above the Carmel.

The team at lunch overlooking the Eagle Mountain Ranch. The slope seemed much steeper than this! (Photo by Nick.)

I know it doesn’t look like much, but Evan found this internal mold of an ammonite at C/W-142. It is the first I’ve seen in the Carmel. (Later Andrew Milner will show us another ammonite from the same location.)

This is the venter view. Definite ammonite, but unidentifiable beyond this!

On the walk back from our main locality, we examined a laminated micritic part of the Co-Op Creek Limestone Member (Location Strom-mat at N 37.30882°, W 113.73883°). This is just below our main section of interest. (Photo by Nick.)

Anna is photographing close details of this unit.

The laminations are spectacular, apparently representing microbial mats. Another future Independent Study project!

Finally, on our drive back to Hurricane we checked out our access to the classic oyster ball localities on the west side of the Santa Clara River. Here is an image of the bridge last year.

The bridge today! A flood destroyed it last month. No way we’re crossing here. Time to explore other options.

Team Jurassic Utah at the Gunlock Reservoir, with the fantastic Carmel Formation in the background.

Bringing three new Silurian bryozoan species into the world

February 10th, 2019

I love being part of the scientific process of naming new organisms and placing them into the grand narrative that is the history of life. It is a kind of rescue — retrieving species from oblivion by giving them identities. Carolus Linnaeus, the father of taxonomy, said it well:

The first step in wisdom is to know the things themselves; this notion consists in having a true idea of the objects; objects are distinguished and known by classifying them methodically and giving them appropriate names. Therefore, classification and name-giving will be the foundation of our science.

The bryozoans described in this post are from a project led by my very accomplished bryozoologist friend Andrej Ernst at the University of Hamburg, Germany (above). In the summer of 2015, Andrej and I met up with our colleague Carl Brett (University of Cincinnati) to collect bryozoans from the Lower Silurian (Aeronian) of western New York. My fieldwork was supported by a grant from the Luce Fund at The College of Wooster. We had a very productive time and saw much geology and paleontology, as you can see from these August 2015 blog posts. That fieldwork was followed by Andrej’s prodigious lab work with the bryozoans. The results have now appeared in the Journal of Paleontology.

The abstract: Thirteen bryozoan species are described from the Brewer Dock (Hickory Corners) Member of the Reynales Formation (lower Silurian, Aeronian) at the locality Hickory Corners in western New York, USA. Three species are new: trepostomes Homotrypa niagarensis n. sp. and Leioclema adsuetum n. sp. and the rhabdomesine cryptostome Moyerella parva n. sp. Only one species, Hennigopora apta Perry and Hattin, 1960, developed obligatory encrusting colonies whereas the others produced erect ramose colonies of various thicknesses and shapes: cylindrical, branched, and lenticular. Bryozoans display high abundance and richness within the rock. This fauna is characteristic of a moderately agitated environment with a stable substrate. The identified species reveal paleobiogeographic connections to other Silurian localities of New York as well as Ohio and Indiana (USA) and Anticosti (Canada).

The top photo in this post is one of the new bryozoans, the trepostome Homotrypa niagarensis. The images are from Figure 8, with the caption: (2) branch oblique section, holotype SMF 23.470; (3) rock thin section with transverse and oblique sections of branches, holotype SMF 23.472; scale bars are 3 mm and 5 mm respectively.

Above is the new trepostome Leioclema adsuetum. The image is from Figure 10, with the caption: (1) longitudinal section of exozone showing autozooecia, mesozooecia, and acanthostyles, paratype SMF 23.553; scale bar is 0.5 mm.

This is the third new species, the cryptostome Moyerella parva. The images are from Figure 11, with the caption: (3) longitudinal section of a colony segment with a pointed base and widened proximal part showing medial axis and autozooecia, holotype SMF 23.559; (4) tangential section showing autozooecial apertures, tubules, and tectitozooecia, holotype SMF 23.559; scale bars are 0.5 mm and 0.2 mm respectively.

The paper is about more than these new species, of course. There are other bryozoans assessed, and Carl Brett’s stratigraphy section is magnificent and a new resource for the area. The new taxa, though, are worth celebrating by themselves.

Thank you to Andrej and Carl for being such good colleagues. I hope we return to the Silurian of western New York for more work.


Ernst, A., Brett, C.E. and Wilson, M.A., 2019. Bryozoan fauna from the Reynales Formation (lower Silurian, Aeronian) of New York, USA. Journal of Paleontology, doi.org/10.1017/jpa.2018.101.

Conulariid and trepostome bryozoan symbiosis in the Upper Ordovician of Estonia

January 22nd, 2019

A new paper is just out in which all the characters have been covered previously in this blog, but not as parts of a single story. It describes an interprets the relationship between the mysterious conulariids and trepostome bryozoans in the Katian and Sandbian (Upper Ordovician) of northern Estonia. The authors have all made appearance here, including lead author Olev Vinn (Institute of Ecology and Earth Sciences, University of Tartu, Estonia). Andrej Ernst (Institut für Geologie, Universität Hamburg, Germany), myself, and Ursula Toom (Institute of Geology, Tallinn University of Technology, Estonia). It was a fun team to work on, and Olev led it masterfully.

There are numerous trepostome bryozoans in the Upper Ordovician of Estonia that grew up and around the bases of conulariids, which are extinct cnidarians. This is, in fact, an example of bryoimmuration as covered in my last post. The puzzle is what was the relationship between these two groups. Were the conulariids parasites on the bryozoans? Did they gain protection from predators by embedment in the bryozoan calcitic skeleton? Were the bryozoans prime real estate for the conulariids because they were hard substrate islands on a muddy seafloor? We think the answers are probably yes to all these questions.

The top composite of images is Figure 3 in the paper. The caption: A, Two conulariids Climacoconus bottnicus (Holm, 1893) in Diplotrypa bicornis (Eichwald, 1829) from Haljala Regional Stage, northern Estonia, note the slightly elevated apertures of conulariids (GIT 720-4). B, Longitudinal section of Diplotrypa abnormis (Modzalevskaya, 1953) with conulariid Climacoconus bottnicus (Holm, 1893) (GIT 537-1822) from Haljala Regional Stage, northern Estonia. C, Longitudinal section of completely embedded Climacoconus bottnicus (Holm, 1893) in Esthoniopora communis (GIT 537-1656) from Haljala Regional Stage, northern Estonia. D, Conulariid in Mesotrypa expressa Bassler, 1911 from Oandu Regional Stage, northern Estonia; note the depression around the conulariid’s aperture (GIT 770-7). E, Conulariid in Mesotrypa expressa Bassler, 1911 from Oandu regional Stage, northern Estonia; note the malformation of a zooid near the aperture of the conulariid (GIT 770-92). F, Conulariid in Esthoniopora subsphaerica from Rakvere Regional Stage, northern Estonia; note the strongly elevated aperture of the conulariid (GIT 537-1760).

This work is another product of Wooster’s generous research leaves program that has supported many trips to Estonia.


Vinn, O., Ernst, A., Wilson, M.A., and Toom, U. 2019. Symbiosis of conulariids with trepostome bryozoans in the Upper Ordovician of Estonia (Baltica). Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 518: 89-96.

New paper on bryoimmuration and taphonomic engineering

January 12th, 2019

I’m pleased to link to a new paper that has just appeared in the journal Lethaia. My wonderful coauthors are Caroline Buttler (National Museum Wales) and Paul Taylor (Natural History Museum, London). The paper explores the role calcitic bryozoans play in preserving molds of aragonitic shells, a process we call bryoimmuration. In the image above we have two views of a single specimen from the Cincinnatian (Upper Ordovician) of the Cincinnati, Ohio, region. It is a trepostome bryozoan that encrusted the exterior of a bivalve shell. The bivalve shell was aragonitic and thus dissolved away during diagenesis. The bryozoan skeleton is calcite, a mineral that does not dissolve as easily as its cousin aragonite. The surviving bryozoan skeleton thus preserved our only record of the now-dissolved bivalve shell. The larger concept of one group of organisms affecting the preservation of another we call taphonomic engineering. Below are cross-sections of these bryoimmuring bryozoans, with the original caption.

Fig. 3. Acetate peels of bryoimmuring bryozoans cut perpendicular to basal growth surface (longitudinal); all from the Upper Whitewater Formation (Katian) near Richmond, Indiana (locality as in Fig. 2). A, heterotrypid bryozoan that grew across the ribs of an ambonychid bivalve. Note the thin zooecial walls in the early fast-growing stage, later thickening upwards (CW‐148‐92). B, very thin sheet of a trepostome bryozoan that encrusted an ambonychid bivalve (CW‐148‐93). This bryozoan did not develop an exozone and is thus impossible to identify. C, heterotrypid bryozoan that developed a thick exozone while growing on an ambonychid bivalve shell (CW‐148‐94). The shell later dissolved and sediment took its place. D, multilaminar growth of a heterotrypid bryozoan on an ambonychid bivalve (CW‐148‐95). The bryozoan colony overgrew itself.

This research was supported by an award from the Henry Luce III Fund for Distinguished Scholarship at The College of Wooster. Nick Wiesenberg helped with the fieldwork. It was a fun project.

Wooster’s Invertebrate Paleontology class at work

September 18th, 2018

Wooster, Ohio — The Invertebrate Paleontology class at Wooster set to work this afternoon on the excellent fossils they collected at the beginning of last week. They had already washed them carefully, using soft brushes and soap, and now were learning how to trim them down with our faithful basement rock saw. Grant Holter is seen above doing his very first cut. All the specimens are from a single outcrop of the Upper Whitewater Formation (Upper Ordovician, Katian) just south of Richmond, Indiana.

The spinning steel blade has industrial diamonds embedded in its periphery, which grind quickly through our soft limestones. The blade and rock are continually sprayed with water to keep the blade from overheating, lubricate the cut, and to capture the dust. The newbies to our saw learned fast.

Each student has two trays of specimens, which are right now in their raw, unprepared and unlabelled state. Julia Pearson examines her very full trays. Juwan Shabazz is behind her.

A closer look at Julia’s treasures.

An even closer view. We can easily now identify abundant brachiopods, bryozoans, and rugose corals — the big three groups.

Finally for today the paleo students learned how to label their specimens using water-soluble white glue and printed paper tags, a technique I learned at the University of California Museum of Paleontology.

Next week the class will use the saws, grinders, polishing plates and hydrochloric acid to make acetate peels. This is my favorite paleo process!

2018 Invertebrate Paleontology field trip — with the Ghost of Gordon

September 9th, 2018

The Invertebrate Paleontology class at Wooster had its annual field trip today to the Upper Ordovician (Katian) Cincinnati Group (Upper Whitewater Formation) in eastern Indiana. The weather looked terrible as the remnant of Tropical Storm Gordon worked its way into the Great Lakes region. Three to five inches of rain were forecast for our field area just south of Richmond, Indiana (locality C/W-148). For all I know, that massive amount of rain actually fell today — but not while we were there! As you can see above, we collected treasures in the dry. In fact, the specimens were nicely washed for us, with the fossils standing out better than I’ve ever seen.

Here’s a random image of the rubbly limestone we examined. Count the bryoimmurations! This is perfect material for beginning paleontology students. Each one made a representative collection to clean, prepare and interpret in our cozy Wooster lab the rest of the semester.

We’ve certainly had better weather here in past years, but I’m not complaining about today. We slipped by a ghost.

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