Niagara Falls Area Reveals Ancient Fossil Treasures

The Niagara Falls attracts millions of tourists every year to watch the water cascading over the huge falls on the Canadian/U.S. border, but the geology that created this spectacular wonder of nature has been providing scientists with a glimpse into the rich diversity of life in ancient seas 425 million years ago.

The Niagara Escarpment is formed from layers of sedimentary rocks laid down in a marine environment, these sit on the ancient Pre-Cambrian rocks of the huge Canadian shield that covers much of North America and the Arctic.  In geological terms, this feature, an escarpment, although sometimes known as a cuesta, is a ridge composed of gently tilted rock strata with a long gradual slope on one side and a steep, or scarp slope on the other.

A team of palaeontologists from the Royal Ontario museum in Toronto have been exploring a 16 kilometre area of sedimentary strata in the Grey Bruce area heading up to the shores of Lake Huron.  In this area they have discovered a unique fossil community that provides a rich source of information about life in the late Silurian, about 425 million years ago.  At the time, this area was a shallow sea, much nearer the equator than it is today and fossils of many primitive fish, as well as invertebrates, corals and aquatic plants have been discovered.  The team of scientists have described this area as one of the most important and unique fossil finds in Canada.  The discovery of exceptionally well preserved aquatic plant fossils is particularly exciting as it was around this period in Earth’s history that the first plants began to colonise the land and so began the chain of events that led to the atmosphere that we have on Earth today.

The beautifully preserved fossils will be studied in more detail at the museums laboratories, they demonstrate the amazing biodiversity of life in the warm shallow seas of the late Silurian.  What is surprising is that this rich fossil yielding strata was found in an area just two hours north of Toronto, one of the most densely populated areas of Canada.  As a scientist commented in a press conference, the site lay under their noses but nobody bothered to take a closer look until now.

In February 1990, the Niagara Escarpment was designated a World Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). It is one of only 12 biosphere reserves in Canada, and is part of a network of more than 400 reserves in 95 countries.

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