Tuesday, 28 December 2010

WOOLY MAMMOTH

Creating long extinct life through harvested genetic remains is closer than you think. After successful experiments at the Institute for Reproductive Studies in Scottsdale, Arizona, with frozen mice sperm, scientists are now experimenting with sperm from mammoths preserved in Siberian ice.

We may one day have wooly mammoths (Mammuthus primigenius), extinct since the Pleistocene, roaming around zoos and colder climes. At least it looks that way. Because of their massive size and icy cold environment, many mammoths have been preserved as frozen carcasses instead of being turned to stone, thus they are prime candidates for genetic reproduction. We really can bring them back. When originally touted in the news as a possibility, most audiences took the science to be too farfetched.

Researchers harvesting DNA and deciphering their genome feel they are on the edge of doing just that. Science as we know it is sliding down the double helix to science fiction. DNA, long bits of genetic code that form the roadmap of how we are built, is relatively easy to harvest and remarkably hardy.

Even with the abuse of time, small amounts can be extracted and with that the genetic wizards are able to put the puzzle pieces back together. Frozen sperm is used in fertility clinics around the globe, the difference here is that the entire mammal is frozen before harvesting the sperm. Once harvested, the frozen sperm from long extinct male mammoths is injected into eggs from females of closely related species. While positive results have been made and papers published (see the National Academy of Sciences) a baby mammoth has yet to be conceived.

A return debut? Yes, it seems it is true. Geneticists have mastered the craft, mapping out the genetic code on species ranging from mice to men. So, start planning their "Welcome back" parties. Wooly's time has arrived!

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Friday, 5 November 2010

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

JOHN DAY MAMMAL FOSSIL FIELD TRIP


More than a 100 groups of mammals have been found in the early Miocene (37 – 20 mya) John Day Formation near Kimberly, Oregon. I'm planning a field trip this July to collect in the fossiliferous strata that have yielded beautifully preserved speciments of many of the animals we see domesticated today. Dogs, cats, swine and horses are common. Oreodonts, camels, rhinoceras and rodents have also been found in this ancient deciduous forested area.


Here my talented young paleontologist cousin Spencer is holding a well preserved Oreodont skull.Many sites in Oregon yield beautifully preserved fossil shells laid down over 60 million years. The asteroid that hit the Gulf of Mexico at the end of the Cretaceous caused a seafloor rift that split ancient Oregon. The massive hole left behind as the coastal lands slid northward filled in with sediment, refilling the basin.

These marine sediments were uplifted around the time of the birth of Oregon's Coastal Range. Easily collected and identified (since they look mightly similar to their modern cousins) you can dig for marine fossils all along Oregon's beachfront. I'll post some photos when I return from collecting later this year.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

IMPOSING WHITE PEAKS: THE CARIBOO GROUP

We soak up the breathtaking views after a long morning's paddle. The east and south sides of our route are bound by the imposing white peaks of the Cariboo Mountains, the northern boundary of the Interior wet belt, rising up across the Rocky Mountain Trench, and the Isaac Formation, the oldest of seven formations that make up the Cariboo Group. Some 270 million plus years ago, had one wanted to buy waterfront property in what is now British Columbia, you’d be looking somewhere between Prince George and the Alberta border. The rest of the province had yet to arrive but would be made up of over twenty major terranes from around the Pacific. The rock that would eventually become the Cariboo Mountains and form the lakes and valleys of Bowron was far out in the Pacific Ocean, down near the equator.

With tectonic shifting, these rocks drifted north-eastward, riding their continental plate, until they collided with and joined the Cordillera in what is now British Columbia. Continued pressure and volcanic activity helped create the tremendous slopes of the Cariboo Range we see today with repeated bouts of glaciation during the Pleistocene carving their final shape. Warm and dry with bellies filled full of soup and crisps, we head back out to explore more of nature's bounty.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

HUMAN REMAINS FOUND IN TRANSILVANIA

I travelled to Transylvania last year and spent some time in the newly minted anthro-capilal of Romania. I was lucky enough to brush shoulders and prep tools with paleoanthropologists working on a new find that changes what we know about early human activity in Eastern Europe.

If Van Helsing were poking around Transylvania these days, chances are he'd be more likely to be looking for the decaying remains of 35,000 year old humans than blood drinking vampires. Romania's dark history extends back way past the days of Vlad. Seems vampires and ghouls aside, something darker and much more interesting lurks.

The remains of a man, woman and teenage boy, the first Romanian family if you will, tell the most complete picture of what our ancestors were like some 35,000 years ago.

International scientists have been carrying out further analysis to get a clearer picture on the find, said anthropologist Erik Trinkaus, of Washington University in St. Louis.

But it's already clear that, "this is the most complete collection of modern humans in Europe older than 28,000 years," he told The Associated Press. "We are very excited about it," And they have reason to be. The find is changing perceptions about modern humans.

Romanian recreational cavers unearthed the remains of three facial bones last year, and gave them to Romanian scientists. Romanian scientists asked Trinkaus to analyze the fossils, and he traveled to the Romanian city of Cluj this week with Portuguese scientist Joao Zilhao , a fossil specialist.

Included in the find was a jawbone belonging to a male around 35-years in age. It was found alongside a partial skull and teeth from another male, likely his son or perhaps another relative, around 15-years old. The bone fragments were near a temporal bone to a woman of unspecified age.

"This was 25,000 years before agriculture. Certainly they were hunters," said Trinkaus . He said the bones were discovered in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains . Trinkaus said the humans would have had religious beliefs, used stone tools, and a well-defined social system and lived in a period in during which early modern humans overlapped with late surviving Neanderthals in Europe.

The humans survived because the area was ecologically variable being close the Banat plain and close to the mountains. A team of international scientists from the United States , Norway , Portugal and Britain will return to the cave to continue their field work next year.

Look out Van Helsing, there are new kids in town.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Monday, 20 September 2010

CHUCKANUT DRIVE: EOCENE TROPICAL PARADISE

The siltstones, sandstones, mudstones and conglomerates of the Chuckanut Formation were laid down about 40-54 million years ago during the Eocene epoch, a time of luxuriant plant growth in the subtropical flood plain that covered much of the Pacific Northwest.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Saturday, 11 September 2010

MOONLIT NIGHT: DINOSAUR TRACKWAYS

In the summer of 2005, I joined Jen Becker, and fellow delegates from the British Columbia Paleontological Symposium for an impromtu late night tour of Wolverine River, one of many prolific research sites of Lisa Buckley, a magnificent vertebrate paleontologist working in the Tumbler Ridge area of British Columbia.

There are two types of footprints at the Wolverine River Tracksite - theropods (at least four different sizes) and ankylosaurs. The prints featured in this photo were layed down by ankylosaurs. Many of the prints are so shallow that they can only be recognised by the skin impressions pressed into the tracks.

At Wolverine, we filled in the dinosaur trackways with water and then lit them by lamplight to mysterious effect.

No visit to BC's Peace Region is complete without a trip to the Tumbler Ridge Museum and Dinosaur Lake Campground.

In 2000, two young boys, Mark Turner and Daniel Helm, were tubing down the rapids of Flatbed Creek just below Tumbler Ridge. As they walked up the shoreline excitedment began to build as they quickly recognized a series of regular depressions as dinosaur footprints. Their discovery spurred an infusion of tourism and research in the area.

The Hudson's Hope Museum, also in the Peace Region, has an extensive collection of terrestrial and marine fossils from the area. They feature ichthysaurs, a marine reptile and hadrosaur tracks.

Driftwood Canyon Provincial Park, near Smithers, is open to visitors interested in photographing significant marine fossils. If you do not have a chance to get out to the site, you can also view the collections at the Bulkley Valley Museum in Smithers.

Friday, 27 August 2010

FOSSILS OF OREGON: FARALLON PLATE

Had you been swimming with the marine fossils that were laid down in the Eocene Epoch in Oregon, some 55 to 38 million years ago, you'd be treading water right up to where the Cascade Mountains are today.

The Farallon Plate took a turn north some 57 million years ago, sweeping much of western coastal Oregon along with it. The Cascades were beginning to uplift and were fast becoming the breakwater for a retreating Pacific Ocean.

By the middle Oligocene, the Cascadia Subduction Zone was in full force with growing pressure erupting volcanoes along the Western Cascades, a pattern that was to continue well into the Miocene. The soft ocean sediments of Oregon contain beautifully preserved gastropods, bivalves and cephalopods.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Friday, 20 August 2010

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Monday, 2 August 2010

Saturday, 31 July 2010

DOGWOOD BOUNTY

The Bowron Lake Circuit is home to a variety of plant life. Large sections of the forest floor are carpeted in the green and white of dogwood, a prolific ground cover we are lucky enough to see in full bloom. Moss, mushrooms and small wild flowers grown on every available surface.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

EARTH: THE BLUE PLANET: BACTERIA

Exquisitely beautiful, yet small, silent and deadly, bacteria were some of the first true life forms. Our Earth formed 4,500 million years ago but bacteria didn't arise until 1,000 million years ago, well after the Big Bang.

Since that time, a great variety of life has evolved. Most of the plant and animal life that has arisen has subsequently gone extinct and our only ties to them are through the fossil record.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Friday, 16 July 2010

PADDLING BEFORE THE FRONT

As a weather system approaches, the wind picks up, with the strongest force just ahead of the front. The wind brings waves, making our paddling unstable.

Like most mountainous areas, Bowron makes its own weather system and it appears you get everything in a 24-hour period. In fact, whatever weather you are enjoying seems to change 40 minutes later; good for rain, bad for sun. Wisps of cloud that seemed light and airy only hours early have become dark. Careful to hug the shore, we are ready for a quick escape from lightening as thundershowers break.

For this small band of kayakers, the weather forecast is helpful, but it just one portion of the equation. Local weather, and more importantly, wind, comes from a mixture of factors.

Local knowledge of the topography, the relative temperature of land and lake we paddle help predict how windy and soggy our afternoon will be.

Today, the cooler air is flowing off the water up the forested slopes, heating and rising as it does so, creating a 5-15 knot intermittent force that turns ripples into small white caps.

A few strong gusts of wind drive us off the lake, breaking for lunch to wait out the worst of it, and knowing that the winds that started mid-morning will subside by late afternoon and rise again after sunset. We snack on warm soup and flatbread, watching as our once crystal clear oasis turns to froth. Warm, dry and now with full bellies, we get back on the water. We’re eager to push through to our next destination knowing that by nightfall the katabatic winds will arrive, as warmer air from the hillsides flows down and out over the chilly lake.

Paddling in unison, we enjoy the crisp air, confident that well before then we’ll be snugged in our tents sipping hot cocoa.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Monday, 28 June 2010

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Friday, 4 June 2010

WOODLAND THERMOMETER: BRITISH COLUMBIA

Out in the woods of British Columbia and wondering what the temperature is? Slip down to the nearest stand of deciduous trees to search for the wee Snowy Tree Cricket, Oecanthus Fultoni, part of the order orthoptera.

Snowy Tree Crickets and their cousins double as thermometers and wee garden predators, dining on aphids and other wee beasties. Weather conditions, both hot and cold, affect the speed at which they rub the base of their wings together and consequently regulate their rate of chirping.

Listen for their tell-tale high pitch triple chirp sound in the early evening. Being in Canada, our crickets chirp in Celsius. Simply count the number of chirps over a seven second period and add five to learn your local temperature.

If didn't bring your calculator with you into the woods and you're still operating in old-skool Fahrenheit use this handy conversion. Double the temperature in Celsius, add 32 you'll get the approximate temperature in Fahrenheit.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

ANCIENT RIVER DELTA

The exposures of the Chuckanut Formation were once part of a vast river delta; imagine, if you will, the bayou country of the Lower Mississippi.

The siltstones, sandstones, mudstones and conglomerates of the Chuckanut Formation were laid down about 40-54 million years ago during the Eocene epoch, a time of luxuriant plant growth in the subtropical flood plain that covered much of the Pacific Northwest. This ancient wetland provided ideal conditions to preserve the many trees, shrubs & plants that thrived here. Rare bird, reptile and mammal tracks have also been immortalized. Tracks from Diatryma, a large flightless bird, were uncovered in 2009. Diatryma reached up to 9 feet in height, making a living in the grasslands and swamps of the Eocene.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

SERENE BEAUTY

UNEARTHING ANCIENT WASHINGTON

A trip along Chuckanut Drive, in northwestern Washington is a chance to view incredible diversity from sea to sky.

An amazing array of plants and animals call this coastline home. For the fossil enthusiast, it is a chance to slip back in time and have a bird’s eye view to a more tropical time with a visit to the Chuckanut Formation. Snug up against the Pacific Ocean, this 6000m thick exposure yields a vast number of tropical and flowering plants that you might see in Mexico today.

Easily accessible by car, this rich natural playground makes for an enjoyable daytrip just one hour south of the US Border

Monday, 10 May 2010

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

MOSASAUR: JAWLINE REVEALED

A close-up view of the dentition of an ancient aquatic, carnivorous lizard,the mighty Mosasaur, from Late Cretaceous exposures on Vancouver Island.

This well-prepped specimen is now housed in the collections of the Courtenay Museum, Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

The creature who owned this jaw bone undoubtably swam alongside Kourisodon puntledgensis, another enormous marine predator and new species of Mosasaur unearthed on Vancouver Island who swam our ancient seaway millions of years ago.