All about dinosaurs, fossils and prehistoric animals by Everything Dinosaur team members.
/Geology

Articles, features and stories with an emphasis on geology.

17 01, 2020

Extra-terrestrial Impact Wiped Out the Dinosaurs

By | January 17th, 2020|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Geology, Main Page|2 Comments

Mass Extinction Event Caused by Impact Event

One of the greatest controversies surrounding the Dinosauria is what actually caused the demise of the non-avian dinosaurs?  Around the end-Cretaceous mass extinction event, there was an enormous extra-terrestrial impact in the Gulf of Mexico.  A worldwide layer of clay, saturated in the rare Earth element iridium, marking the K-Pg geological boundary was first publicised by American father and son Luis and Walter Alvarez.  They postulated that an Earth impact event had resulted in this deposition and it was speculated that such a catastrophic event might have been responsible for the extinction of the dinosaurs.

New Study Suggests Dinosaur Extinction Due to the Extra-terrestrial Impact Event

Chicxulub impact event.

A reconstruction of the Chicxulub impact which marked the extinction of many terrestrial and marine forms of life, including the non-avian dinosaurs.

The “Smoking Gun” Evidence

Such an impact would have left an enormous crater, the search was on to find the “smoking gun” to support the theory regarding a meteorite, asteroid or perhaps a comet hitting the Earth.  Most researchers now agree, that the Yucatan peninsula in the Gulf of Mexico was ground zero.  However, there is a problem, as scientists are aware of a number of other potential candidates responsible for the extinction of a large amount of the planet’s biota some sixty-six million years ago.  For example, the Late Cretaceous was characterised by extensive volcanism.  Huge amounts of lava from the Deccan traps led to the formation of thousands of miles of  flood basalt.  The out-pouring of noxious gases as a result of this extensive volcanism could well have played a significant role in the extinction of many different kinds of organisms too.

Asteroid impact theory challenged: Blame the Deccan Traps.

In a new paper, a team of international researchers led by Dr Celli Hull from Yale University, conclude that the volcanism did not play a huge role in the extinction, but it may have played a significant role in shaping the rise of different species after the extinction event had occurred.

Impact Event the Most Likely Cause of End-Cretaceous Mass Extinction

The extinction of the dinosaurs.

An international team of scientists conclude that it was the extra-terrestrial bolide impact that caused the mass-extinction event.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Analysis of Ancient Ocean Sediments

In order to disentangle the relative effects of the volcanism and the impact event, the scientists analysed deep sea sediment sections drilled from the North Atlantic, Pacific and South Atlantic Oceans.  They found that volcanic activity in the Late Cretaceous period caused only a gradual global warming of about two degrees Celsius, but this had no significant effect on marine ecosystems, and cooler conditions had returned prior to the extinction.

Hull et al investigated the timing of the Deccan outgassing by modelling in several scenarios, the effects of the gases ejected by volcanoes (sulphur and carbon dioxide).  Their results suggest that more than half of the total Deccan outgassing occurred well before the impact event, not just before it.  The scientists concluded that the timing of most of the atmospheric pollution from the extensive volcanism, just did not fit the extinction event.  The major volcanism is likely to have occurred at least 200,000 years before the extinction event.

One of the co-authors of the study, Professor Paul Bown (University College London), explained.

“Most scientists acknowledge that the last, and best-known, mass extinction event occurred after a large asteroid slammed into Earth 66 million years ago, but some researchers suggested volcanic activity might have played a big role too and we’ve shown that is not the case.”

The team’s models showed that the changes in the carbon cycle that resulted from the volcanism was mitigated by the oceans absorbing vast quantities of CO2.  This would have limited any global warming.

Fellow co-author Professor Paul Wilson (Southampton University), added:

“There’s been a big row about the cause of the mass extinction for decades.  The demise of the dinosaurs was the iconic event but they were large animals and there weren’t really that many of them so it’s tough to use them to figure out the cause.  We studied microscopic marine organisms called foraminifera and there are thousands of them in a teaspoon-full of ocean sediment.  To get them we drilled into the sea bed in waters nearly 5 kilometres deep not far from the watery grave of RMS Titanic off the coast of Newfoundland using a sort of geology time machine – a drill ship called the JOIDES Resolution run by one the world’s most successful international scientific collaborations, the International Ocean Discovery Program.”

The authors postulate that the volcanism may have played a role in shaping the evolution of Palaeogene species in the aftermath of the end-Cretaceous extinction event.

What About Hell Creek – Were Dinosaurs Already in Decline?

From a scientific perspective, it makes much more sense to examine the fossil record of planktonic foraminifera.  Relying on the non-avian dinosaurs as an indicator of palaeo-climate change some sixty-six million years ago is fraught with difficulties.  For instance, although many different types of life were affected by the end-Cretaceous extinction event, it is often only the dinosaurs that are mentioned by the media.  It is worth remembering that many other lifeforms died out.  There are not that many windows into the end of the Maastrichtian and the earliest part of the Palaeocene (Danian faunal stage).  One such example is the Hell Creek Formation, which provides a record of the last few million years of the Mesozoic.

Hell Creek – Prospecting for Fossils in the Upper Cretaceous Sediments

Looking for fossils - Hell Creek Formation.

Prospecting for fossils – Hell Creek Formation (Montana).

Picture Credit: University of California Museum of Palaeontology

Studies of the number and variety of dinosaur fossils excavated from the Hell Creek Formation and other slightly older geological formations, suggest that in the last ten million years of the Cretaceous, the number of dinosaur species fell by more than fifty percent.

An analysis of the youngest fifteen metres of sediments from the Hell Creek Formation, revealed just eleven different types of dinosaur.  In the uppermost strata, the last three metres of the Hell Creek Formation representing the end of the Cretaceous, only three types of dinosaur were recorded.  Whilst it can be difficult to accurately date and assess the chronology of strata, the study of dinosaur fossils from Hell Creek suggests that the Dinosauria may have been in decline (at least in this part of Laramida), prior to the impact event.  This decline, if it was a decline, could have been caused by the environmental effects of the extensive volcanism, or other factors for that matter.

We suspect that just like the Deccan Traps, this debate is going to rumble on for a considerable period of time.

15 01, 2020

Ediacaran Fossil Site Gains Protection

By | January 15th, 2020|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Geology, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

South Australian Fossil Site Purchase Supported by Billionaire

With so much bad news about the environment coming out of Australia due to the devastating bush fires, it is pleasing to report on a conservation success story.   A $1 billion (USD), nature fund has been used to buy a vast tract of outback South Australia containing some of the oldest animal fossils on Earth.  The acquisition safeguards an extremely important fossil site and helps support the Australian Government’s plans to gain World Heritage Site status for the area.

The Nilpena Fossil Fields (South Australia)

The Nilpena fossil fields (South Australia).

The Nilpena fossil fields preserve examples of Precambrian biota.

Picture Credit: Jason Irving

The 60,000-hectare (150,000 acre) Nilpena West property is 370 miles (600 kilometres), north of the South Australian capital Adelaide and was previously part of Nilpena Pastoral Station.  The property includes the Ediacara Fossil Site (Nilpena), which is listed on Australia’s National Heritage List and records a remarkable marine biota, documenting some of the earliest, large, multicellular creatures to have evolved on Earth.

Global not-for-profit organisation The Nature Conservancy, sourced funding from an anonymous donor in October 2019 to allow the purchase and protection to go ahead after the South Australian Government announced in March that it had reached an agreement with the land’s owners to purchase the site.  The purchased land is adjacent to the Ediacara Conservation Park and increases the size of the protected area ten-fold.

The Importance of the Flinders Range

Strange fossils, preserved in the sandstone of the Ediacaran hills of South Australia provided the first substantial evidence for the existence of complex life in the late Precambrian.  In 1946, Australian geologist Reginald Spriggs discovered fossilised impressions in this part of the Flinders Range, his unexpected discovery failed to enthuse the scientific community at first, his paper outlining the discovery was rejected by the academic journal “Nature”.  However, the significance of these exquisitely preserved fossils and what they represented – organisms associated with an ancient marine community, was soon realised.

An Example of Dickinsonia – One of the Fossilised Ediacaran Organisms Associated with the Nilpena Fossil Fields

Dickinsonia costata fossil.

The Ediacaran fossil Dickinsonia costata, specimen P40135 from the collections of the South Australia Museum.  The disc-like Dickinsonia is one of the creatures preserved at the Nilpena fossil site.

Picture Credit: Dr Alex Liu (Cambridge University)

To read an article about the bizarre Dickinsonia: Dickinsonia Definitely an Animal.

The sale has now been finalised with The Nature Conservancy announcing this week that funding from the Wyss Campaign for Nature, the once anonymous donor, had helped secure the acquisition.  The Wyss Campaign for Nature was founded two years ago, by the wealthy, Swiss-born philanthropist Hansjörg Wyss.  The purchased land will be permanently protected and managed by the South Australian Government.  It will be formally allocated to the Ediacara Conservation Park later this year.

A Map Showing the Location of the Nilpena Fossil Fields Relative to the Ediacara Conservation Park

A map of the Nilpena fossil fields site.

Nilpena fossil fields site.  The Nilpena Station purchase will greatly increase the protected area for the fossils.

Picture Credit: The Government of South Australia

The South Australian property is now permanently protected and managed for conservation by the South Australian Government. It will be added to the Ediacara Conservation Park later this year.

Scores of Species

Palaeontologists have excavated many hundreds of specimens representing three dozen different species, most of which are more than 550 million years old.  The fossils provide the first evidence of locomotion and sexual reproduction.  The space agency NASA, has examined the Ediacaran biota in a project to assess how life could evolve on other worlds.

The Nature Conservancy’s Australian Director of Conservation Dr James Fitzsimons explained that this purchase which would permit the formal protection of the 60,000 hectare property was a big win for conservation in South Australia.

He commented:

“The property contains significant biodiversity values including two threatened ecological communities and a number of threatened species.  Most critically, the property also covers extremely important sites that contain the oldest fossilised animals on Earth.”

South Australian Environment and Water Minister David Speirs said Nilpena West would soon be added to the South Australian public protected area estate and managed by the Department for Environment and Water.

The minister added:

“Its inclusion in the conservation estate will link the Ediacara Conservation Park to the Lake Torrens National Park and will support our nomination for the listing of areas of the Flinders Ranges as a World Heritage Site.”

When did life on land evolve?  An Ediacaran related article: When Did Life on Land First Evolve – Does the Ediacaran Biota Provide the Answer?

A recent article about how computerised tomography and other sophisticated research techniques are providing new insights into how the first animals evolved: Chinese Fossils Suggest Animal-like-embryos Evolved Before Animals.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a press release from The Lead South Australia in the compilation of this article.

23 11, 2019

A Quick Guide to the New CollectA Models (Part 4)

By | November 23rd, 2019|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur Fans, Everything Dinosaur News and Updates, Everything Dinosaur Products, Everything Dinosaur videos, Geology, Main Page, Photos of Everything Dinosaur Products, Press Releases|0 Comments

A Short Video Highlighting New for 2020 CollectA Models (Part 4)

Yesterday, Everything Dinosaur in collaboration with our chums at CollectA, revealed the latest collection of prehistoric animal models for 2020*.  Naturally, we put up a blog post providing a little more information about each replica, specifically the new hunting Mapusaurus dinosaur model, the Pleuroceras ammonite, the belemnite and the beautiful horseshoe crab model.  Team members are committed to helping to inform and educate our customers, so in this spirit, we have produced a short video providing a little more information about each of these exciting new figures.

A Quick Video Guide to the New CollectA Prehistoric Animal Models (Part 4)

Video Credit: Everything Dinosaur

CollectA Age of Dinosaurs – Popular Size Hunting Mapusaurus

The first model to be featured in this short video (it lasts a little over five minutes in length), is the only dinosaur figure announced in this batch, a replica of a hunting Mapusaurus.  CollectA originally introduced a model of this giant, South American member of the Carcharodontosauridae (Giganotosaurini tribe), back in 2012.  This model was subsequently modified and a base added. Already represented in the CollectA Deluxe range (a 1:40 scale Mapusaurus was added in 2018), the new hunting Mapusaurus model, which measures a fraction under 23.5 cm long, will be available from Everything Dinosaur in the middle of 2020.

The Evolution of CollectA Mapusaurus Models

Evolution of Mapusaurus replicas within the CollectA model range.

The changing Mapusaurus models 2012 – 2020 (CollectA).

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

CollectA Ammonite (Pleuroceras) and the CollectA Belemnite Model

Fossil collectors have two new models for 2020 to get particularly excited about.  CollectA will be adding an ammonite model and a belemnite to their Age of Dinosaurs range.  These two superb cephalopods help to demonstrate what the actual living animal looked like.

New for 2020 the CollectA Ammonite and Belemnite Models

CollectA ammonite and belemnite.

The CollectA ammonite and belemnite 2020 models next to examples of fossils.  Everything Dinosaur team members know that a number of geologists and palaeontologists will be keen to get their hands on these realistic CollectA replicas.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

CollectA Horseshoe Crab Model

The fourth replica that we discuss in our short video is the horseshoe crab replica.  Everything Dinosaur will be stocking this fifteen centimetre long model of an ancient arthropod, often described as a “living fossil”.   Horseshoe crabs are fascinating creatures, despite their name they are not closely related to crabs, as members of the Arthropoda phylum they are more closely related to spiders and the extinct sea scorpions (eurypterids).  All four living species are vulnerable to extinction due to loss of habitat, overfishing (they are caught and used as bait) and from the harvest of their blue-coloured blood which has medical applications.  It is great to see a horseshoe crab model added to the CollectA range.

New for 2020 The CollectA Age of Dinosaurs Popular Size Horseshoe Crab Model

CollectA Horseshoe Crab model.

CollectA Age of Dinosaurs Popular Size Horseshoe Crab.

Picture Credit: CollectA

2020* To read our blog post from yesterday about these four new CollectA Age of Dinosaurs – popular size models: New CollectA Models for 2020 (Part 4).

To view the range of not-to-scale CollectA prehistoric animal models and figures available from Everything Dinosaur: CollectA Prehistoric Life.

6 10, 2019

New Species of Crocodile Honours Researcher

By | October 6th, 2019|Animal News Stories, Geology, Main Page, Photos|0 Comments

Crocodylus halli – A New Species of Crocodile is Announced

The crocodile family has undergone yet another revision.  It seems that the Crocodylidae are a more specious family than previously thought.  The New Guinea Crocodile (Crocodylus novaeguineae), is actually two species and not one and the second species has been named Crocodylus halli after Philip Hall, a University of Florida researcher who sadly, passed away before his work on these three-metre-long reptiles could be completed.

A New Crocodile Species has been Discovered – Hall’s Crocodile (Crocodylus halli)

New crocodile species discovered.

A new crocodile species has been discovered.  The picture (above), shows Jen Brueggen, Park social media manager, researchers Caleb McMahan, Christopher Murray and John Brueggen, Park director, with a specimen of Crocodylus halli, that seems rather reluctant to pose for a photograph.

Picture Credit: Southeastern Louisiana University

Crocodile Nesting Behaviour Hinted at Different Species

The late scientist Philip Hall, noticed subtle differences in osteoderm patterns on the backs of crocodiles and in the nesting behaviours of crocodile populations in the north and the south of the island of New Guinea.  He speculated that there could be two species living on New Guinea, but unfortunately, he died before his research could be completed.  Southeastern Louisiana University Assistant Professor of Biology Christopher Murray and his co-author Caleb McMahan (Field Museum, Chicago), were inspired to continue this research and they have published their findings in the academic journal “Copeia”, the journal of the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists.

A chain of high hills and mountains known as the Central Highlands divides the island of New Guinea.  It is thought this geological feature was formed in the last 8 million years or so.  Geographically isolated crocodile populations, each living on different drainage basins that came about as a result of the uplift, have been identified as different species.

The Island of New Guinea 

Distribution of crocodile populations on New Guinea.

The Central Highlands of New Guinea permits two distinct drainage basins to form. This geographical barrier has led to the evolution of two distinct species of crocodile.

Picture Credit: Copeia/Murray and McMahan with additional annotation by Everything Dinosaur

The illustration of the island of New Guinea (above), shows the location of the Central Highlands and the red dots south of the mountain chain denote sampling areas for C. halli in the study, whilst the brown dots north of the chain indicate sampling sites for C. novaeguineae.

Careful analysis of museum specimens along with a study of the crocodiles kept in captivity at the St Augustine Alligator Zoological Park (Florida), confirmed the hypothesis.  Subtle differences in the shape of bones and the observed behaviour differences indicates the presence of two distinct species on the island.  This has been confirmed by molecular analysis.

Difference in the Shape of the Skull and Jaws

Comparing Crocodile Skulls from Papua New Guinea.

Dorsal view of skulls from  New Guinea crocodiles.  Crocodylus novaeguineae (left) with its extended maxilla and proportionately reduced postcranial elements compared with two examples of Crocodylus halli (middle and right).  In contrast, the C. halli skulls show much shorter maxillae and proportionately enlarged postcranial elements.

Picture Credit: Copeia/Murray and McMahan

The Importance of Museum Specimens

The researchers comment that this new insight into the Crocodylidae would not have been possible without access to the collections from numerous museums.  The museums involved in this research included The Field Museum (Chicago), the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University, the American Museum of Natural History (New York), Queensland Museum, Louisiana State University Museum of Natural Science and the Florida Museum of Natural History.  The careful curation and collection of a large number of specimens permitted the scientists to build up a substantial database on crocodilian skull morphology that allowed them to tease out the subtle differences between the two species.

Crocodylus halli – Hall’s Crocodile

Newly described crocodile species from New Guinea Crocodylus halli.

One of the residents at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park – Crocodylus halli.

Picture Credit: Copeia/Murray and McMahan

Implications for Crocodile Conservation

Identifying a separate species has important implications for the conservation of both populations of crocodile.

Commenting on the significance of this discovery, Caleb McMahan stated:

“Now that we know the evolutionary history of these species, we need to re-inform the conservation status of them given that the distribution has changed and conservation threats are different in different areas.”

24 09, 2019

Dust from a Giant Asteroid Collision Caused Ordovician Ice Age

By | September 24th, 2019|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Geology, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Global Climate Change in the Ordovician Caused by Dust from a Giant Asteroid

Scientists have been aware for some time that during the Middle Ordovician, our planet endured a prolonged but gradual period of global cooling.  The average temperature on Earth fell and this opened up new ecological niches that permitted those animals and other organisms around at the time to adapt and to become more specious.  The cause of this world-wide ice age, one that started around 466 million years ago, is a mystery, but a team of scientists writing in the journal “Science Advances” think that they may have found the answer.  They postulate that the global cooling was triggered by huge amounts of dust deposited in the atmosphere from an extraterrestrial asteroid collision.

An Enormous Impact in Outer Space

Colliding asteroids in outer space.

An artist’s impression of an extraterrestrial asteroid impact.  Excessive amounts of dust in the atmosphere may have contributed to global cooling.

Picture Credit: Don Davis, Southwest Research Institute

Dust from Outer Space

The Earth’s atmosphere is constantly bombarded by extraterrestrial space dust, but normally it only makes up a tiny proportion of all the dust in the atmosphere.  Most of these tiny particles come from other sources such as volcanoes, forest fires, fine sand grains from deserts, pollution or from sea salt.  However, the research team, which included scientists from the University of Chicago and Sweden’s Lund University postulate that the break-up of a 93-mile-wide asteroid in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter led to the deposition of much more than just the normal background dosage of space dust.  Large amounts of dust would have interrupted the filtering of solar radiation to the surface of our planet and led to a period of dramatic global cooling.

Philipp Heck (University of Chicago), one of the co-authors of the paper published in “Science Advances” explained:

“Normally, Earth gains about 40,000 tons of extraterrestrial material every year.  Imagine multiplying that by a factor of a thousand or ten thousand.  Our hypothesis is that the large amounts of extraterrestrial dust over a timeframe of at least two million years played an important role in changing the climate on Earth, contributing to cooling.”

If large amounts of ice were formed due to this cooling effect, then sea-levels would have fallen as evidenced by the geological record of strata that was formed during this time in Earth’s turbulent history.  Falling sea levels would have changed ecosystems, potentially opening up new environments for organisms to exploit.

Lead author of the research paper, Birger Schmitz of Sweden’s Lund University added:

“Our results show for the first time that such dust, at times, has cooled Earth dramatically.  Our studies can give a more detailed, empirical-based understanding of how this works, and this in turn can be used to evaluate if model simulations are realistic.”

Searching for the Evidence

The researchers analysed Ordovician rocks looking for rare Earth particles that could be associated with cosmic dust.  Tiny micrometeorites collected from Antarctica were used to provide a base level of normal cosmic deposition.  Evidence of rare helium isotopes along with other rare Earth metals confirmed that dust deposits were extraterrestrial in nature.  The Middle Ordovician cooling period could therefore have been caused by this excessive dust.  The amount of water in the Earth’s oceans influences the way that rocks on the seabed form, and the rocks from this time period show signs of shallower oceans, an indication that some of the Earth’s water was trapped in glaciers and sea ice.  Schmitz and his colleagues are the first to show that this ice age correlates with the extra dust in the atmosphere.

A Fragment of a Meteorite Preserved in Ordovician-aged Rock (Note the Orthocone Fossil)

Fragment of a meteorite preserved in sandstone dating from the Ordovician. Note the orthocone fossil (above).

A fragment of a meteorite preserved in red sandstone dating from the Ordovician.  Note the orthocone fossil (above).

Picture Credit: John Weinstein/Chicago Field Museum

Gradual Climate Change Could Have Benefitted Life on Earth

Whilst the authors note that sudden and dramatic climate change can be very detrimental to ecosystems, the Middle Ordovician cooling could have proved to have been extremely beneficial.

Associate Professor Heck argues:

“In the global cooling we studied, we’re talking about timescales of millions of years.  It’s very different from the climate change caused by the meteorite 65 million years ago that killed the dinosaurs, and it’s different from the global warming today—this global cooling was a gentle nudge.  There was less stress.”

Rocks from Southern Sweden Record the Dramatic Increase in Cosmic Dust

The grey horizontal line marks the deposition of the cosmic dust from the asteroid collision in outer space.

These are cliffs made of sedimentary rock that was once an ancient seabed.  The grey horizontal line in the rock shows where the dust from the asteroid collision fell.  These deposits provide “smoking gun” evidence of the outer space asteroid collision.

Picture Credit: Philipp Heck (University of Chicago)

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a press release from the University of Chicago in the compilation of this article.

2 09, 2019

Ammonite Biozones and the Biostratigraphic Column

By | September 2nd, 2019|Geology, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Ammonite Biozones and the Biostratigraphic Column

It was the English engineer William Smith (1769-1839), who pioneered the idea that different strata located in different places could be correlated using the fossils that were contained therein.  Although, his astonishing feat of compiling the world’s first geological map did not receive all the recognition it deserved, after all, it was only later in his life that his achievements gained prominence in scientific circles, William Smith is regarded by many as the “father of geology”.

As he examined different layers of rock he perceived that any succession of fossils could represent particular periods of geological time.  Furthermore, the age of widely separated strata could be compared and correlated using the fossils that they contained.  These fossils helped to indicate the relative age of various rock formations.  Thus, Smith helped to lay the foundations for the science of biostratigraphy.  Ammonites and other invertebrate fossils are extremely important in the relative dating process.

Different Fossils of Ammonites Associated with Different Layers of Rock – Building a Biostratigraphical Column

Ammonite Biozones

Demonstrating a sequence of ammonite fossils identified from specific strata that helps to form a biostratigraphic column.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The above photograph was taken by an Everything Dinosaur team member on a recent visit to the Naturmuseum Senckenberg (Frankfurt, Germany), it demonstrates that different types of ammonite fossils are associated with different layers of rocks in a sequence of deposition.  The stratigraphic column can therefore be divided into zones (biozones), that are characterised by one or more particular type of fossil.  The sequence of these biozones in the correct order, creates a biostratigraphical column.

Ammonites are ideal zone fossil candidates.  These cephalopods were ubiquitous in Mesozoic marine deposits, their shells formed abundant fossils and ammonites evolved rapidly into many distinctive types (species).  We congratulate the Museum for such a beautifully created and instructive display.

19 08, 2019

Ancient Jurassic Volcano Landscape Found Under Central Australia

By | August 19th, 2019|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Geology, Main Page|0 Comments

Volatile Jurassic Landscape Named after Fiery Australian Cricketer

An ancient landscape of 100 volcanoes has been discovered underneath Australia’s largest onshore oil and gas region.  Researchers from the University of Aberdeen (Scotland) and the University of Adelaide (South Australia), have identified a network of volcanoes that formed between 180 and 160 million years ago, buried deep within the Cooper-Eromanga Basins of central Australia.   A considerable portion of the scientific paper, published in the journal “Gondwana Research”, was written whilst the University of Aberdeen researchers were in Adelaide, watching an England versus Cricket Australia XI match (November 2017).

The scientists have called the volcanic region the Warnie Volcanic Province, in recognition of the formidable spin bowling talent of former Australian cricketer Shane Warne, who had a seismic impact on the sport.

The Scientists were Able to Map Characteristics of the Region Highlighting the Violent Past of the Landscape

Lava flows and volcano cones identified.

Characteristics of the volcanic region as mapped by the scientists.

Picture Credit: University of Aberdeen/University of Adelaide

Sixty Years of Petroleum Exploration

The Cooper-Eromanga Basins in the north-eastern corner of South Australia and south-western corner of Queensland have been the site of about sixty years of petroleum exploration and production.  However, evidence for a volcano dominated ancient Jurassic underground landscape had gone largely unrecorded.  The volcanoes developed in the Toarcian through to the Oxfordian faunal stages and have been subsequently buried beneath hundreds of metres of sedimentary rock.  The researchers used advanced sub-surface imaging techniques, analogous to medical CT (computerised tomography) scanning, to identify the multitude of volcanic craters and lava flows, and the deeper magma chambers that fed them.  In contrast, today, this area of Australia is a very arid and barren landscape.

The Study Identified Around a Hundred Volcanoes

Identifying a Jurassic World of Volcanoes in Australia

Line drawings and seismic data from the Warnie Volcanic Province.

Picture Credit: University of Aberdeen/University of Adelaide

This study demonstrates that during the Middle to the early Late Jurassic this area would have been a landscape of craters and fissures, expelling hot ash and lava into the air, surrounded by networks of river channels forming large lakes and coal-swamps.  This area was inhabited by dinosaurs and pterosaurs.

Co-author of the scientific paper, Associate Professor Simon Holford (University of Adelaide), stated that the discovery raised the prospect that more undiscovered volcanic worlds resided beneath the poorly explored surface of Australia.

Associate Professor Holford commented:

“While the majority of Earth’s volcanic activity occurs at the boundaries of tectonic plates, or under the Earth’s oceans, this ancient Jurassic world developed deep within the interior of the Australian continent.”

One of the authors was Jonathon Hardman, at the time a PhD student at the University of Aberdeen, as part of the Natural Environment Research Council Centre for Doctoral Training in Oil and Gas.  Jurassic-aged sedimentary rocks bearing oil, gas and water have been economically important for Australia, but this latest discovery suggests a lot more volcanic activity in the Jurassic period than was previously supposed.  The area has been named the Warnie Volcanic Province, in honour of the explosive Australian cricketer Shane Warne.

Co-author Associate Professor Nick Schofield (University of Aberdeen), explained that the Cooper-Eromanga Basins had been substantially explored since the first gas discovery in 1963.

He added:

“This has led to a massive amount of available data from underneath the ground but, despite this, the volcanics have never been properly understood in this region until now.  It changes how we understand processes that have operated in Earth’s past.”

A Typical Jurassic Landscape

A Jurassic landscape.

A typical Jurassic landscape.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a media release from “The Lead South Australia” in the compilation of this article.

The scientific paper: “The Warnie volcanic province: Jurassic intraplate volcanism in Central Australia” by Jonathon P.A. Hardman, Simon P. Holford, Nick Schofield, Mark Bunch and Daniel Gibbins published in the journal Gondwana Research.

11 06, 2019

Southern North Sea Yields Prehistoric Evidence

By | June 11th, 2019|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Geology, Main Page|0 Comments

The First Archaeological Artefacts Found During the Search for Lost Prehistoric Settlements

During May 2019, an eleven-day expedition by European scientists from Belgium and Britain was undertaken to explore three sites of potential geological and archaeological interest in the southern North Sea.  Through chance finds by fishermen over many decades, it has long been suspected that the southern North Sea hides a vast landscape that once was home to thousands of people.  Over the past two years, the British team has been recreating the drowned landscape using data provided by oil and gas companies, windfarm developers and the coal board.  The modelled landscape contains areas with a higher likelihood of past human activity, locations where evidence for these activities might more likely be found.

To read an early article that highlighted this research: The Search for Lost Prehistoric Settlements in the North Sea

Prospecting this drowned landscape in search of the evidence of people is a challenging activity, as the North Sea is not only one of the busiest seaways in the world but the weather often makes it inhospitable and this work can be dangerous.  Furthermore, multiple utilities cross the area and visibility under water is often very poor.  Given these challenging conditions, researchers on the Belgian vessel, RV Belgica, used acoustic techniques and physical sampling of the seabed to survey three of the high potential target areas.  The team used both traditional geophysical techniques and a novel new technique with a parametric sonar.  This specialised equipment enabled the highest resolution images to be obtained of the deposits beneath the seabed.  Although the survey was heavily impacted by poor weather, confirmation of the occurrence of a well-preserved Early Holocene land surface was made near Brown Bank (Area C in figure below), where several large samples of peat and ancient wood were recovered.  This evidence strongly suggests that a prehistoric woodland once stood in this area.

The Research Team Identified a Prehistoric Woodland

Woodland identified in the Brown Bank area.

Area of woodland identified in the southern North Sea – area C in the figure.  Location of the flint find marked B.

Picture Credit: The University of Bradford (Europe’s Lost Frontiers/VLIZ)

Difficult Weather Conditions Hampered the Research Efforts

Although hampered by the rough seas and bad weather the research team made considerable progress.  Survey over Area B (see figure above), targeted a large river system identified in the model landscape.  This area was focused on a zone where the river entered an ancient sea and was suspected to be a location where evidence of human activity was more likely to be preserved.  The survey recorded not only remains of peat but also nodules of flint which may originate from submarine chalk outcrops near the ancient river and coast.  These findings are supported by the results of vibrocores acquired in the area for the Europe’s Lost Frontiers project.

The Survey Vessel – The RV Belgica

Research vessel RV Belgica.

The research vessel the RV Belgica.

Picture Credit: The University of Bradford

First Archaeological Artefacts

Further study has also revealed the first archaeological artefacts from the survey area.  One was a small piece of flint that was possibly the waste product of stone tool making.  The second was a larger piece, broken from the edge of a stone hammer, an artefact used to make a variety of other flint tools.  As well as being evidence for flint tool production, the hammer fragment derived from a large battered flint nodule would once have been part of a personal tool kit. Research is still ongoing into this artefact and its context within the ancient North Sea landscape.

Laser Scan of the Flint

Laser scan of the flint.

3-D laser scan of the flint, with raked lighting to show surface features.

Picture Credit: Tom Sparrow, Visualising Heritage. University of Bradford

Images of the North Sea Flint

Images of the North Sea flint.

A series of images of the flint (laser scanned and colour photos) .

Picture Credit: Tom Sparrow, Visualising Heritage. University of Bradford

Mapping the Southern River and the Brown Bank

In the relatively short period of time available for survey and sampling around the Southern River and the Brown Bank, the project methodology has clearly demonstrated its value.  Marine geophysics has been used to map the topography of these lost lands and identify areas where prehistoric sediments may exist.  Where these are accessible and are within areas of the landscape that are likely to be attractive for human occupation or use, sediments can be extracted for careful examination and with a higher expectation of making finds than was previously possible.

The material recovered suggests that the expedition has revealed a well-preserved, prehistoric landscape which, based on preliminary inspection of the material, must have contained a prehistoric woodland.  The recovery of stone artefacts not only demonstrate that these landscapes were inhabited but also that archaeologists can, for the first time, prospect for evidence of human occupation in the deeper waters of the North Sea with some certainty of success.  Work will now proceed to refine our knowledge of the larger context of these finds and to plan further expeditions to explore these hidden prehistoric landscapes.

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a press release from the University of Bradford in the compilation of this article.

15 05, 2019

Fossil Hunting on Mars?

By | May 15th, 2019|Geology, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Fossil Hunting on Mars – Where to Look?

The second stage of the joint European and Russian ExoMars project is due to launch in 2020.  The first part of the mission involved an atmospheric probe designed to search for trace amounts of methane and other gases in the thin Martian atmosphere – evidence of there having been life on the planet in the past.  The results so far have been a little disappointing but, part two will continue the main aim of this programme, addressing the question as to whether or not we are alone in the universe.  A rover will explore the surface and crucially, it will collect samples with a drill down to a depth of two metres and analyse them onboard using sophisticated instrumentation.  Samples from beneath the surface of Mars are more likely to include biomarkers, as the thin atmosphere provides little protection from radiation and photochemistry, but could ExoMars be looking for evidence of life in the wrong place?

An Artist’s View of the ExoMars Rover on the Martian Surface

ExoMars Rover (2020)

Set to launch in 2020 the ExoMars expedition will include a sophisticated rover that will drill into the soil to test for past life.

Picture Credit: European Space Agency (ESA)

An Atlas of Volcanic Rock – On the Hunt for Extremophiles

Researchers at the Swedish Museum of Natural History (Stockholm),  have begun compiling an atlas of fossils in volcanic rock, to guide where and what to look for in the search for Martian life.  Most fossils are associated with sedimentary rocks and there are sedimentary rocks on the red planet (deposits formed in layers), either through the transport of material via water, with the assumption that in the ancient past, liquid water existed on the Martian surface, or via wind (aeolian) deposition.  However, igneous rocks dominate the geology of Mars and writing in the academic journal “Frontiers in Earth Science”, the scientists suggest that it is these igneous rocks that may harbour evidence of life.  Producing a guide to the microbial fossils found in volcanic rocks on Earth, can then assist the Mars exploration team in identifying suitable sites to hunt for Martian microbial fossils.

An Environmental Scanning Electron Microscope Image of Fossilised Fungi

Fossil fungal mycelium.

ESEM image of a fossil fungal mycelium with associated “cauliflower-like” microstromatolite formed by iron-oxidizing bacteria. From Koko Seamount, Pacific Ocean, 43 million years old.

Picture Credit: Frontiers Press

Lead author of the paper, Dr Magnus Ivarsson explained:

“We propose a “volcanic microfossil atlas” to help select target sites for missions seeking evidence of extraterrestrial life, such as the NASA Mars mission 2020 and ExoMars.  The atlas could also help us to recognise what Mars microfossils might look like, by identifying biosignatures associated with different types of fossilised microbes.”

Life Buried in Deep Rock and Deep Geological Time

Dr Ivarsson and his colleagues study life buried in deep rock and deep geological time.  Looking for the fossilised remains of ancient microbes, that have lived up to one thousand metres below the deepest ocean floors and may have originated more than 3.5 billion years ago.

The Martian Surface But Could the Subsurface Harbour Evidence of Ancient Life?

The surface of Mars.

Evidence of ancient life could be preserved beneath the surface of Mars.

Picture Credit: Frontiers Press

Dr Ivarsson added:

“The majority of the microorganisms on Earth are believed to exist in the deep biosphere of the ocean and continental crust.  Yet we are just now beginning to explore, through deep drilling projects, this hidden biosphere.”

In a saline, water world of extreme pressure, that is in perpetual darkness, fungi, bacteria and other microbes have adapted to feed on the igneous rock that surrounds them.  There are even predator/prey relationships.  These organisms spread through microscopic fractures and cavities forming complex ecosystems.  When these lifeforms die, they can become microfossils, providing a history of their existence.

Fossilised Fungal Mycelia

Fossilised fungal mycelia in a subseafloor basalt.

An image by optical microscopy of an open vesicle in subseafloor basalt from Koko Seamount.  Fossilised fungal mycelia protrude from the vesicle wall, yellow and brownish microstromatolites grow on the hyphae and large calcite crystal occur in the middle of the vesicle.

Picture Credit: Frontiers Press

An Atlas of Microfossils from Igneous Rocks

Scientists are aware that the rocky planets Mars and Earth are very similar geochemically, so by looking at igneous rocks on Earth, this should help guide the search for life on Mars.

Ivarsson explained:

“Our aim is to be able to use the oceanic crust microfossil record as a model system to guide Martian exploration.  Our review of existing knowledge is an important first step, but a more comprehensive understanding of the deep life is needed to show where and what to search for.”

The microfossil atlas would also help to determine which samples should be targeted for return to Earth for further analysis, given the limited payload of the Mars missions.  Perhaps, within two years of this article having been written, we will know the answer to the question about whether or not we are alone in this universe, that there was once, perhaps there still is, microbial life deep underground on Mars.

Could Evidence of  Ancient Life on Mars be Discovered within the Next Two Years?

Synchrotron-based X-ray tomography - an image of fungi and prokaryotic cell-like structures.

Three-dimensional reconstruction made by synchrotron-based X-ray tomography (srxtm).  Fungal mycelium with microstromatolitic structures and remains of prokaryotic cell-like structures in between the fungal hyphae.

Picture Credit: Frontiers Press

The scientific paper can be found here: NASA May Have to Look in Igneous Rocks to Detect Ancient Life on Mars

2 05, 2019

The Search for Lost Prehistoric Settlements in the North Sea

By | May 2nd, 2019|Geology, Main Page|0 Comments

Brown Banks and White Cliffs – The Search for Lost Prehistoric Settlements

After a successful expedition in 2018, the second voyage in search of prehistoric landscapes and submerged settlements within the Brown Bank area of the southern North Sea will set off next week.  Marine experts will join archaeologists on the eleven-day voyage.   Researchers from the UK and Belgium will combine acoustic techniques and physical sampling of the seabed to unravel the topography and history of these landscapes and their inhabitants.  The scientists will be mapping a lost world.

Careful Analysis of North Sea Sediment Cores Looking for Evidence of Prehistoric Settlements

Seabed cores searched for signs of prehistoric settlement.

DNA sampling of sediment cores at the University of Warwick.

Picture Credit: Lost Frontiers

The expedition will be led by Dr. Tine Missiaen (Flanders Marine Institute – VLIZ), accompanied by scientists from Ghent University and the University of Bradford.  The voyage on board the Belgian research vessel “RV Belgica” takes place within the collaborative Belgian-UK-Dutch research project known as “Deep History: Revealing the palaeo-landscape of the southern North Sea”.  The research project aims to reconstruct the Quaternary history (roughly spanning the last half a million years) and human occupation of the wider Brown Bank area.  The project compliments the Bradford-led “Lost Frontiers” project, in which archaeologists are mapping the prehistoric North Sea landscape known as Doggerland.  The research is funded by the European Research Council (ERC).

Until sea levels rose at the end of the last Ice Age, between 8-10,000 years ago, an area of land connected Great Britain to Scandinavia and the continent.  The Lost Frontiers team has identified thousands of kilometres of plains, hills, marshlands and river valleys, but despite all this mapping, evidence of human settlement has been difficult to find.

Home to Thousands of Stone Age People

Archaeologists have long suspected that the southern North Sea plain, right in the centre of Doggerland, may have been home to thousands of people.  Tantalising clues have been brought up by trawlers over the years, but the researchers hope to find more evidence to substantiate the population hypothesis.  A concentration of archaeological material, including worked bone, stone and human remains, has been found within the area around the Brown Bank, an elongated,  eighteen-mile-long (thirty-kilometres) sand ridge roughly sixty miles (a hundred kilometres) due east from Great Yarmouth on the Norfolk coast.  The amount of artifacts found suggests the presence of a Stone Age settlement.

Exploration Areas (May 2019) – The Brown Banks and the Southern River

Map showing the 2019 exploration areas.

The Southern River and the Brown Banks 2019 exploration areas.  Note: VC45 core location.

Picture Credit: Lost Frontiers/VLIZ/UGent

A Detailed Geophysical and Geotechnical Survey

In 2018, teams from the Flanders Marine Institute, Ghent University, the Dutch Geological Service and the University of Bradford collaborated on a detailed geophysical and geotechnical survey to identify prehistoric land surfaces, including ancient lakes and river valleys.  Sediment was extracted from the seabed to see if traces of human activity could be identified.

Thanks to the simultaneous use of different seismic sources, an uninterrupted image of the subbottom was obtained with unprecedented detail.  Combined with the study of sediment cores this allowed the scientists to refine the search for human activity to areas on the Brown Banks.  The May 2019 expedition will focus on detailed investigations in these areas, deploying VLIZ’s novel multitransducer echosounder, which uses sonar technology to obtain images of the subbottom with the highest possible resolution, and the collection of larger samples of sediment as well as video footage from the seafloor using VLIZ’s dedicated videoframe.

The Grab Sampler Ready to be Deployed

The grab sampler on the vessel ready to be deployed.

The grab sampler ready to be deployed.

Picture Credit: Belgian Navy

Exploring the “Southern River”

The team will also be visiting another area, known as the “Southern River”, a major prehistoric river valley flowing across a submerged headland off the East Anglian coast.  Previously surveyed by Lost Frontiers, the team believes that the estuary of the river, which may also have been flanked by white chalk cliffs, provides another potential area for prehistoric settlement.  The detailed survey of this area during this expedition will be the first ever undertaken to assess the archaeological potential of this part of the North Sea.

Commenting on the importance of this research, Professor Vincent Gaffney (University of Bradford), stated:

“In 2018, the team demonstrated that we can find prehistoric land surfaces on the Brown Banks that date from the Mesolithic period.  This provides the exciting prospect to return and recover larger volumes of sediment from those land surfaces, and find out what evidence they may contain of human settlement.”

The Survey Vessel – The RV Belgica

The RV Belgica of the Belgian Navy.

The RV Belgica (Belgian Navy).

Picture Credit: Belgian Navy

Doctor Tine Missiaen, (Flanders Marine Institute), added:

“The combined use of different state-of-the-art acoustic sources provides a major step forward in the identification and reconstruction of prehistoric land surfaces that now lie buried below the seafloor.  With the detailed investigations that will be carried out in May 2019 we hope to further unravel the unique history of these landscapes and their inhabitants.”

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