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

Articles, features and stories with an emphasis on geology.

9 05, 2018

A Weather Forecast from the Cambrian

By | May 9th, 2018|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Geology, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Tiny Fossils Provide Clues to Earth’s Climate 500 Million Years Ago

A joint team of scientists from France and the UK, have plotted the temperature of our planet’s oceans over half a billion years ago using a combination of fossil data and computer-based climate models.  Think of it as a sort of weather forecast from the Cambrian.  This newly published research suggests that the first hard-bodied animals diversified in warms seas, heated by a greenhouse world.  The team’s findings help to expand our knowledge of the environment at the time of the Cambrian explosion, a period in Earth’s history that saw a huge increase in the number and type of marine animal forms.

Life in the Late Cambrian Period

Cambrian life.

Life in the Late Cambrian by Zdeněk Burian.

Picture Credit: Zdeněk Burian

Writing in the academic journal “Science Advances”, the scientists, led by researchers from the University of Leicester, used climate models and the chemical analysis of tiny, shelly fossils preserved in limestone from Shropshire (central England), to calculate the sea temperature during a time of rapid diversity of animal life in the Palaeozoic.  From around 540 to 510 million years ago, the fossil record shows a marked change, as during this period of Earth’s history, virtually all of the animal phyla (including the Chordata – our phylum) appeared.  The idea of a “Cambrian explosion” is a little misleading, the appearance of many new forms of complex animal life may have been gradual, but in terms of the fossil record, sites such as the famous Burgess Shale of British Columbia and Yunnan Province (southern China), have revealed extensive and varied marine ecosystems with large numbers of new types of animal being recorded in the strata.

Analysis of Some of the First Shelly Fossils

Scientists had thought that for much of the Cambrian, our planet was warmer that it is today with no polar ice caps present.  A study of tiny 1 mm long fossils of some of the first animals to produce a hard, shelly exoskeleton has confirmed this hypothesis.  Analysis of isotopes from the tiny shells in combination with the climate models show that at high latitudes (around 65 degrees south), sea temperatures were in excess of 20 degrees Celsius.  This might seem very warm, especially when you consider that this is an evaluation of sea temperatures at approximately 65 degrees south, today, travelling to that latitude would put you on the southernmost fringes of the Southern Ocean and close to Antarctica.  However, the data generated is similar to more recent, better understood, greenhouse climates such as that of the Late Cretaceous.

Reflected Light Microscopy – Brachiopod Fossils Used in the Study

Reflected light microscope images of Cambrian brachiopods.

Reflected light microscope images of some of the brachiopod fossils (phosphatic microfossils), used in this study.

Picture Credit: Leicester University

Co-author of the open access paper, PhD student Thomas Hearing (University of Leicester’s School of Geography, Geology and the Environment), explained:

“Because scientists cannot directly measure sea temperatures from half a billion years ago, they have to use proxy data, these are measurable quantities that respond in a predictable way to changing climate variables like temperature.  In this study, we used oxygen isotope ratios, which is a commonly used palaeothermometer.  We then used acid to extract fossils about 1 mm long from blocks of limestone from Shropshire, UK, dated to between 515 – 510 million years old.  Careful examination of these tiny fossils revealed that some of them have exceptionally well-preserved shell chemistry which has not changed since they grew on the Cambrian sea floor.” 

High Resolution Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) Images of Brachiopod Fossils Used in the Study

SEM images of brachiopods.

Electron microscope images of some of the brachiopod fossils used in this study. Electron microscopy allows much higher resolution imaging of small structures than normal light microscopy.

Picture Credit: Leicester University

Dr Tom Harvey (University of Leicester) added:

“Many marine animals incorporate chemical traces of seawater into their shells as they grow.  That chemical signature is often lost over geological time, so it’s remarkable that we can identify it in such ancient fossils.” 

Analyses of the oxygen isotopes of these fossils suggested very warm temperatures for high latitude seas (~65 °S), probably between 20 °C to 25 °C.  To see if these were feasible sea temperatures, the researchers carried out climate model simulations for the Cambrian.  The climate model scenarios suggest that the Earth’s climate was in a “typical” greenhouse state, with temperatures similar to more recent and better understood greenhouse intervals known from the Mesozoic and the Cenozoic eras.  Ultimately, this study will help to expand our knowledge of the ecosystem that existed during the Cambrian.

The Highly Fossiliferous Comley Limestones (Shropshire, UK)

A thin section of highly fossiliferous rock of Cambrian age.

A thin section slice through the trilobite-rich Comley Limestones (Shropshire, UK).

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The curves and white wavy lines in the photograph (above), are preserved exoskeletons of numerous trilobites.

Thomas Hearing concluded:

“We hope that this approach can be used by other researchers to build up a clearer picture of ancient climates where conventional climate proxy data are not available.”

The research was carried out as an international collaboration involving scientists from the University of Leicester (UK), British Geological Survey (BGS; UK), and CEREGE (France).

Everything Dinosaur acknowledges the help of Leicester University in the compilation of this article.

7 04, 2018

Searching for Ancient Settlements at the Bottom of the North Sea

By | April 7th, 2018|Geology, Main Page|0 Comments

International Collaboration to Pinpoint Stone Age Settlements in Doggerland

A two-year marine expedition to pinpoint the location of a prehistoric settlement in the southern North Sea will be officially launched next Tuesday (10th April).  Teams from the University of Bradford, Flanders Marine Institute (VLIZ) and Ghent University will be working together to map and survey an area of the North Sea known as Brown Bank.  This area may have been the site of a substantial Stone Age settlement, prior to the land becoming inundated as sea levels rose at the end of the last Ice Age.

The marine experts hope to undertake an extensive geophysical assessment of the area, before extracting sediment cores that can be examined to establish the palaeo-environment and any evidence of human activity.

The Brown Bank Area of the Southern North Sea

The Brown Bank area of the southern North Sea.

The “Lost Frontiers” project map showing the location of the Brown Bank area in the southern North Sea.

Picture Credit: University of Bradford

The picture above shows the location of the Brown Bank area, approximately sixty miles east of Great Yarmouth.  The circles indicate areas in which archaeological evidence has been discovered in the southern North Sea.

Complimenting the “Lost Frontiers” Project

This two-year research project compliments the Bradford University-led “Lost Frontiers” project, in which archaeologists are mapping the ancient, prehistoric landscape of the North Sea known as Doggerland.  The European Research Council (ERC) is funding the research.  This area, now submerged, once connected the United Kingdom to Europe.  As sea levels rose at the end of the last Ice Age between 8,000 to 10,000 years ago, so the land was gradually lost and all evidence of human settlement and activity was swallowed up by the rising waters.  Scientists working on the Lost Frontiers project have identified river valleys, hills, marshland and what were once great grassy plains stretching across thousands of square kilometres, but despite this, evidence of human activity has remained elusive.

Evidence of Human Activity/Settlement from the Brown Bank Area

Brown Bank Stone Age artefacts.

Brown Bank artefacts – A selection of prehistoric artefacts from Brown Bank collected by Dr Dick Mol including (a ) polished stone axe mace head; b) perforated deer antler socketed adze axe head; c) human mandible, without scale from (Peeters 2011).

Picture Credit: University of Bradford

A Home to Thousands of People

Chance finds by trawlers as they use drag fishing methods in the area have provided tantalising evidence of a hitherto hidden Stone Age world.  Archaeologists have long suspected that this part of the North Sea may have been home to thousands of people, the aim of this new project is to prove that the Brown Bank area, an eighteen-mile-long (thirty kilometres), sand ridge, some sixty miles (one hundred kilometres), east of the Norfolk coast and around fifty miles (eighty kilometres), from Holland, was the location of a prehistoric settlement.

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

“If it is possible to undertake fieldwork that can locate prehistoric settlement on the Brown Bank this would be a major event.  Until now the majority of Doggerland has been terra incognita in archaeological terms.  If we can begin to locate settlement across the, currently, empty map of the Doggerland, we would open a new chapter in archaeological exploration.”

Professor Vincent Gaffney (University of Bradford)

Professor Vincent Gaffney.

Professor Vincent Gaffney (Bradford University).

Picture Credit: University of Bradford

Ancient River Systems

The team hope to build on previous research carried out by Ghent University in which ancient river systems were plotted running across the southern North Sea area.  Using this data, the researchers have pinpointed one particular area in the Brown Bank where there might have once been a large lake.  If this area was home to a substantial human population, it is likely they would have built a settlement on the lake shore.

A member of the research team, Dr David Garcia Moreno (Ghent University), explained:

“Confirmation of the location of a prehistoric lake near the Brown Bank and the characterisation of the fluvial system associated with it would be a breakthrough.  Such a discovery would have vast implications in our understanding of the palaeogeographic evolution of north-western Europe since the last Ice Age.”

A Map Showing the Approximate Maximum Land Area That Once Joined the UK  and Ireland to the rest of Europe

The extent of the palaeolandscape prior to sea level changes.

Approximate maximum extent of marine palaeolandscapes off the Irish and British coasts.

Picture Credit: University of Bradford

Help from the Belgian Navy

The project’s first phase will involve teams from the UK and Belgium surveying the target area with the assistance of the Belgian research vessel RV Belgica.   This fifty-metre-long vessel will be home to the researchers whilst they build up a detailed map of the physical features of the seafloor.  This survey will help them identify promising areas for further examination in part two of the project.

In the second phase, the team will extract sediment cores from these targets and analyse them to determine the environment of the landscape underlying the Brown Bank and to understand its potential for human settlement prior to its flooding.

Dr Tine Missiaen (VLIZ), stated:

“Submerged landscapes and human settlement in the North Sea did not stop at borders.  International collaboration is indispensable to unravel this unique episode in Europe’s prehistory.  Only the integrated use of novel state-of-the-art techniques will allow us to map and reconstruct these drowned landscapes and settlements with unprecedented detail.”

31 03, 2018

Extinction and Extirpation

By | March 31st, 2018|Dinosaur Fans, Geology, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Defining Extirpation

The fossil record, despite its extremely fragmentary nature remains the best scientific tool available for learning about life in the past.  It is far from complete and it can only provide a limited amount of information about organisms, ecosystems and palaeoenvironments, but it has provided evidence of extinctions and five major mass extinction events have been identified in the immense time period known as the Phanerozoic.

A Selection of Shark Teeth Fossils

fossilised shark teeth.

A successful fossil hunt, but many organisms are only known from fragmentary fossil material.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

An Extinction is Forever

Notwithstanding the technological developments heralded by advances in genetics, an extinction is finite.  Extinctions represent the complete, world-wide end of the line for a species.  There are no individuals representing that species to be found anywhere.  Non-avian representatives of the Dinosauria, the long-necked Sauropods for example, are extinct, the very last of these animals, collectively termed Titanosaurs, died out at the end of the Cretaceous, some 66 million years ago.

However, it is important to distinguish local extinctions, whereby an organism becomes extinct in a region or area, from true, global extinction.  A species or genus may die out in one part of the area where it is distributed, but it might be thriving, or at least surviving everywhere else.  Identifying local extinctions, especially in an incomplete fossil record, where many of the fossils have been transported long distances and with a record of moving continents (tectonic plate theory), is extremely challenging.


The correct scientific term for a local or regional extinction is “extirpation”, an organism may cease to exist in one area but could still be found in other areas.  Palaeontologists usually use the term extinction in its correct sense, noting the complete disappearance of an organism.  Thanks to the vagaries of the fossil record, identifying extirpation events in deep time is extremely difficult.  The Liaoning Province of northern China has provided scientists with numerous examples of feathered dinosaurs.  Their remains are often beautifully preserved, a result of the way in which these animals may have died .  Corpses were deposited in lakes and sank to the muddy, still bottom before being rapidly buried by fine ash deposited over the region by the nearby volcanoes.  Whether some of these animals drowned, or whether their deaths were directly attributable to the volcanism is difficult to say for certain in most cases.

Zhenyuanlong Fossil (Zhenyuanlong suni) from Liaoning Province

Zhenyuanlong fossil.

Large-bodied, short-armed Liaoning dromaeosaurid described in 2015 (Zhenyuanlong suni).

Picture Credit: Chinese Academy of Geological Science

Unfortunately, whilst a devastating deposit of volcanic ash, perhaps a pyroclastic cloud or the release of toxic carbon monoxide fumes could have led to the deaths of many animals within a habitat, it is very difficult to determine whether such events led to a local extinction (extirpation).  In the case of the Liaoning fossils, the stratigraphic record would indicate numerous volcanic episodes but whether a single episode or a series of catastrophic events led to the demise of an entire taxon in the region it is impossible to say.  However, the forest ecosystem with its large lakes would have suffered a loss of individuals and probably a reduction in diversity over time.

30 03, 2018

Ceratopsian Species – When and Where they Lived (Part 2)

By | March 30th, 2018|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Geology, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Ceratopsian Species – Where and When did they Live (part 2)

We conclude our look at the remarkable data that was used to compile a statistical analysis of the Ceratopsia.  The research, published recently in the “Proceedings of the Royal Society B (Biology)”, examined the horned dinosaur family tree and set about building a picture of where and when horned dinosaur species lived.  Using this data, which involved more than seventy species, the scientists were able to conclude that horned dinosaur ornamentation probably evolved, not as a method of telling different species apart, but as a way of demonstrating an individual’s fitness for breeding.  Ostentatious and elaborate crests, horns and frills may have had numerous roles, defence being one, for example, but they would also (most likely), have had a “social-sexual” function.

As a spokesperson from Everything Dinosaur stated:

“All those lumps and bumps, horns and frills were basically signalling to other members of the species – look how big and strong I am, I can carry around all this extra weight, so I must be a healthy horned dinosaur and therefore an ideal mate!”

To read our original article on the Ceratopsian research: Why Did Horned Dinosaurs Have Fancy Frills?

The supplementary data associated with the scientific paper included some fantastic details of the Ceratopsian family tree.  In order to conduct their analysis, the research team compiled a table of horned dinosaurs and listed where they lived and approximately when (upper and lower margins of stratigraphical distribution).  In an earlier article, we published the first part of this extensive table, today, we conclude our blog articles on this fascinating piece of Ceratopsian research by posting up the rest of the data.

Plotting Ceratopsian Species Against Temporal and Geographical Distribution (Part 3)

Ceratopsian species - where they lived and when (part 3).

Temporal calibrations and geographical locations of Ceratopsian species (part 3).

Table Credit: Andrew Knapp, Robert J. Knell, Andrew A. Farke, Mark A. Loewen, David W. E. Hone published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B (Biology).

The table (above), shows part 3 of the temporal calibrations and geographical locations of Ceratopsian species. Taxa that were included in the morphological character state analysis (the research into crests and horns), are indicated in bold type.  Region abbreviations: Asia: A; North America: NA; Europe: E.  The source of the table data is shown on the right.

This  part of the Ceratopsian table helps to demonstrate the diversity of the horned dinosaurs in North America during the Late Cretaceous, especially on the western part of the continent, the landmass known as Laramidia.

The Ornamentation of Diabloceratops (D. eatoni) was Included in the Study

Collecta Diabloceratops dinosaur model.

“Devil Horned Face” – Diabloceratops eatoni.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Campanian and Maastrichtian Stages

Tables (3 and 4) list the horned dinosaur species from the later stages of the Cretaceous (Campanian and Maastrichtian).  In part 4 (shown below), the dominance of Ceratopsian species from North America continues with a further nineteen North American species listed.

Plotting Ceratopsian Species Against Temporal and Geographical Distribution (Part 4)

Ceratopsian species - where they lived and when (part 4).

Temporal calibrations and geographical locations of Ceratopsian species (part 4).

Table Credit: Andrew Knapp, Robert J. Knell, Andrew A. Farke, Mark A. Loewen, David W. E. Hone published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B (Biology).

The Very Last of the Horned Dinosaurs

The last parts of the data table focus on the youngest species of horned dinosaur known.  These are the Ceratopsians that lived during the last few million years of the Cretaceous.  Once again, North America is the only continent represented in this part of the table.  This does not mean that horned dinosaurs were extinct elsewhere in the world, that cannot be inferred from the information provided, but it is worth noting that no Asian horned dinosaurs for example, are known from the Maastrichtian faunal stage of the Late Cretaceous.

Plotting Horned Dinosaur Species Against Temporal and Geographical Distribution (Part 5)

Ceratopsian Species - where they lived and when (part 5).

Temporal calibrations and geographical locations of Ceratopsian species (part 5).

Table Credit: Andrew Knapp, Robert J. Knell, Andrew A. Farke, Mark A. Loewen, David W. E. Hone published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B (Biology).

Last of All Triceratops prorsus

The last three species listed are all believed to be the youngest of the horned dinosaurs described so far, in terms of geological age.  The two species of Triceratops are known from the Hell Creek Formation, whilst the controversial Nedoceratops (known from only one skull and therefore thought by some palaeontologists to be nomen dubium), comes from the Lance Formation of Wyoming.  All three species are classified as members of the Ceratopsidae sub-family Chasmosaurinae, which with Torosaurus also a Chasmosaur (T. latus listed in table 5), suggests that Centrosaurine dinosaurs may not have persisted to the very end of the Age of Dinosaurs.

Plotting Horned Dinosaur Species Against Temporal and Geographical Distribution (Part 6)

Ceratopsian species - where and when they lived (end).

Temporal calibrations and geographical locations of Ceratopsian species (end of the Maastrichtian stage).

Table Credit: Andrew Knapp, Robert J. Knell, Andrew A. Farke, Mark A. Loewen, David W. E. Hone published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B (Biology).

Triceratops – One of the Very Last of All the Dinosaurs

Schleich Triceratops dinosaur model (2018).

The new for 2018 Schleich Triceratops dinosaur model.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

We once again congratulate the researchers for producing such an amazing study and for making available in the supplementary data all these really informative tables.

For the first part of our review of the Ceratopsian data tables: Ceratopsian Species – When and Where They Lived (Part 1)

27 03, 2018

Ceratopsian Species – When and Where they Lived (Part 1)

By | March 27th, 2018|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Geology, Main Page, Palaeontological articles|0 Comments

Ceratopsian Species – Where and When did they Live (part 1)

A few days ago, Everything Dinosaur published an article which summarised some remarkable research into the Ceratopsian family tree undertaken by a team of international scientists.  This research team, that included researchers from the University of London, postulated that all those fancy frills and horns associated with the horned dinosaurs, probably evolved to help individuals attract a mate.  This statistical study involved mapping when different species of horned dinosaur lived, where they lived and what other Ceratopsians may have been contemporaneous.

In the supplementary data, the researchers provided a marvellous Ceratopsian family tree plotted against geological time.  Quite a feat considering more than seventy species of horned dinosaur were analysed.  In addition, the team published very useful tables that summarised the data they had compiled.  The table listed the horned dinosaurs and provided information about which continent their fossils had been found and calibrated their approximate ages (upper limit and lower limit of stratigraphical distribution).

Plotting Ceratopsian Species Against Temporal and Geographical Distribution

Ceratopsian species and temporal calibration/geographical location.

Temporal calibrations and geographical locations of Ceratopsian species (part 1).

Table Credit: Andrew Knapp, Robert J. Knell, Andrew A. Farke, Mark A. Loewen, David W. E. Hone published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B (Biology).

The table (above) shows temporal calibrations and geographical locations of Ceratopsian species.   Taxa that were included in the morphological character state analysis (the research into horns and crests), are indicated in bold type.  Region abbreviations: Asia: A; North America: NA; Europe: E.

One of the earliest Ceratopsians described to date is Yinlong downsi, fossils of which were found in Upper/Middle Jurassic aged rocks in Xinjiang Province (western China).  It is likely that the Ceratopsian lineage originated in the Middle Jurassic and that these bird-hipped dinosaurs first evolved in Asia.

An Illustration of Yinlong downsi – An Early Ceratopsian

An illustration of Yinlong downsi.

Yinlong downsi, an early Ceratopsian dinosaur.  The first horned dinosaurs were very probably small and bipedal.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

Building on the Shoulder of Giants

The research team collated a significant amount of data that had been produced by other scientists.  Using this extensive research (source of the data is recorded in the table), a table listing Ceratopsian species, where they lived and when they lived was produced.

Plotting Ceratopsian Species Against Temporal and Geographical Distribution (Part 2)

Ceratopsian species - where they lived and when (part 2).

Temporal calibrations and geographical locations of Ceratopsian species (part 2).

Table Credit: Andrew Knapp, Robert J. Knell, Andrew A. Farke, Mark A. Loewen, David W. E. Hone published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B (Biology).

The second part of the table lists horned dinosaurs from the Late Cretaceous (majority) and also includes the first reference to a horned dinosaur from Europe Ajkaceratops kosmai, which is known from anterior portions of the skull and jaws discovered in Hungary.

To read our article from 2010, which discusses the discovery of the first European Ceratopsian (A. kosmai): Evidence of European Ceratopsians Grows With Hungarian Discovery

We congratulate the research team conducting the statistical study into the ornamentation of the Ceratopsia and praise all those patient, dedicated scientists that helped to provide the data set for them to work on.  A second article will be published shortly that features the rest of the horned dinosaur temporal and geographical distribution table.

To read our original article on the Ceratopsian research: Why Did Horned Dinosaurs Have Fancy Frills?

To view the timeline of Ceratopsian species – (a family tree of horned dinosaurs): A Horned Dinosaur Family Tree Plotted Over Geological Time

24 02, 2018

In Search of a Prehistoric Landscape Under the Sea

By | February 24th, 2018|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Geology, Main Page|0 Comments

Exploring the Ancient Landscape Under the Irish Sea

A team of international scientists are setting out to map and explore the extensive submerged landscape that lies under the Irish Sea.  The research team includes members of the Irish Marine Institute and the Institute of Technology Sligo and the University College Cork and they aim to explore the prehistoric landscape and search for evidence of human activity and habitation.  At the end of the last Ice Age, huge areas of habitable land in Europe were flooded as sea levels rose.  Scientists estimate that the water rose by around 120 metres, (as a guide, St Paul’s Cathedral is around 111 metres tall), beneath the waves lies a virtually unknown palaeolandscape of plains, hills, marshlands and river valleys.

A Map Showing the Maximum Extent of the Marine Palaeolandscapes

The extent of the palaeolandscape prior to sea level changes.

Approximate maximum extent of marine palaeolandscapes off the Irish and British coasts (survey areas in red).

Picture Credit: University of Bradford

A Landscape Similar to Doggerland

The researchers are confident that the palaeolandscape between Great Britain and Ireland will be similar to that of Doggerland, an area of the southern North Sea and currently the best-known example of a palaeolandscape in Europe.  Doggerland has been extensively researched by Professor Vince Gaffney from the University of Bradford, Principal Investigator of the “Europe’s Lost Frontiers” Project.

The “Lost Frontiers” Project

Lost Frontiers is an ERC-funded Advanced Grant project based at Bradford University (West Yorkshire).   The purpose is to better understand the transition between nomadic, hunter gathering populations to sedentary farming communities in north-western Europe.  The “Lost Frontiers” team are studying the evidence for inundated palaeolandscapes around the British coast using seismic reflectance data sets to generate topographical maps of these hidden landscapes.  Environmental data from these areas is then being used to reconstruct and simulate the palaeoenvironments of these areas using ancient DNA extracted directly from sediment cores as well as traditional environmental data.

Professor Gaffney commented:

“Research by the project team has also provided accurate maps for the submerged lands that lie between Ireland and Britain and these are suspected to hold crucial information regarding the first settlers of Ireland and adjacent lands along the Atlantic corridor.”

Drilling Sediment Cores to Explore an Ancient Submerged Landscape

Around sixty sediment cores are going to be drilled at twenty carefully selected sites in Liverpool and Cardigan Bays, these cores will then be analysed by the research team in order to build up a picture of how the landscape changed over time.  Analysis of plant spores and pollen will help to establish the type of landscape that once existed under the waves, from this and using Doggerland research as a benchmark, the existence of different types of megafauna can be inferred.

The Coastal Vessel RV Celtic Voyager Will be the Base of Operations

RV Coastal Voyager

The coastal vessel RV Celtic Voyager will be the base of operations for the research team and core drilling staff.

Picture Credit: Bradford University

Commenting on the significance of this research Dr James Bonsall (Institute of Technology Sligo), stated:

“It is very exciting, as we’re using cutting-edge technology to retrieve the first evidence for life within landscapes that were inundated by rising sea levels thousands of years ago.  This is the first time that this range of techniques has been employed on submerged landscapes under the Irish Sea.  Today, we perceive the Irish Sea as a large body of water, a sea that separates us from Britain and mainland Europe, a sea that gives us an identity as a proud island nation.  But 18,000 years ago, Ireland, Britain and Europe were part of a single landmass that gradually flooded over thousands of years, forming the islands that we know today.  We’re going to find out where, when, why and how people lived on a landscape that today is located beneath the waves.”

Reconstructing Ancient Landscapes

The researchers hope to reconstruct and simulate the palaeoenvironments of the Irish Sea, using ancient DNA, analysed in the laboratories at the University of Warwick, and palaeoenvironmental data extracted from the sediment cores.  This information will help the team to build up a picture of the lives of the people who once lived on the land between what is now Ireland and Great Britain.

Mapping the Palaeolandscapes of the Irish Sea

Red triangles indicate survey sites.

Geology of the survey area and core sampling sites (red triangles).

Picture Credit: Bradford University

Dr Martin Bates (University of Wales) added:

“This is a very exciting opportunity as the cores we are collecting are the first drilled in the Cardigan Bay sea bed since perhaps the 1970’s.  They are going to provide us with material that will really help us to understand how Cardigan Bay changed as the sea flooded across the landscape during the time that people were coming back to Wales after the last glaciation.”

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

11 02, 2018

Magma Outflow from Mid-Ocean Ridges Contributed to Dinosaur Demise

By | February 11th, 2018|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Geology, Main Page|0 Comments

Magma Outpourings Along Oceanic Boundaries of Tectonic Plates

Scientists have concluded that magma outpourings along the edges of tectonic plates in the deep ocean may have contributed to the mass extinction event that marked the end of the Mesozoic, some sixty-six million years ago.

Researchers from the University of Oregon, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Minnesota, identified gravity-related fluctuations dating to around the time of the end Cretaceous along ocean ridges that point to the worldwide release of volcanic magma.   The outpouring of molten rock could have contributed to the global climatic catastrophe that marked the extinction of about 70% of all terrestrial lifeforms including the dinosaurs and their flying reptile cousins (Pterosauria).

The Extra-terrestrial Impact Event Could Have Exacerbated Volcanism Including Along Oceanic Ridges

Magma flows along ocean ridges.

Increased outpourings of magma along ancient ocean ridges could have contributed to the end Cretaceous extinction event.

Picture Credit: University of Oregon/E. Paul Oberlander, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Graphic Services

Lead author of the scientific paper, published in the academic journal “Science Advances” Joseph Byrnes, (Department of Earth Sciences, University of Minnesota), stated:

“We found evidence for a previously unknown period of globally heighted volcanic activity during the mass-extinction event.”

A “One-Two” Knockout Blow

The team’s analysis of the strength of gravity along these ancient ocean ridges, points to a pulse of accelerated global volcanism that along with the massive outpourings known as the Deccan Traps of India would have significantly impacted upon the planet’s climate.  How much the enormous Deccan Traps contributed to the demise of the Dinosauria has been debated for decades.  Huge volcanic events, fortunately quite rare, such as the outpourings of molten rock that at some places in India, are more than two kilometres thick and cover much of the western portion of the sub-continent, can have a colossal effect on the Earth’s climate.  When these events do occur, they are very often linked to global mass extinctions.  The expulsion of gas and ash into the air can block out the sun causing plants to die and ecosystems to collapse.  Acid rain is also associated with the release of sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere from volcanoes.

With the discovery of the Chicxulub impact crater on the Yucatan Peninsula (Mexico), scientists have debated how much of an effect the Deccan Traps eruptions did have.  Seismic data suggests that part of India was already active when the extra-terrestrial body hit the Earth around 66 million years ago, however, the impact was so massive, the resulting seismic shock waves moved through the Earth’s crust and probably led to an acceleration of those eruptions.

Co-author, Leif Karlstrom added:

“Our work suggests a connection between these exceedingly rare and catastrophic events, distributed over the entire planet.  The meteorite’s impact may have influenced volcanic eruptions that were already going on, making for a one-two punch.”

The idea that the impact event increased volcanism gained credence in 2015 following research from scientists based that the University of California, Berkeley.  They proposed that powerful seismic waves could have exacerbated distant volcanic eruptions, making the Deccan Traps even more active.

Mapping Gravity Anomalies in Mid-Ocean Late Cretaceous Environments

Mapping gravity anomolies.

Coloured and black lines mark mid-ocean ridges 66 million years ago and reflect seafloor spreading rates and gravity anomalies after the impact event.

Picture Credit: Joseph Byrnes

This new research extends this exacerbated eruption idea to oceanic basins worldwide.  To conduct the research, a geological map of the seafloor was divided into equally sized sections and the history of the ocean basins plotted back in time for more than 100 million years.  At around 66 million years ago, the approximate time of the Chicxulub impact event, evidence for a “short-lived pulse of marine magmatism”, along the ancient ocean ridges where tectonic plates meet was found.  This pulse is indicated by a spike in the rate of the occurrence of free-air gravity anomalies found in the data.  Free-air gravity anomalies, measured in tiny increments (milligals), account for variations in gravitational acceleration, found from satellite measurements of additional seawater collecting where the Earth’s gravity is stronger.  Byrnes found changes in free-air gravity anomalies of between five and twenty milligals associated with seafloor created in the first million years after the impact event.

The scientific paper: “Anomalous K-Pg–aged Seafloor Attributed to Impact-induced Mid-Ocean Ridge Magmatism” by Joseph S. Byrnes and Leif Karlstrom published in the journal “Science Advances”

10 01, 2018

Fossils of Folkestone, Kent by Philip Hadland

By | January 10th, 2018|Book Reviews, Dinosaur Fans, Educational Activities, Geology, Main Page, Photos/Pictures of Fossils, Press Releases|0 Comments

A Review of the Fossils of Folkestone, Kent

Fossil collecting is a popular hobby and there are a number of excellent general guide books available.  However, the newly published “Fossils of Folkestone, Kent” by geologist and museum curator Philip Hadland, takes a slightly different perspective.  Instead of focusing on lots of fossil collecting locations, Philip provides a comprehensive overview of just one area of the Kent coast, the beaches and cliffs surrounding the port of Folkestone.  Here is a book that delivers what its title implies, if you want to explore the Gault Clay, Lower Greensand and Chalks around Folkestone then this is the book for you.

The Fossils of Folkestone, Kent by Philip Hadland – A Comprehensive Guide

Fossil collecting guide to the Folkestone area.

Fossils of Folkestone, Kent by Philip Hadland and published by Siri Scientific Press and priced at £12.99 plus postage.

Picture Credit: Siri Scientific Press

A Comprehensive Overview of the Geology and the Palaeoenvironment of the Folkestone Area

The author clearly has a tremendous affection for this part of the Kent coast.  His enthusiasm is infectious and the reader is soon dipping into the various chapters, dedicated to the rock formations exposed along the cliffs and the fossil delights to be found within them.  Folkestone is probably most famous for its beautiful Gault Clay ammonites, the clay being deposited around 100 million years ago and a wide variety of these cephalopods can be found preserved in the rocks.  The book contains more than 100 full colour plates, so even the beginner fossil hunter can have a go at identifying their fossil discoveries.

Clear Colour Photographs Help with Fossil Identification

Ammonite fossils from Folkestone (Anahoplites praecox).

Anahoplites praecox fossil from Folkestone.

Picture Credit: Siri Scientific Press

Surprises on the Shoreline

The book begins by explaining some of the pleasures of fossil hunting, before briefly outlining a history of fossil collecting in the Folkestone area and introducing some of the colourful characters who were prominent fossil collectors in their day.  The geology of the area is explored using terminology that the general reader can understand and follow, but academics too, will no doubt gain a lot from this publication.  Intriguingly, the Cretaceous-aged sediments were thought to have been deposited in a marine environment, however, the Lower Greensand beds have produced evidence of dinosaur footprints.  The palaeoenvironment seems to have been somewhat more complex than previously thought, the Lower Greensand preserving evidence of inter-tidal mudflats, that were once crossed by dinosaurs.  Isolated dinosaur bones have also been found in the area and the book contains some fantastic photographs of these exceptionally rare fossil discoveries.

Helping to Identify Fossil Finds

Folkestone fossils - ammonites.

Folkestone fossils – ammonites.

Picture Credit: Siri Scientific Press

Prehistoric Mammals

To help with identification, the colour plates and accompanying text are organised by main animal groups.  There are detailed sections on bivalves, brachiopods, corals, crustaceans, gastropods, belemnites and ammonites.  There are plenty of photographs of vertebrate fossils too and not just fish and reptiles associated with the Mesozoic.  Pleistocene-aged deposits are found in this area and these preserve the remains of numerous exotic prehistoric animals that once called this part of Kent home.

Fossil Teeth from a Hippopotamus Which Lived in the Folkestone Area During a Warmer Inter-glacial Period

Folkestone fossils - Teeth from a Hippopotamus.

Pleistocene mammal fossils from Folkestone (Hippopotamus upper canine and molar).

Picture Credit: Siri Scientific Press

The author comments that the presence of hippos, along with other large mammals such as elephants as proved by fossil finds, demonstrates how very different Folkestone was just 120,000 years ago.  It is likely that humans were present in the area, evidence of hominins have been found elsewhere in England and in nearby France, but as yet, no indications of human activity or a human presence in this area have been found.  Perhaps, an enthusiastic fossil hunter armed with this guide, will one day discover the fossils or archaeology that demonstrates that people were living in the area and exploiting the abundant food resources that existed.

A Partial Femur from a Large Hippopotamus Provides Testament to the Exotic Pleistocene Fauna

Folkestone fossils - partial femur from a Hippopotamus.

A partial femur (thigh bone) from a Hippopotamus.

Picture Credit: Siri Scientific Press

With a foreword by renowned palaeontologist Dean Lomax, “Fossils of Folkestone, Kent” is an essential read for anyone with aspirations regarding collecting fossils on this part of the English coast.  The book, with its weather-proof cover, fits snugly into a backpack and the excellent photographs and text make fossil identification in the field really easy.

If your New Year’s resolution is to get out more to enjoy the wonders of the British countryside, to start fossil hunting, or to visit more fossil collecting locations, then the “Fossils of Folkestone, Kent” by Philip Hadland would be a worthy addition to your book collection.

For further information on this book and to order a copy: Siri Scientific Press On-line

16 11, 2017

Cataloguing the Ancient Forests of Antarctica

By | November 16th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Geology, Main Page, Palaeontological articles, Photos/Pictures of Fossils|0 Comments

Permian, Triassic and Jurassic-aged Forests Explored on the Coldest Continent

Over the next few months, a team of intrepid scientists will be hoping to continue their exploration of some of the most remote fossil locations in the world.  Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee have been mapping the sedimentary deposits at McIntyre Promontory, at the head of the Ramsey Glacier in Antarctica.  To date, the team have recorded an extensive series of strata ranging in ages from the Late Permian to the Jurassic, the numerous plant fossils found are helping the scientists to better understand the evolution of forests and their flora over the southernmost portions of Gondwana.

Remains of Prehistoric Forests Uncovered in Antarctica

Prehistoric tree trunk (geology hammer provides scale).

An ancient tree trunk discovered in Antarctica.

Picture Credit: University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Antarctica in the Late Permian Period

A total of thirteen trees have been found with numerous fragmentary fossils of other plants, including Ginkgos and Glossopteris.  The oldest plants described by this research team, date from the Late Permian of around 260 million years ago.  Some of the fossils have stems and roots attached and have been preserved “in situ”.  No transport of fossil material is involved, the fossils are preserved where the plants grew.  The flora of this southerly habitat has been preserved thanks to occasional volcanic events that buried the primitive forests in ash.

Commenting on the significance of the Antarctic ancient flora, palaeoecologist and visiting assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Department of Geosciences, Erik Gulbranson stated:

“People have known about the fossils in Antarctica since the 1910-12 Robert Falcon Scott expedition.  However, most of Antarctica is still unexplored.  Sometimes, you might be the first person to ever climb a particular mountain.”

Beautifully Preserved Plant Fossils

Ancient plant fossils from Antarctica.

Ancient plant fossil remains.

Picture Credit: University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

The Late Permian forests preceded the most extensive mass extinction event in the Phanerozoic (end Permian mass extinction event),  the scientists are hoping to use their growing knowledge of the ancient Antarctic forests to look at the possible impact on global warming on extant plant communities.  In addition, as the Antarctic forests grew at polar latitudes where plants can’t grow today, Gulbranson believes that the trees were an extremely hardy species and he and his colleagues are trying to determine why they died out.

Just like their modern counterparts, prehistoric tree fossils can reveal seasonal growth rings.  These rings when examined in microscopic detail can reveal patterns of seasonal growth.  Antarctica during the Late Permian was further north than it is today, even so, despite the milder climate, the forests would have had to endure prolonged periods of darkness, when the sun never emerged above the horizon.  The research team hopes to use the ancient growth rings to learn more about how these forests coped with such extremes.

Ancient Tree Trunks Can Help Decipher Seasonal Growth Patterns

Antarctic prehistoric plant life.

Ancient trees can reveal evidence of seasonal growth.

Picture Credit: University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Climate Change and the End Permian Mass Extinction Event

The cause or causes of the end Permian extinction event remain an area of controversy within palaeontology, although many scientists now believe that a huge increase in atmospheric greenhouse gases such as methane and CO2 which resulted from extensive global volcanic activity led to world-wide climate change.  John Isbell (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee), has visited Antarctica before, on this expedition he examined the matrix and other sediments surrounding the in situ fossils to determine how these plant remains fitted into the geology of Antarctica.

To read an article written by Everything Dinosaur in 2015, that explains how rocks from South Africa are helping scientists to unravel global extinction events: Karoo Rocks Provide a Fresh Insight into Extinction Events

The Plant Fossils Might Represent New Species

The prehistoric forests of Antarctica.

Delicate plant fronds have been preserved.

Picture Credit: University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

The extensive forests may have stretched across the whole of the super-continent Gondwana.  Evidence of Glossopteris fossils and other plant remains have been used to help substantiate the theory of continental drift.  These Permian forests would have looked very different from today’s temperate woodlands, the flora would have been dominated by mosses, ferns, Pteridosperms (seed ferns) and conifers.

Erik Gulbranson explained that the Antarctic fossils have provided important information about plant diversity at higher latitudes. During the Permian, forests were a potentially low diversity assemblage of different plant types with specific functions that affected how the entire forest responded to environmental change.  This is in direct contrast to today’s high-latitude forests that display greater plant diversity.

Gulbranson added:

“This plant group must have been capable of surviving and thriving in a variety of environments.  It’s extremely rare, even today, for a group to appear across nearly an entire hemisphere of the globe.”

Tough Forests Failed to Survive Climate Change

The researchers conclude that these tough trees and plants did not survive the climate change that marked the end of the Permian.  Younger plant fossils from Triassic and Jurassic sediments provide evidence of the changing Antarctic flora over time, but many of the types of plants found in the Permian forests, despite their resilience, died out.

Erik Gulbranson Can Study the Permian Plant Fossils in the University Laboratory

Plant fossils being examined.

Examining the Permian plant fossils (Erik Gulbranson – University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee).

Picture Credit: University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee/Troye Fox

By analysing the preserved tree growth rings, the scientists have found that these trees transitioned from summer activity to winter dormancy very rapidly, perhaps within a few weeks.  Extant plants make the same transition over the course of several months and also conserve water by making food during the day and resting at night.  Scientists don’t yet know how months of perpetual light would have affected the plants’ day-and-night cycles.

The team hope to return to the various Antarctic dig sites in the early part of 2018.  They hope to learn more about the annual growth cycles of the trees and to determine how the forests coped with rising levels of greenhouse gases and a warming climate.  It is hoped that by studying the Permian flora of Antarctica, models looking at how living plants will cope with climate change can be developed.

5 11, 2017

Chicxulub Impact – A Really Bad Place to Hit

By | November 5th, 2017|Dinosaur and Prehistoric Animal News Stories, Dinosaur Fans, Geology, Main Page|0 Comments

Chicxulub Impact – The Big Freeze

For life on Earth, the impact event that marked the end of the Mesozoic Era was made many times worse as the extra-terrestrial object caused the release of climate-active gases.  As if the devastation was not bad enough, the high-velocity impact caused the release of huge quantities of sulphur and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere triggering a dramatic world-wide cooling and exacerbating the effect of this event.  No wonder then, that around 70% of all terrestrial life died out.  Two scientific papers report on the consequences of this catastrophe.  In the first, the effect of gases released into the atmosphere from the sedimentary rocks that were hit are modelled and in the second paper, scientists look at just how unfortunate the dinosaurs were.  If the extra-terrestrial object had hit virtually anywhere else on Earth, the consequences for Cretaceous life would not have been so severe.

In simple terms, the dinosaurs were very unlucky, there was only a 13% chance of a mass extinction event occurring 66 million years ago when the object from space hit.

An Extra-terrestrial Object Hurtles Towards Earth 66 Million Years Ago

Asteroid strikes the Earth.

An extra-terrestrial impact event.   The dinosaurs were very unlucky.

Picture Credit: Deposit photos/Paul Paladin

A Global Effect

Writing in the journal “Geophysical Research Letters”, the authors of the first scientific paper report that the impact in the shallow sea of the Gulf of Mexico may have resulted in the expulsion of more than 300 billion tonnes of sulphur into the atmosphere.  In addition, the rocks that the object hit also released vast quantities of carbon dioxide, somewhere around 400 billion tonnes of CO2.   Some of the sulphur may have combined with water vapour to form sulphuric acid, this would have fallen back to Earth in the form of acid rain, further damaging plant life and upsetting food chains.  However, much of the gas would have remained high up in the atmosphere and behaved like aerosols, changing the amount of solar irradiation reaching the ground which led to surface temperatures plummeting.

The global effect was freezing temperatures for several years, a nuclear winter.  The research team which includes scientists from the Imperial College London and Potsdam University, conclude that ocean temperatures could have been affected for hundreds of years.  The abrupt climate change may explain why so many species become extinct.  The end-Cretaceous mass extinction event saw entire groups of animals and plants die out including the non-avian dinosaurs, the Pterosauria, several types of marine reptiles, as well as cephalopods such as the ammonites.  In addition, there were major losses amongst brachiopods, bivalves, sea urchins and many different types of marine plankton also perished.  Although, in comparison, groups such as the flowering plants (Angiosperms), amphibians, mammals and fishes were less affected, there were still extinctions.

Hitting the Earth in a Very Bad Place

Plummeting temperatures and a sustained period of intense cold would have made survival for the likes of the Dinosauria, extremely difficult.  Such a dramatic climate downturn would have devastated ecosystems, leaving animals like the non-avian dinosaurs and flying reptiles doomed.  However, in a second paper published in the journal “Scientific Reports”, scientists from Tohoku University and the Meteorological Research Institute, Tsukuba (both in Japan), state that life on Earth 66 million years ago, was just unlucky.  According to the calculations of these scientists, there was only a thirteen percent chance of the mass extinction event that wiped out the dinosaurs.  If the extra-terrestrial object had hit almost anywhere else, the consequences would not have been so severe and the Dinosauria et al might just have survived to the present day.

Examining the Consequences of the Yucatan Peninsula Impact

Unlucky dinosaurs - asteroid impact in the wrong place.

A devastating mass extinction could only occur if an asteroid struck a hydrocarbon-rich area (those marked in orange).

Picture Credit: Kunio Kaiho (Tohoku University)

The Japan-based researchers postulated that the severity of the climate change would vary depending on where the extra-terrestrial body hit.  Areas with higher levels of sedimentary organic material would throw more soot into the upper parts of the atmosphere.  More hydrocarbons present would result in greater releases of CO2.  Those areas with sulphur-rich rocks would have released more sulphur.  The team conclude that the effects of the impact were much more dramatic because the impact was in the Gulf of Mexico.  To test their hypothesis, a series of impact scenarios were run using global climate models to assess changes in temperature.

When the Yucatan Peninsula Cretaceous geology was examined, the team concluded that the hydro-carbon rich strata would have thrown debris into the upper atmosphere that resulted in a drop of global temperature by an average of 8 to 11 degrees Celsius.  On land, the temperature drop could have been as excessive as a fall of 17 degrees Celsius.  The oceans did not fare much better, with average temperature drops of between 5 and 7 degrees Celsius at depths of up to fifty metres.  Putting this into context, our world is faced with global climate warming.  The Paris Agreement, now ratified by 169 countries, has a central aim to keep the global temperature rise this century to below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Very Unlucky Dinosaurs

The extinction of the dinosaurs.

Had the impact event taken place anywhere else on the planet, its consequences for life on Earth might not have been so severe.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

The researchers looked at how widespread the sort of rocks found in the Yucatan Peninsula in the Cretaceous, were.  They found that these types of rocks were mostly associated with marine coastal margins.  The shallow seas permitted the concentration of algae which could deposit more organic matter into the sediments.  These areas covered just thirteen percent of the Earth’s surface.

Had the asteroid struck somewhere in the other eighty-seven percent of the planet, then, although the impact event would have been catastrophic, it might not have been as bad as it was.  The researchers even go as far as to state that some species of dinosaurs may have persisted beyond the Cretaceous.  The Mammalia would not have had the chance to radiate and therefore the primates, including humans, might not have evolved at all.

Changes in Fauna over the Phanerozoic Based on Extinction Events

The probability of dinosaur extinction.

Looking at the probability of a mass extinction event (Chicxulub impact).

The graph above shows Phanerozoic faunal changes with approximately 13% probability following the Chicxulub asteroid impact.  Changes in fauna are based on extinction rates.   A consequence of the end Cretaceous extinction event was the demise of the Dinosauria and the rise of mammals.

Sometimes it can come down to serendipity.

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