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/Geology

Articles, features and stories with an emphasis on geology.

31 08, 2021

Red Wharf Bay – Anglesey

By | August 31st, 2021|Geology, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

The picturesque Red Wharf Bay on the eastern coast of the isle of Anglesey is often visited by geology students. The rocks surrounding the bay provide evidence of changing sea levels from the Carboniferous. Rounded pebbles part of the way up one of the cliffs provide evidence of a much more recent change in sea level. The weather-worn and eroded rocks represent a raised beach, geological proof of sea levels being much higher during interglacial intervals (Pleistocene Epoch).

The views are fairly spectacular too.

Red Wharf Bay - Anglesey
Red Wharf Bay on the east coast of Anglesey is a popular location for geology students, it has stunning views too.

Carboniferous Limestones

The limestones that make up the cliffs were deposited around 330 million years ago during the Serpukhovian stage (the youngest stage of the Mississippian, the lower subsystem of the Carboniferous). The area is dominated by the huge Castell Mawr (Castle Rock), the limestone was quarried for many years, but all quarrying has been abandoned and the area is now a haven for nesting seabirds. The bay attracts a variety of birds, as well as the ubiquitous gulls, many different types of wading bird can be found in this area including oystercatchers, sandpipers and curlews. Occasionally, visitors to this part of Anglesey can be treated to a view of a Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) hunting for fish as the tide comes in.

This area of outstanding natural beauty is famous for its geology, the limestone was formed in a shallow, tropical sea, but the presence of sandstone indicates that the sea retreated and the sandstones represent estuarine and river channels that criss-crossed the area, with the sand infilling the limestone as it was partially dissolved away.

Fossils can be found, but they are relatively rare. Brachiopod traces can be seen in the limestone rocks that litter the beach, a testament to the rich marine life that thrived in this area during the Carboniferous.

Carboniferous brachiopods.
Brachiopod fossils can be seen in the limestone rocks as you walk along the coast from Red Wharf Bay to the village of Benllech.

Occasional Corals Found in Pebbles

Walkers, if they descend onto the beaches from the Welsh Coastal Path can find the occasional fossil of colonial corals in pebbles scattered along the beach. They are rare and difficult to differentiate from the limestones and other material on dry, sunny days, but with patience the fossil collector can be rewarded with some finds, albeit highly eroded specimens.

Pebble containing coral fossils.
Occasionally weathered pebbles containing colonial coral remains can be found.

Whilst sunny weather can never be guaranteed in North Wales, Red Wharf Bay is a family friendly beach close to beautiful countryside with stunning views which even on Bank Holidays is never overcrowded. It also provides the opportunity to spot a fossil or two.

Carboniferous fossil Red Wharf Bay
The fossilised remains of a Carboniferous brachiopod from Red Wharf Bay.
17 08, 2021

Scientists Solve Puzzle of Where the Dinosaur Killing Asteroid Came From

By | August 17th, 2021|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Geology, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Researchers from the Department of Space Studies at the Southwest Research Institute (Boulder, Colorado), have developed a dynamic model to predict the origin of the extra-terrestrial body that smashed into our planet 66 million years ago. This colossal impact event played a significant role in the end-Cretaceous mass extinction event that wiped out the non-avian dinosaurs.

The end of the non-avian dinosaurs.
An artist’s impression of the bolide about to impact with the Gulf of Mexico 66 million years ago. Picture credit: Chase Stone.

From the Outer Half of the Main Asteroid Belt

The research suggests that the dinosaur-killing asteroid originated from the outer half of the main asteroid belt between Mars and the gas giant Jupiter. It had been thought that this region of space did not produce many impactors (bodies that crash into other planets, moons etc). The paper published in “Science Direct” concludes that the processes that deliver large asteroids to Earth from that region occur at least ten times more frequently than previously thought and that the composition of these bodies match what we know of the dinosaur-killing impactor.

The Southwest Research Institute team consisting of lead author Dr David Nesvorný, Dr William Bottke and Dr Simone Marchi used sophisticated computer models of asteroid evolution combined with observations of known asteroids to investigate how frequently so-called Chicxulub events might occur. Around 66 million years ago an extra-terrestrial bolide estimated at around 10 kilometres in diameter smashed into the Gulf of Mexico (Yucatan peninsula). This impact event devastated life on Earth and formed the Chicxulub crater – which is over 150 kilometres across.

Commenting on the purpose of their research, Dr William Bottke explained that two very important questions remained unanswered:

“What was the source of the impactor? How often did such impact events occur on Earth in the past?”

An asteroid hits Earth
An artist’s impression of the impact event which helped to wipe out the non-avian dinosaurs. Picture credit: SwRI and Don Davis.

The Search for the Source of the Dinosaur-Killing Asteroid

Using recently published research on the composition of the Chicxulub crater the researchers identified that the extra-terrestrial body that smashed into Earth had a similar chemical signature to the carbonaceous chondrite class of meteorites. Intriguingly, whilst carbonaceous chondrites are common amongst the many mile-wide bodies that approach the Earth, none today are close to the size needed to produce the Chicxulub impact with any kind of reasonable probability.

Dr Nesvorný explained that this finding sent the team on a hunt into space to find the likely source of the bolide that collided with Earth with such catastrophic consequences for about 75% of all terrestrial lifeforms.

He commented:

“We decided to look for where the siblings of the Chicxulub impactor might be hiding.”

The team turned to the NASA’s Pleaides Supercomputer and modelled the trajectories of 130,000 asteroids, examining how gravitational kicks from the planets might push these objects into orbits near to Earth. The researchers found that their computer simulations predicted Earth impacts from asteroids originating from the outer half of the asteroid belt ten times more frequently than previously thought.

Annotated map of the solar system
A map of the solar system with the outer portion of the asteroid belt shown by the yellow arrow. Picture credit: BBC with additional annotation by Everything Dinosaur.

They calculated that asteroids in excess of 10 kilometres in diameter hit Earth once every 250 million years or so.

This suggests that the non-avian dinosaurs and the other organisms that became extinct 66 million years ago, were very unlucky. Fortunately, in deep geological time, such catastrophic Earth impacts remain rare.

Commenting on the importance of this new research, Dr Nesvorný added:

“This work will help us better understand the nature of the Chicxulub impact, while also telling us where other large impactors from Earth’s deep past might have originated.”

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the assistance of a media release from the Southwest Research Institute in the compilation of this article.

The scientific paper: “Dark primitive asteroids account for a large share of K/Pg-scale impacts on the Earth” by David Nesvorný, William F. Bottke and Simone Marchi published in Science Direct.

9 07, 2021

Providing Advice About Visiting Lyme Regis

By | July 9th, 2021|Dinosaur Fans, General Teaching, Geology, Main Page|0 Comments

As Everything Dinosaur team members have written quite a lot about staying safe when visiting the beaches around Lyme Regis on the famous Jurassic Coast of southern England, we are now receiving emails from first time visitors to Dorset asking for our advice.

Our dedicated team members are happy to provide assistance and to direct these enquiries to the local tourist information office and various visitor centres.

Some of the recently built sea defences around Lyme Regis. Stonebarrow and Golden Cap can be seen in the background. The stunning and very beautiful part of the UNESCO World Heritage site around the picturesque town of Lyme Regis (Dorset) – the “Jurassic Coast”.

Our Advice

As the school holidays approach many families are wanting to have a vacation in the UK rather than travel abroad. The Dorset coast is a popular destination and first-time visitors have turned to Everything Dinosaur for advice on staying safe when visiting the beaches. Whilst team members can provide general information and guidance it is important that visitors obey any local notices that have been posted up.

Avoid the cliffs, don’t go near them and whatever you do please do not attempt to climb them. For further information about visiting the beaches around Lyme Regis: Visiting Lyme Regis in Summer. If you are at Charmouth, pop into the local Heritage Centre and ask their advice, you may also be able to book a fossil walk or at least enquire about availability.

Supervised fossil walks are always a good idea, most are now fully booked but it might be worthwhile emailing local guides and enquiring. Brandon Lennon is one of the most respected in the area, he can be contacted here: Lyme Regis Fossil Walks.

For further advice you can visit the local Lyme Regis Tourist Information centre located in the town centre of Lyme Regis – 62, Church Street, Lyme Regis DT7 3BS. Local knowledge can be invaluable.

If you want specific information about tides and beach safety, you can enquire at the lifeboat station down on the Cobb at Lyme Regis. Alternatively, there are a number of websites that provide information about high and low tides on this part of the coast, or for a small fee, an annual tide timetable can be purchased.

It is a good idea to go fossil collecting on a falling tide and to keep away from the steep cliffs. Everything Dinosaur team members provide general advice and guidance to visitors to Lyme Regis and Charmouth.
24 06, 2021

Australia’s Newest National Park Protects Ancient Fossils

By | June 24th, 2021|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Geology, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

In January 2020, Everything Dinosaur reported that a part of Flinders Range in South Australia that contains a unique record of Ediacaran life had gained official protection. This area has now become a national park helping to ensure the long-term future of one of the most important fossil sites in the world recording evidence of life before the Cambrian.

The Nilpena fossil fields (South Australia).
The Nilpena fossil fields preserve examples of Precambrian biota. This area has been designated a national park and therefore receives greater protection under Australian law. Picture credit: Jason Irving.

Additional Protection for an Important Fossil Site

The newly formed Nilpena Ediacara National Park will replace the existing Ediacara National Conservation Park and adds around 60,000 hectares of extra land to the protection project, that is bigger than the area of the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea.

The site preserves the fossilised remains of an ancient marine biota from the Ediacaran geological period. Since this site was first discovered in 1946, around 40 highly fossiliferous beds have been identified preserving in exquisite detail a variety of soft-bodied lifeforms. These marine organisms represent some of the first, large complex animals to evolve and document the evolution of locomotion and sexual reproduction.

Ediacaran marine life.
Life in the Ediacaran. The Nilpena site in Southern Australia provides a fossil record of the marine biota that thrived in a shallow sea at the end of the Ediacaran geological period around 550 million years ago. Picture credit: John Sibbick.

South Australia’s Minister for the Environment and Water, David Speirs, stated that the new national park is a significant step on the road to getting the Flinders Ranges UNESCO World Heritage status.

The Minister commented:

“The fossil site at Nilpena, arguably the richest and most intact fossil site in the world, is an internationally significant palaeontological and geological research site.”

To read Everything Dinosaur’s article from January 2020, which outlined the change in status of this very important Lagerstätte: Ediacaran Fossil Site in Australia Gains Protection.

21 06, 2021

The Last Record of Dinosaurs in Britain

By | June 21st, 2021|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Geology, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Researchers writing in the Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association have reported tracks from at least six different species of dinosaur found in Lower Cretaceous rocks at Folkestone in Kent. The tracks and trackways from the Lower Greensand Group date to around 112-110 million years ago (Albian faunal stage of the Cretaceous). As such, these rare trace fossils represent evidence of the last known dinosaurs to walk on the UK landmass.

An artist's interpretation of the Folkestone dinosaur tracks.
An artist’s interpretation of the Folkestone dinosaur tracks. In the foreground a solitary ankylosaurid wanders up the beach passing a small herd of iguanodonts. In the background three titanosaurs are spooked by an approaching theropod. Picture credit: Megan Jacobs.

Evidence of Dinosaurs

The footprints were discovered in the cliffs and on the foreshore in Folkestone, Kent (southern England). Storms affect the cliffs and wash away sediments occasionally exposing fossils and in very rare cases, evidence of dinosaurs. Isolated vertebrae thought to represent an armoured dinosaur had been found previously and there have been reports of dinosaur tracks being discovered, but the paper published in the Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association is the first, formal, scientific assessment of these remarkable trace fossils.

A Challenge to Find a Dinosaur Footprint

Philip Hadland, a curator at the Hastings Museum and Art Gallery, an expert on the fossils of Folkestone, found a dinosaur track, believed to represent an ornithopod on the 13th September 2017. After showing his find to Steve Friedrich, a local fossil hunter with decades of experience, Steve thought that he too might try his luck to see if he could spot one. Remarkably, within ten minutes Steve found a beautiful, three-toed print, most likely representing a theropod.

Ornithopod track from Folkestone (Kent)
A large ornithopod track found at Folkestone in Kent. The fossil footprint, probably representing an iguanodontid, was found by Philip Hadland on 13th September 2017. Picture credit: University of Portsmouth/PA Media.

Professor of Palaeobiology at the University of Portsmouth and co-author of the scientific paper, David Martill, commented:

“It is quite an extraordinary discovery because these dinosaurs would have been the last to roam in this country before becoming extinct.”

Folkestone theropod track
A single theropod track from Folkestone (Kent). The tridactyl print found by Steve Friedrich. Picture credit: University of Portsmouth/PA Media.

Many of these remarkable specimens are on display at the Folkestone Museum.

These trace fossils have forced palaeontologists to rethink the Early Cretaceous depositional environment of this part of the Kent coast. Dinosaur footprints, together with fossil wood and oysters in a matrix of well-rounded quartz grains indicates a coastal depositional environment of an extremely shallow depth, perhaps with short periods of exposure as dry land.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented that an exposed beach may have provided an easier route for dinosaurs to use to travel from one food source to another. It was probably more convenient for these large animals to navigate a sandy beach than to try moving through dense undergrowth that would have been found further inland. Some of the dinosaurs could have been beachcombing, it is possible that the theropods may have visited the beach looking for any corpses that may have been washed up by the tide.

One of the authors of the scientific paper, Philip Hadland, has produced a really helpful guide to fossil hunting in the Folkestone area. Entitled “Fossils of Folkestone, Kent” it is available from Siri Scientific Press here: Siri Scientific Press.

Fossil collecting guide to the Folkestone area.
Fossils of Folkestone, Kent by Philip Hadland.

To read Everything Dinosaur’s review of “Fossils of Folkestone, Kent”: Everything Dinosaur reviews “Fossils of Folkestone, Kent”.

The scientific paper: “The youngest dinosaur footprints from England and their palaeoenvironmental implications” by Philip T. Hadland, Steve Friedrich, Abdelouahed Lagnaoui and David M. Martill published in the Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association.

9 06, 2021

Fossil Collecting on the East Dorset Coast

By | June 9th, 2021|Adobe CS5, Book Reviews, Dinosaur Fans, Geology, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

The third and final part of a series of guides to fossil hunting on the Dorset coast has been published by Siri Scientific Press. A guide to “Fossil Collecting on the East Dorset Coast” by Steve Snowball and Craig Chivers, provides an up to date and very informative guide to fossil collecting from the beautiful coast near Durdle Door eastwards ending at the Eocene-aged deposits to be found at Hengistbury Head.

The front cover of a Guide to Fossil Collecting on the East Dorset Coast
The front cover “A Guide to Fossil Collecting on the East Dorset Coast” by Steve Snowball and Craig Chivers published by Siri Scientific Press.

A Highly Acclaimed Guidebook

“Fossil Collecting on the East Dorset Coast” is aimed at amateur as well as the more serious fossil hunter and it is required reading if you want to visit some of the more remote parts of the Dorset coast. Access to some of the locations can be tricky and the authors have ensured that plenty of useful information has been included such as advice about tide times, avoiding the dangers of rock falls (which can be frequent along this stretch of the coastline), along with details about accessing quarries and which ones require visitor permission.

This highly acclaimed guidebook is beautifully illustrated with lots of colour photographs not only showing fossil finds but also highlighting the stunning landscape and geology of this part of the southern coast of England.

Fossil collecting on the East Dorset Coast
The book is packed with beautiful photographs showing typical fossil finds at each location as well as stunning shots of the Dorset coast. Often typical fossil finds are shown against a backdrop of the magnificent scenery of this part of England’s southern coast.

Stunning Images of Fossils

The authors provide an introduction to the UNESCO World Heritage site known as the “Jurassic Coast” before outlining the Dorset fossil collecting code of conduct and focusing on the unique geology of east Dorset. The book is then sub-divided into different sections taking the reader on fossil hunting excursions starting at the majestic Bat’s Head and St. Oswald’s Bay in an easterly direction to Worbarrow Bay and Gad Cliff through to Peveril Point and Swanage. The final excursion visits the Studland Bay and the Hengistbury Head area. Each part of the book contains stunning images of the fossils associated with each location.

A block containing bones and scales of a fish (Lepidotes)
A block containing the fossilised remains of a prehistoric fish found on the east Dorset coast. Fossil found by Nicola Parslow. A “Guide to Fossil Collecting on the East Dorset Coast” contains full colour images highlighting fossils that can be found at the various locations.

Highlights include information and photographs showcasing the remarkable Etches Collection Museum of Jurassic Marine Life at Kimmeridge and the contribution made by Steve Etches, extensive information on the types of ammonites to be found and details on the different types of vertebrate fossils including trace fossils such as dinosaur footprints along with body fossils such as the bones from ancient crocodiles.

Crocodile vertebra found at Durlston Bay (Dorset)
A crocodile vertebra found on the east Dorset coast (Durlston Bay) found by Julian and Vicky Sawyer.

Highly Recommended

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“This book has over 200 colour photographs and illustrations including wonderful prehistoric scenes created by the very talented Andreas Kurpisz, it is an extremely informative and invaluable guide to fossil hunting on this part of the beautiful Dorset coast. The detailed descriptions of the fossil locations provided by the authors are a testament to their in-depth knowledge and passion for their hobby. It completes the trilogy of books dedicated to fossil hunting on the Dorset Coast and it is essential reading for amateur fossil collectors, students as well as seasoned professionals. Highly recommended.”

Fossil Collecting on the Dorset Coast
Three excellent guides have been published about fossil hunting on the Dorset coast by Steve Snowball and Craig Chivers. All three publications are available from Siri Scientific Press whilst stocks last.

To purchase the “Guide to Fossil Collecting on the East Dorset Coast” visit the website of the publisher Siri Scientific Press: Siri Scientific Press.

2 06, 2021

Reinterpreting the Burgess Shale Deposits

By | June 2nd, 2021|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Geology, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|1 Comment

New research suggests that the remarkable Burgess Shale deposits may not preserve the remains of a single, complex Cambrian marine ecosystem but the animals that were to become preserved as fossils may have been transported to this location from much further away.

Researchers led by Dr Nicholas Minter and Dr Orla Bath Enright (University of Portsmouth), writing in the academic journal “Communications Earth & Environment” postulate that the amazing biota associated with the Walcott Quarry could have undergone substantial transport prior to deposition. They suggest that this aggregation of fossils of primitive marine creatures might not represent the remains of a single, rich and diverse ecosystem but the accumulated remains of several prehistoric communities.

The Burgess Shale Marine community
The rich and diverse Cambrian biota associated with the Walcott Quarry (British Columbia). Picture credit: Phlesch Bubble/Royal Ontario Museum.

Ancient Lifeforms Moved by Mudflows

In late August 1909, American palaeontologist Charles Walcott was exploring an area of shale deposits exposed in the mountains of British Columbia close to Mount Burgess. He discovered a profusion of fossils in the shales, many of which had their soft parts preserved. The strata consist of fine mud which were laid down between 510 and 505 million years ago and the location, now known as Walcott Quarry, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1984. More than 65,000 fossil specimens have been collected representing more than 120 species. This fossil assemblage helped to support the theory of the “Cambrian explosion”, that towards the middle of the Cambrian there was a sudden burst of evolutionary activity leading to the evolution of the Phyla we have today. It had been thought that this Lagerstätte had been formed when catastrophic mudflows buried the ecosystem but the researchers, using flume experiments were able to demonstrate that the remains of delicate animals were capable of being transported tens of kilometres.

Mudflows Transporting Specimens Leading to the Burgess Shale Lagerstätte
The research team were able to plot the movement of delicate animal remains in mudflows and they concluded that they would not have deteriorated further despite significant transport. Picture credit: Orla Bath Enright et al.

Taphonomic Assessment and Analysis of the Shale Deposits

The researchers used a combination of measurements and assessments at the Walcott Quarry site with flume tank laboratory tests to mimic the mudflows and the deposition. They concluded that the delicate bodies of certain creatures could have been moved over tens of kilometres without damage, creating the illusion of this Lagerstätte representing a single prehistoric community.

Field work at the Walcott Quarry (Burgess Shale).
Field work being carried out at the Walcott Quarry located in the Burgess Shale of British Columbia. Picture credit: Orla Bath Enright.

The Deterioration of the Remains of Polychaete Worms

The University of Portsmouth was assisted in this research by scientists from University of Saskatchewan and Southampton University. They looked at one particular species of polychaete worm (Alitta virens) present in the shales, classified the degree of preservation for fossil specimens from entire/complete to degraded with just jaws and setae (bristle-like structures) left. They concluded that transport of the carcasses of these delicate animals did not significantly damage the remains further beyond what has already occurred due to normal decay processes.

Increasing states of polychaete degradation (Alitta virens)
Increasing states of polychaete degradation (Alitta virens). The researchers examined the fossilised remains of one species of polychaete worm and grouped the remains into categories related to the pristine state of the fossil material. It was concluded that the remains of soft-bodied, delicate animals could have been transported considerable distances and thus the Burgess Shale Lagerstätte might represent the preserved remains of more than one marine community. Picture credit: Orla Bath Enright et al.

Commenting on the implications this study might have Dr Bath Enright stated:

“We don’t know over what kind of overall time frame these many flows happened, but we know each one produced an ‘event bed’ that we see today stacked up on top of one another. These flows could pick up animals from multiple places as they moved across the seafloor and then dropped them all together in one place”.

Stratigraphy and interpretative line drawings from sediments associated with the Walcott Quarry
Stratigraphy and interpretative line drawings from sediments associated with the Walcott Quarry. The image (B) shows Bed A from the Greater Phyllopod Bed of the Walcott Quarry, whilst (C) shows a line drawing of the sedimentation of Bed A. Soft-bodied organisms (1, 2, and 3) from the proposed mud flows will become mixed in the deposit. Picture (D) shows a thin-section scan from Bed A showing parallel laminae, erosive, scoured bases, and “floating” quartz grains (Q). White arrows indicate transitional cohesive flow deposits. Picture credit: Orla Bath Enright et al.

A Cautionary Note

This research indicates that the transportation of the remains of soft-bodied creatures does not unduly affect their degradation. Fossils found in a single layer of sediment and assumed to represent animals living together in a single ecosystem, could actually represent the accumulation of remains that have been gathered together and that these animals may have lived far apart. The study provides a cautionary note on how palaeontologists develop views on ancient ecosystems based on the fossilised remains of the creatures they study.

Intriguingly, for what appears to be such a rich and specious community, dominated by benthic organisms (living on the seafloor), there is very little evidence of trackways, burrows or bioturbation associated with this famous fossil site. The lack of these trace fossils suggests a predominantly low oxygen or anoxic habitat and this lends weight to the idea that the sediments in which the fossils were found do not represent the habitat of these creatures.

An Ottoia fossil from the famous Burgess Shale.
An Ottoia fossil (Burgess Shale). Many different types of worm are associated with the Burgess Shale deposits but very few trace fossils such as burrows have been preserved. This lends weight to the idea that the remains of these animals were transported to the site from elsewhere.

It is not known precisely what caused the mudflows which buried and transported the animals which became fossilised, but the area was subject to multiple flows, causing well-preserved fossils to be found at numerous different levels in the shale.

Dr Bath Enright added:

“When we see multiple species accumulated together it can give the illusion we are seeing a single community. But we argue that an individual ‘event bed’ could be the product of several communities of animals being picked up from multiple places by a mudflow and then deposited together to give what looks like a much more complicated single community of animals”.

The scientific paper: “Flume experiments reveal flows in the Burgess Shale can sample and transport organisms across substantial distances” by Orla G. Bath Enright, Nicholas J. Minter, Esther J. Sumner, M. Gabriela Mángano and Luis A. Buatois published in Communications Earth & Environment.

10 05, 2021

Billion-Year-Old Fossil from Scotland

By | May 10th, 2021|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Geology, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

A one-billion-year-old microfossil found in the Scottish Highlands has been shown to consist of two distinct cell types and could represent the earliest example of a multicellular animal ever recorded. Scientists from the University of Sheffield in collaboration with colleagues from Boston College (USA), have published a paper describing the discovery of a tiny fossil that provides a new perspective on the transition from single-celled organisms to more complex multicellular forms.

Image of Bicellum brasieri.
A highly magnified image of Bicellum brasieri preserved in petrographic thin sections. Two distinct cell shapes in the closely-packed cluster can be made out – elongate cells and more rounded ones. Picture credit: Professor Paul Strother (Weston Observatory of Boston College).

The photograph (above), shows an image of Bicellum brasieri, the cluster of cells measures around 20 microns in diameter, approximately 750 of these tiny organisms could sit on the head of a pin.

Lying Somewhere Between Single-celled and Multicellular Animals

The microscopic fossil material comes from the Mesoproterozoic-aged Diabaig Formation, which is exposed at Loch Torridon in the Northwest Scottish Highlands. It has been named Bicellum brasieri, the genus name being derived from the two types of cells (elongate and isodiametric) that were identified in the tightly grouped cell clusters.

Loch Torridon the site of the fossil discovery
The picturesque Loch Torridon a sea loch on the west coast of Scotland in the Northwest Highlands. The site of the Bicellum brasieri fossil discovery. Picture credit: Sheffield University.

Classified as a Holozoan

Writing in the academic journal “Current Biology” the researchers who include lead author Professor Charles Wellman from the Department of Animal and Plant Sciences (Sheffield University), have assigned this primitive lifeform to the Holozoa – a clade that includes all animals and their closest single-celled relatives but excludes fungi. If their interpretation is correct, then B. brasieri is distantly related to all living animals including our own species Homo sapiens.

Location map and outline of the stratigraphy of the Bicellum brasieri fossil discovery.
Location map and outline of the stratigraphy of the Bicellum brasieri fossil discovery. Picture credit: Strother et al.

A Remarkable Record of a Significant Development for Life on Earth

The shales of the Diabaig Formation were laid down at the bottom of a freshwater lake. The microfossils preserved in these rocks represent planktonic and benthic forms of microscopic life that existed around a billion years ago. The discovery suggests more complex lifeforms were evolving during this time in Earth’s history. The material could represent the earliest multicellular animal known to science.

Professor Wellman explained:

“The origins of complex multicellularity and the origin of animals are considered two of the most important events in the history of life on Earth, our discovery sheds new light on both of these. We have found a primitive spherical organism made up of an arrangement of two distinct cell types, the first step towards a complex multicellular structure, something which has never been described before in the fossil record.”

Bicellum fossil site location.
View of Diabaig Formation type section along the north shore of Loch Diabaig at the village of Lower Diabaig (B). The arrow marks the sample site. (C and D). View of dark shales (C) with lenticular, bedded phosphatic nodules in situ (D). Scale bar in (D), 5 cm. Picture credit: Strother et al.

Did the Animalia Evolve in the Sea or in Freshwater?

The exceptional preservation of the fossils enabled the research team to analyse them at both a cellular and subcellular level. The discovery of Bicellum brasieri challenges the long-held theory that complex life evolved in marine environments.

Professor Paul Strother, lead investigator of the research from Boston College stated:

“Biologists have speculated that the origin of animals included the incorporation and repurposing of prior genes that had evolved earlier in unicellular organisms. What we see in Bicellum is an example of such a genetic system, involving cell-cell adhesion and cell differentiation that may have been incorporated into the animal genome half a billion years later.”

This study has shed new light on the transition of single-celled organisms to more complex, sophisticated forms with cell specialisation.

The Boston College professor added:

“The discovery of this new fossil suggests to us that the evolution of multicellular animals had occurred at least one billion years ago and that early events prior to the evolution of animals may have occurred in freshwater like lakes rather than the ocean.”

The scientific paper: “A possible billion-year-old holozoan with differentiated multicellularity” by Paul K. Strother, Martin D. Brasier, David Wacey, Leslie Timpe, Martin Saunders and Charles H. Wellman published in Current Biology.

20 03, 2021

Utahraptor State Park Proposed

By | March 20th, 2021|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Geology, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Fossils of the large dromaeosaurid Utahraptor (U. ostrummaysorum) were put on display as legislators and campaigners lobbied for the creation of a state park named after the iconic theropod dinosaur.

Utahraptor dinosaur model
Legislators have proposed a new state park in Utah which would conserve and protect the famous Dalton Wells quarry (Yellow Cat Member of the Cedar Mountain Formation), which has yielded numerous important dinosaur fossils including the first fossils of the giant dromaeosaurid Utahraptor (U. ostrummaysorum).

A New State Park for Grand County, Utah

A bill has been proposed that would create the Utahraptor State Park, if passed this would be the 45th such park designated within the “Beehive State”. The park would cover an area of Grand County in eastern Utah, close to the town of Moab and it would include the Dalton Wells Quarry where the first fossils of the giant raptor Utahraptor were discovered.

As well as providing camp sites and trails the park would protect and preserve the Dalton Wells Quarry site. Although the park’s current plans do not include provision for a museum, it has been suggested that if funding could be found, then a small museum documenting the extensive Lower Cretaceous strata that are exposed in this area and their contribution to palaeontology could be constructed.

It has been speculated that a 1:1 scale replica of the skeleton of a Utahraptor could be erected within the park’s boundary.

The fossilised remains of a Utahraptor jaw (slab and counter slab)
Slab and counter slab of a Utahraptor jaw (dentary). This fossil was collected from the Arches National Park, the proposed Utahraptor State Park will border it. Picture credit: James Kirkland/St George News.

The proposals involve the conversion of approximately 6,500 acres (2,630 hectares), into a park. Responsibility for conservation would be undertaken by either Utah’s Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands or the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration.

Rebor Wind Hunter (Utahraptor model).
A replica of the fearsome Early Cretaceous predator Utahraptor. The model is “Wind Hunter” the Rebor Utahraptor replica which has been out of production for some time.

A spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur commented:

“We do appreciate how tight budgets are right now, but if the funding could be found to establish this new park and to protect the famous Dalton Wells location, that would be fabulous. So much of the world’s open spaces and important scientific sites are under threat it would be wonderful to see this exceptionally important fossil site protected.”

26 02, 2021

Concentrated Levels of Iridium Found at Chicxulub Impact Site

By | February 26th, 2021|Adobe CS5, Dinosaur Fans, Geology, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

High levels of the rare Earth element iridium have been found in drill cores taken from the peak-ring sequence of the Chicxulub impact site located on the Yucatan peninsula (Mexico). This evidence further supports the theory that the extra-terrestrial space object that smashed into our planet some 66 million years ago is linked to the Cretaceous-Palaeogene (K-Pg) mass extinction event.

Extra-terrestrial Object Hits Earth

The day that everything changed. Scientists have found more evidence linking the Chicxulub impact event to the K-Pg mass extinction.

Picture Credit: Map from Nature Geoscience / illustration courtesy of NASA

In 2016, IODP-ICDP* Expedition 364 drilled into the Chicxulub crater’s peak ring, an irregular ring of hills that surrounds the crater’s centre bringing around 835 metres of rock to the surface for detailed laboratory analysis.

* IODP (International Ocean Discovery Program) and the ICDP (International Continental Scientific Drilling Program).

Iridium is extremely rare on Earth, although a spike in levels has been recorded at numerous sites around the world that represent deposits laid down around 66 million years ago. The researchers state that the iridium levels found in the drill cores are four times more concentrated than elsewhere. The scientists found iridium levels were highest across the transition into early Paleogene sediments (Danian faunal stage).

A Geophysical Map of the Chicxulub Impact Site

Geophysical Map of the Chicxulub Impact Crater
A geophysical map of the impact crater and the Chicxulub crater peaks from which the drill cores were taken.

Picture Credit: NASA

Writing in the academic journal “Science Advances” the researchers conclude that this evidence combined with the spike in worldwide iridium deposits at the time of the mass extinction event, constitutes indisputable evidence that the suspected dinosaur-killing bolide that created the Chicxulub crater was indeed the culprit.

Commenting on the significance of this research, co-author Professor Joanna Morgan (Imperial College London) stated:

“This asteroid was vaporised and ejected from the impact site at high speed. Iridium, and other asteroidal material, then circled the Earth above the stratosphere within a fast-moving dust cloud and may have taken up to two decades to settle through the atmosphere and ocean before being deposited at the impact site.”

Lead author of the study, Professor Steven Goderis of the Free University of Brussels-VUB added:

“It’s quite remarkable that we found concentrations this high within the impact structure itself. In the first hours to months after the impact, the crater was a highly turbulent environment affected by tsunamis and earthquakes. Luckily, the iridium layer was preserved. This unquestionably ties the formation of the crater to the mass extinction event that marked the end of the Cretaceous and confirms that the asteroid impact and dinosaur extinction are indisputably linked.”

The Iridium Clay Layer Marks the Impact Event

Identifying the K-T Boundary (Iridium Clay Layer)
Identifying concentrations of the rare Earth element iridium in a clay layer. At various locations around the world geologists have identified an iridium rich clay layer that marks the end of the Cretaceous and the beginning of the Palaeogene (K-T boundary).

Picture Credit: The Open University/Everything Dinosaur

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the contribution of a media release from Imperial College London in the compilation of this article.

To read a related article looking at how palaeontologists interpret fossil evidence of a global impact event: Quarry Site Might Reveal Evidence of Cretaceous Mass Extinction Event.

The scientific paper: “Globally distributed iridium layer preserved within the Chicxulub impact structure” by Steven Goderis, Honami Sato, Ludovic Ferrière, Birger Schmitz, David Burney, Pim Kaskes, Johan Vellekoop, Axel Wittmann, Toni Schulz, Stepan M. Chernonozhkin, Philippe Claeys, Sietze J. de Graaff, Thomas Déhais, Niels J. de Winter, Mikael Elfman, Jean-Guillaume Feignon, Akira Ishikawa, Christian Koeberl, Per Kristiansson, Clive R. Neal, Jeremy D. Owens, Martin Schmieder, Matthias Sinnesael, Frank Vanhaecke, Stijn J. M. Van Malderen, Timothy J. Bralower, Sean P. S. Gulick, David A. Kring, Christopher M. Lowery, Joanna V. Morgan, Jan Smit, Michael T. Whalen and the IODP-ICDP Expedition 364 Scientists published in Science Advances.

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