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UCMP students help the public unleash their inner scientist

The public enjoys the opportunity to explore fossils and learn more about paleontology from UCMP students. Photo by Renske Kirchholtes

The public enjoys the opportunity to explore fossils and learn more about paleontology from UCMP students. Photo by Renske Kirchholtes

On November 7 UCMP participated in the Bay Area Science Festival Discovery Day at AT&T Park. Discovery Day is the closing event of the annual Bay Area Science Festival – a science extravaganza offering a wide range of science and technology activities in a variety of venues over a two-week period.

The UCMP joined other Science@Cal exhibitors for the fifth straight year by engaging youth and families in fossils and life of the past, highlighting what lived at AT&T Park before the Giants! Thanks to UCMP students Eric Holt, Renske Kirchholtes, Jun Lim, Emily Orzechowski, Elyanah Posner, Nick Spano, and Alexis Williams for making the UCMP table a top hit with festival-goers.

Graduate students (from left to right) Eric Holt, Nick Spano, Jun Lim, and Emily Orzechowski, prepare the exhibit table during Discovery Days at AT&T Park. Photo by Jun Lim

Graduate students (from left to right) Eric Holt, Nick Spano, Jun Lim, and Emily Orzechowski, prepare the exhibit table during Discovery Days at AT&T Park. Photo by Jun Lim

Landscapes change forever when large mammals disappear

An African elephant grazing among trees.

An African elephant grazes. Photo credit: Tony Barnosky

Research on the extinction of large mammals by members of the Barnosky Lab and their colleagues highlights how entire landscapes are affected when modern elephants and their extinct relatives, mastodons and mammoths, disappear.  From plants that are no longer grazed to fewer nutrients in soils, the loss of megafauna significantly impacts ecosystems in a dramatic fashion as detailed in recent articles and interviews.

Learn more about this recent research:


UCMP and Stanford partner on a global change workshop for teachers

Teachers Monica Sircar (left; Everest Public High School, Redwood City) and Crystina Ayala (ASCEND K-8 School, Oakland) use string to represent rays of sunlight hitting Earth's surface at different angles at different latitudes.

Teachers Monica Sircar (left; Everest Public High School, Redwood City) and Crystina Ayala (ASCEND K-8 School, Oakland) use string to represent rays of sunlight hitting Earth's surface at different angles at different latitudes.

Middle and high school science teachers received double the resources when UCMP and Stanford's School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences teamed up to offer a week-long workshop on global change.

Read more about the workshop on Stanford's blog

UCMP science casual: Dinosaur NightLife at the California Academy of Sciences

Imagine over 3,000 adults in San Francisco’s California Academy of Sciences (Cal Academy) for a night of fun special exhibits, drinks, and a serious science social. Now imagine it every Thursday. On July 23rd a dinosaur-themed Cal Academy NightLife event called upon volunteers from UCMP to showcase and explain the mysteries of these monsters beside their contemporary chews.

The NightLife also featured a tour of Cal Academy’s library archives about the historic “Bone Wars” between Victorian paleontologists Othniel Charles Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope and a showing of the 1993 classic Jurassic Park in the Tusher African Hall. Indeed, there was something uncannily familiar about watching the Dilophosaurus scene from Jurassic Park amongst stuffed African lions and cheetahs, who had also certainly taken their fair share of prey during life.

The event runs every Thursday from 6-10pm and requires a 21+ photo ID for entry. Stay tuned for the next time UCMP crosses the bay for another paleo-themed NightLife gathering!

New research shows how mammals became smaller in response to dramatic climate warming

Lead author Brian Rankin holds jaws of two species of 50 million year old horses.  Measurements of their teeth were used to study how global change can affect how mammals evolve.

Lead author Brian Rankin holds jaws of two species of 50 million year old horses. Measurements of their teeth were used to study how global change can affect how mammals evolve.

Fifty-six million years ago the Earth underwent a dramatic warming event, with temperatures increasing by as much as 7° Celsius over a span of just 100,000 years. Many mammals responded to this temperature increase by becoming much smaller. How these changes happened, however, is poorly understood. Identifying and measuring the mechanisms that drove these changes was the focus of a new study by University of California Museum of Paleontology researchers Brian Rankin and Pat Holroyd, and colleagues from University of Calgary and Western University of Health Sciences.

Lead author Brian Rankin, the newest postdoctoral scholar of University of California Museum of Paleontology, explains "When temperatures get warmer, we see a wide range of mammals become smaller. Determining what evolutionary processes are responsible for these changes and how much each contribute to this pattern has been very uncertain. We chose the evolution of mammals at the Paleocene-Eocene boundary because it is a time of dramatic global warming when many different types of animals became dwarfed and the fossil record of this time is incredibly rich."

In a new paper published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, these researchers present a new method to separate and quantify body size change due to selective extinction vs. change within lineages to determine which is the most important way in which evolution takes place during times of global warming. They found that that some evolutionary mechanisms (i.e., species selection) might act differently during global warming events, favoring mammals that increase in size rather than decrease. The methods developed in the paper can now be broadly applied to look at evolutionary change during other times of global change.

Partnership with Point Reyes National Seashore leads to important discovery of marine specimen

ptreyes-fossilUCMP's partnership with Point Reyes National Seashore (National Park Service) has resulted in the discovery and collection of an important marine mammal specimen. This specimen is currently being prepared by UCMP Research Associate Robert Boessenecker, and will be reposited at UCMP. Lillian Pearson, a Geoscientist-in-the-Park intern, is setting up protocols for the long-term monitoring of paleontological resources (fossils) at Point Reyes. Erica Clites did this type of work for the National Park Service before coming to UCMP, and has been advising Lillian on the project. For more information, read the full story.

Barnosky meets with Governor Jerry Brown and a United Nations delegation to discuss climate change

On June 15, UCMP Curator and Integrative Biology Professor Tony Barnosky met with Governor Jerry Brown, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Christiana Figueres, and California climatologists at the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History to discuss global warming and the consequences of failing to deal with it.

At a press conference following the meeting, Brown expressed his desire to reduce California’s greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent over the next 15 years and spoke of legislation mandating that 50 per cent of the State’s electricity come from renewable sources by 2050.

Brown et al

Behind Governor Brown (at the podium) are (from left) Christiana Figueres, Liz Hadley, and Tony Barnosky. Photo courtesy of Tony Barnosky.

At the end of November, representatives from some 195 countries will gather in Paris for a UN Climate Change Conference in the hope of forging international agreements to limit greenhouse gases and combat climate change.

See past blog posts dealing with Tony’s involvement with climate change issues.

UCMP participates in Girl Scouts’ “bridging” event

Every May for the past 30 years or so, the Girl Scouts of Northern California have celebrated the advancement of their scouts from Junior to Cadette status by a symbolic walk across the Golden Gate Bridge. Following this year’s May 2 event, the scouts continued on to Crissy Field where they enjoyed entertainment and information booths. And UCMP was there to celebrate with the scouts.

For the third year in a row, UCMP hosted a table staffed by an enthusiastic crew that included graduate student (and former Dutch girl scout) Renske Kirchholtes, undergraduates Gina Hwang and Alexis Williams, and Museum Scientist Erica Clites. The Girl Scouts and their parents enjoyed talking with current UC Berkeley students and seeing women role models.

Renske and Alexis

Graduate student Renske Kirchholtes and undergraduate Alexis Williams talk with members of a Girl Scout troop at Crissy Field. Photo by Erica Clites.

Alexis and Gina

Berkeley undergraduates (and UCMP employees on the USGS project) Alexis Williams (left) and Gina Hwang show fossils to eager Girl Scouts. Photo by Erica Clites.

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.