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Southern California Spring Break 2015 field trip

Annual field trips used to be something of a tradition at UCMP, but that tradition faded once the Department of Paleontology merged with other units to become the Department of Integrative Biology in 1989. In recent years, former UCMP Director Jere Lipps organized and led three field trips: Baja in 2001, southern California in 2008, and Oregon in 2009. And now two of UCMP’s newest curators, Assistant Professors Seth Finnegan and Cindy Looy, are trying to revive the annual field trip tradition. Seth organized and led a trip to the Kettleman Hills and Death Valley in 2014, and this year, he and Cindy led one to southern California during Spring Break, March 21-28.

On March 21, Seth, Cindy, three UCMP staff (Lisa White, Dave Smith, and Erica Clites), and 11 grad students headed south from Berkeley, with their first stop being a locality south of Soledad along Arroyo Seco Canyon in Monterey County. Here, the group had their first look at the rocks of the extensive Miocene Monterey Formation and found pea crabs, bivalves, and brachiopods. The group would visit more exposures of the Monterey Formation along the California coast — at Gaviota State Park and El Capitan State Beach, west of Santa Barbara — and even as far south as Newport Bay.

Crabs and scallops

Left: Small crab fossils were fairly abundant at the first locality in the Monterey Formation, Arroyo Seco Canyon. Photo by Camilla Souto. Right: Bivalves, such as these scallops, were found at a second locality about a mile away. Photo by Erica Clites.

Gaviota and strike-dip

Top: The strongly dipping exposures of the Monterey Formation at Gaviota State Park, about 33 miles west of Santa Barbara. Bottom: Lisa White (center) takes a strike and dip reading before the students begin measuring a stratigraphic section at the park. Both photos by Camilla Souto.

El Capitan and alga

At both Gaviota State Park and El Capitan State Beach (left), the group found fossils, such as this alga (right), in the Monterey Formation exposures. El Capitan photo by Dave Smith; alga photo by Camilla Souto.

At Piru Gorge, just off I-5 south of Tejon Pass, an attempt was made to relocate some plant localities reported by UCMP alum Daniel Axelrod (A.B., 1933; M.A., 1936; Ph.D., 1938), but without success. East of the gorge and the highway, some road cuts exhibiting nice geological features (cross bedding, ripple marks, etc.) were examined.

Piru Gorge and geology

Top: In Piru Gorge, the group sets off in search of fossil plant localities. Photo by Erica Clites. Bottom: West of Piru Gorge, Caitlin Boas, Seth Finnegan, and Cindy Looy admire the geological features exhibited in a road cut. Photo by Dave Smith.

Jere Lipps — current Director of The Cooper Center, the fossil repository for Orange County — gave the group a tour of the Cooper facility. Afterwards, Jere took the group to a number of interesting localities in the Newport Bay area, including a visit to the Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve with outstanding views of marine terraces. At the end of the day, Jere and Susie Lipps had the group to their home for a barbecue.

Cooper Center and Newport Bay

Top: Jere Lipps (in all black) gives the group a tour of The Cooper Center. Bottom: Examining another Monterey Formation exposure on the east side of Newport Bay. Note the plastic sheeting draped across the bluff in an attempt to slow erosion. Both photos by Dave Smith.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, east of San Diego, was the next stop. The group spent two days looking at the geology exposed at Split Mountain and along Fish Creek Wash in the southeastern corner of the park. The rocks along the wash told some very interesting stories. Moving from east to west, the group examined cobble-filled layers believed to have been deposited by flash floods. Farther on, the rocks showed where an underwater landslide buckled unlithified ocean sediments. Close to the western end of Split Mountain, a series of turbidites — underwater sediment flows that result from slope failures at shelf margins or the distal edges of large river deltas — were observed. Even farther west down the wash, many layers of nearly equal thickness were suggestive of sands deposited out on a vast river delta of shallow slope.

Fold and camp at dawn

Top: Dori and Natalia take a closer look at folded marine sediments, thought to be the result of an underwater landslide hitting the ocean floor nearby. The toe of the unstratified landslide deposit can be seen at the far right. Bottom: A new day dawns at the group’s camp in Fish Creek Wash. Both photos by Dave Smith.

From Anza, the group headed to the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge on the southeast shore of the Salton Sea. Here the group had an initial look at the lake’s beaches covered with dead barnacles and the bones of fish and birds. After a stop to admire some mud volcanoes near one of the 11 geothermal power plants located around the southern end of the Salton Sea, the group headed to the hills above Mecca at the north end of the lake. The group spent its final night in Painted Canyon after taking a hike through it and an adjoining slot canyon.

Salton Sea and mud volcanoes

Top: The shore of the Salton Sea, with a geothermal power plant visible in the distance. Bottom: Ash studies a mud volcano located near one of the geothermal plants. Both photos by Dave Smith.

Painted Canyon and Anza-Borrego sunset

Top: Caitlin, Ash, Dori, Cindy, and Jeff in Painted Canyon. Bottom: A last look across the hills south of Wind Caves in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Both photos by Camilla Souto.

After a morning look at some roadside exposures of delta deposits, the group made the long drive back to Berkeley. All participants thoroughly enjoyed the trip and Seth and Cindy are already pondering where to go next year. Will it be the Great Basin? Channel Islands? Italy anyone?

The Bearded Lady Project comes to the UCMP

The Bearded Lady Project: Changing the Face of Science came to the UCMP in February, one of many stops in a photographic journey made by documentary film makers seeking to educate the public on gender inequities in geoscience fields, particularly in paleontology. Women of the UCMP sat for portraits that will become part of a photography series intended to celebrate adventurous women who are true pioneers in the fields. See if you can recognize some of your favorite women of the UCMP!

Bearded UCMP

Having trouble recognizing anyone? In the back row are, from the left, Jessica Bean, Emily Orezechowski, Lucy Chang, Renske Kirchholtes, Emily Lindsey, Erica Clites, Whitney Reiner, Jenna Judge (with head turned), Caitlin Boas, Diane Erwin, Carole Hickman, and Allison Stegner. In front are, from the left, Winnie Hsiung, Camilla Souto, Rosemary Romero, Liz Ferrer, Dori Contreras, Cindy Looy, Tesla Monson, Tripti Bhattacharya, Lisa White, Natalia Villavicencio, and Sarah ElShafie. Just outside the frame of this photo was Savannah Blake. Photo by Dave Smith.

Fossils in the Campanile? It’s true!

Campanile

If you have taken the elevator to the top of Sather Tower, aka the Campanile, perhaps you've heard that some of the floors of the tower are filled with fossils. This is not a campus myth, it's fact!

The Campanile is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year and its very first occupants — moving in before the tower was even completed — were fossils. At that time, the museum and Department of Paleontology were in Bacon Hall, just east of the Campanile, so as a storage facility, the tower was conveniently located. Although the museum has moved several times over the past century, the fossils in the Campanile have not.

Some of the first fossils to be moved into the tower were vertebrate bones from John C. Merriam's excavations at the Rancho La Brea tar pits. These bones, collected prior to 1914, occupy four of the five floors devoted to fossil storage. But the Campanile houses several other collections too. There are bones collected in the 1930s from asphalt deposits in McKittrick (about halfway between San Luis Obispo and Bakersfield) and nearby Maricopa; mammoth bones, teeth, tusks, and other miscellaneous Pleistocene fossils; modern whale bones; a few blocks containing ribs of the plesiosaur Hydrotherosaurus alexandrae; crates containing plaster casts of dinosaur footprints and trackways that were made by Sam Welles while doing field work in the Kayenta Formation of Arizona; petrified wood from the Petrified Forest; fossil plants; invertebrate fossils, including collections moved to the Campanile from McCone Hall and some from Triassic rocks in Nevada; Upper Cretaceous leaves from Bryce Canyon, Utah; oil company collections of microfossils (bulk samples) and invertebrates; casts of mastodont skulls; an ichthyosaur skull; some sculptural reconstructions (including a glyptodont); and cases of reprints. A conservative estimate of the number of fossils stored in the Campanile, excluding the microfossils, is 300,000.

Mark and Leslea

Mark Goodwin and Leslea Hlusko with drawers of vertebrate fossils collected in the 1930s from the McKittrick asphalt deposits. As Assistant Director for Collections and Research, Mark manages all the UCMP collections, including these in the Campanile. Leslea is a UCMP Curator and Associate Professor in the Department of Integrative Biology; her lab has projects underway that involve some of the Campanile fossils. Photo by Kevin Ho Nguyen.

During this year-long celebration of the Campanile, it is only fitting that the fossils housed there receive some attention too. We will periodically post blogs throughout the year to discuss some of the ongoing research projects that involve the Campanile's fossils. For instance, UCMP Curator and Associate Professor of Integrative Biology Leslea Hlusko and her lab have two projects underway and Eric Holt, an undergrad in Tony Barnosky's lab, is looking at wolf morphometrics. And back in September we announced the grant award from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to curate the Campanile's McKittrick fossils. To date, more than 2,500 specimens have been cleaned and cataloged, and more than 500 images of 273 specimens have been added to CalPhotos.

Wolf skulls

Just a few of the Canis dirus (dire wolf) skulls from the Rancho La Brea tar pits housed in the Campanile. Photo by Kevin Ho Nguyen.

Stay tuned for more about the Campanile's fossil treasures!

UCMP participates in the Bay Area Science Festival for fourth straight year

On November 1, UCMP participated in Discovery Days at AT&T Park, the closing event of the annual Bay Area Science Festival. The museum has been a Science@Cal exhibitor at the Festival for four years running. This year, over 30,000 people enjoyed 200 free activities and exhibits at the Festival, a “science extravaganza.” The Festival is meant to entertain and inspire; it’s where visitors can unleash their inner scientist.

BASF 2014 photo

Museum Scientist Erica Clites and undergraduate volunteer Dianne Quiroz (pictured) staffed the UCMP table during Discovery Days at AT&T Park. Photo by Erica Clites.

UCMP curator and Integrative Biology professor keeps attention focused on climate change and mass extinction

On November 30, the Smithsonian Channel will air the film Mass Extinction: Life at the Brink featuring UC Berkeley researchers Walter and Luis Alvarez, as well as UCMP’s Tony Barnosky; and Stanford University’s Elizabeth Hadly and Jon Payne. The film describes what we know about the Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary, how we know it, and how the Cretaceous-Paleogene and end-Permian mass extinctions relate to our present extinction crisis. Learn more at smithsonianchannel.com and tangledbankstudios.org.

Barnosky screen capture

Tony Barnosky in the HHMI video “Anthony Barnosky and Kaitlin Maguire Measure Mammal Extinctions at the John Day Fossil Beds.” Screen capture from the hhmi.org BioInteractive website.

Watch newscenter.berkeley.edu this week (November 24) for a news release about Tony Barnosky and his work regarding mass extinctions.

See Tony’s recent blog entitled “Preventing the Sixth Mass Extinction Requires Dealing With Climate Change” on The Huffington Post website.

Also see two free educational videos produced by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) that are available on HHMI’s BioInteractive website as well as YouTube. One features Barnosky and UCMP alum Kaitlin Maguire measuring mammal extinctions in Oregon’s John Day Fossil Beds, and in the other, Stanford’s Elizabeth Hadly and biologist Sean Carroll track the effects of climate change in Yellowstone National Park.

• Measuring mammal extinctions at John Day: BioInteractive / YouTube

• Tracking climate change in Yellowstone: BioInteractive / YouTube

UCMP expertise tapped for new KQED e-book series on climate change

ebook selectionKQED partnered with UCMP and Stanford University’s Precourt Institute for Energy to produce a four-part e-book series entitled Clue into Climate. Lisa White, UCMP’s Assistant Director for Education and Public Programs, says “These new e-books bring climate research to life and create greater access to information about climate and global environmental change in an easy to understand package.”

The e-books explore the topic through a blend of high-quality media, interactive graphics and real-world examples of the effects of climate change. Primarily developed for middle- and high-school students—but also relevant for lifelong learners—the series explores the causes of climate change, its impacts on freshwater and ecosystems, and innovative strategies for curbing and adapting to change.

Find links to download all four e-books on the KQED Education site.

UCMP expands its Homecoming Weekend program

In previous years, UCMP’s involvement with UC Berkeley’s Homecoming Weekend was limited to a single tour of the collections (normally closed to the public), but this year, the museum decided to expand on that and offer something a little different for its Friends and donors.

On Friday, October 10, Assistant Director for Collections and Research Mark Goodwin started things off with his annual tour of the collections, but that was followed by an afternoon lecture by UCMP Curator and Integrative Biology Professor Tony Barnosky on “Dodging Extinction,” based on his new book of the same name. Barnosky’s book addresses the looming Sixth Mass Extinction and what we can do to prevent it.

The big weekend event was an invitation-only “Night at the Museum” for Friends and donors organized by Assistant Director for Education and Outreach Lisa White. Guests enjoyed food, wine, and cocktails (with such names as “Mammoth Mojito” and “The Trilobite”) while listening to introductory comments by UCMP Director Charles Marshall, Vice Chancellor for Research Graham Fleming, and Dean of the College of Letters & Science G. Steven Martin in the Valley Life Sciences Building’s Wallace Atrium.

The guests were split into smaller groups and led into the museum’s collections where a number of stations were set up, each highlighting the research of select UCMP students, staff, and Curators. The plan was for each group to spend about eight minutes at each station before moving on to the next, but they became so absorbed with the presentations that they were reluctant to leave; therefore, the time spent at each station was extended to about 15 minutes. Because of this, the event, which should have ended shortly after 8:00, ran closer to 9:30 pm. But as far as we could tell, our guests thoroughly enjoyed themselves and UCMP intends to sponsor more special events during future Homecoming Weekends at Cal.

A few photos from the evening’s special event, all taken by Lucy Chang, follow.

charles

UCMP Director Charles Marshall (beneath the T. rex’s ribcage) addresses the gathered guests and members of the UCMP community.
 

Jeff

Grad student Jeff Benca explains how he’s looking at modern plants and pollen to answer questions about the end-Permian extinction, the largest mass extinction in the Earth’s history.
 

Mark

Assistant Director for Collections and Research Mark Goodwin discusses bone structure and growth in the horns and skull of Triceratops.
 

Sarah

Recent graduate Sarah Tulga describes her work with fossil vertebrates that lived alongside the earliest dinosaurs in the Triassic period.
 

Sara

Grad student Sara ElShafie is interested in documenting changes in the growth rates of both extinct and living herpetofaunas (reptiles & amphibians) in response to climate change.
 

Lindsey

Grad student Lindsey Dougherty explains her work with Ctenoides ales, the so-called “disco clam.” See the blog post about Lindsey and the clam’s flashing behavior.
 

Diane and Zixiang

On the left, Senior Museum Scientist Diane Erwin talks about a UCMP collection of fossil insects. At right, first-year grad student Zixiang Zhang discusses the differences between the skulls of saber-toothed cats and modern lions.

The 2015 UCMP Fossil Treasures Calendar now available

UCMP and the development of the ichthyosaur quarry at Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park

2015 calendar image

The focus for the 2015 calendar became Nevada’s Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park when a trove of 35 mm slides and black & white prints chronicling the development of the ichthyosaur quarry was found in the museum archives. These images, from the Charles L. Camp Papers, dominate the calendar, however, there are also slides from the collections of Sam Welles and Joe Gregory, images from the Huff family archives, newspaper clippings, printed materials, and scientific illustrations.

A short summary
In 1953, the bones of large ichthyosaurs found east of Gabbs, Nevada, were brought to the attention of UCMP’s Charles Camp. The following year, he began excavations that led to the discovery of bones representing some 37 individuals of a new kind of ichthyosaur that he later described and named Shonisaurus. From the beginning, Camp felt that the locality should be protected as a state park and, working with other interested parties in Nevada, he was successful in convincing the legislature to do this.

Camp turned one quarry containing the bones of several ichthyosaurs into a showcase for visitors, leaving the bones in situ and sandblasting them clean; this became the Visitors’ Quarry that people see at the park today.

Camp died before he was able to publish his description of the new species, but Joe Gregory saw that the manuscript was completed and published in 1980. UCMP’s Sam Welles, with the assistance of volunteers, spent three summers in the early 1980s at the Visitors’ Quarry cleaning and preserving the exposed bones and making a new map of the bonebed. Read more about the park.

Order now!
Contact Chris Mejia at cmejia@berkeley.edu or call 510-642-1821 to obtain your 2015 UCMP Fossil Treasures Calendar. They're only $10 each (plus postage) and all proceeds support museum research, education, and outreach.

And for you collectors, a few copies of both the 2013 and 2014 UCMP Fossil Treasures Calendar are still available for a mere $2.

Air-breathing snails, old and new

The UC Museum of Paleontology (UCMP) is home to more than five million invertebrate fossil specimens, a majority of them being marine in origin. While rehousing the US Geological Survey’s Menlo Park collections, I came across specimens of Actinella, a genus of terrestrial gastropod. The earliest known air-breathing gastropods in the fossil record appeared during the Carboniferous Period, Carboniferous being a reference to the abundant coal deposits formed at this time, 359 to 299 million years ago.

Actinella fossils

Actinella fossils from the US Geological Survey collection.

The name Actinella was established by the British naturalist Richard Thomas Lowe. While serving as a clergyman in the Madeira Islands — a Portuguese archipelago in the North Atlantic Ocean — Lowe collected, studied, identified and named many different snail genera and subspecies between the 1830s and 1850s. Lowe’s work is still cited today and used in the identification of Actinella fossils. In 1892, the Scottish malacologist Robert Boog Watson described specimens of Actinella in the Journal of Conchology. Thirty years later, Watson’s work with Actinella was referred to and further expanded upon by then University of Colorado, Boulder, Professor T.D.A. Cockerell in a 1922 edition of the journal Nature.

Terrestrial snails evolved from marine snails, but some modern relatives, such as Ellobium aurismidae, the Midas ear snail, have characteristics of both. Certain parts of the world have terrestrial snails that prefer wet habitats, like Carychium minimum, the herald thorn snail. Other snail species, such as Myosotella myosotis, the mouse ear snail, have adapted to live near water with high salinity.

Air-breathing snails

From left to right are the air-breathing terrestrial snails Ellobium aurismidae, Myosotella myosotis, and Carychium minimum.

Studies of living specimens of Actinella and other gastropods continue to generate interesting information. For example, in a 2008 Nature article, UC Berkeley Professor Nipam Patel and UC Berkeley postdoctoral fellow Cristina Grande discovered that snails use the same genes as humans do for right-left determination of internal and external structures. With continuing investigations into gastropods, both extinct and living, marine and terrestrial, fossils from UCMP’s USGS Menlo Park invertebrate collection just might lead to another discovery!

 

Actinella photo by the UCMP Invertebrate Collection crew. Ellobium photo © 2012 Femorale (CC BY-NC 3.0); image has been modified. Myosotella photo by Malcolm Storey (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0); image has been cropped. Carychium photo by H. Zell (CC BY-SA 3.0); image has been modified.

New UCMP grant to curate the Pleistocene-Holocene McKittrick tarpit fossil collection

Sandy tar deposits at the McKittrick tar seeps in Kern County. Photo by Susumu Tomiya

Sandy tar deposits at the McKittrick tar seeps in Kern County. Photo by Susumu Tomiya

UCMP is pleased to announce the award of a new $149,713 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to curate, rehouse, and capture digital images of the important Pleistocene-Holocene McKittrick tarpit fossil collection from Kern County, California.

The McKittrick tarpits were excavated by Cal scientists in the 1930s and yielded thousands of bones of extinct and extant mammals, birds, and reptiles. The area was eventually designated a California State Historical Landmark due to the importance of these finds. These fossils span a key climatic transition and extinction event near the Pleistocene-Holocene boundary and have direct relevance to other UCMP and UC Berkeley research initiatives. Unfortunately, the fossils, many of which are housed in the Campanile, have never been fully curated, and few people know of their importance. This funding gives us the support to conserve these fossils properly and develop web content and digital learning materials to highlight McKittrick and contrast the site to the better-known La Brea tarpits. We are excited by and grateful for the support of IMLS in helping us to share this important part of the story of California. The one year project will kick off October 1, 2014.