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Archive for February 2012

UCMP loses a long-time Friend and alum - Nestor John Sander

This morning I was saddened to learn that long-time Friend of UCMP, Nestor John Sander (AKA Sandy) passed away.  He was nearly 98. Sandy graduated from Cal with a B.A. in paleontology in 1936 and completed his Masters in 1938. He then joined Standard Oil Company of California and was sent to Saudi Arabia the same year. There he was assigned to map the subsurface contours of a major anticlinal fold that is now the largest oil field in the world, Ghawar. This more than qualified him for an interview as part of an ABC television special: Crude- the incredible journey of oil.


Sandy was a great story teller and while most World War II history buffs encouraged conversations about his dealings with King Saud, Sandy just wanted to talk paleo.  His last visit to UCMP was some time ago as travelling became increasingly difficult for him, but his computer kept him connected, and his research never ended.  On his YouTube channel you will find a series of lectures – self-published in his home in Modesto – and covering topics of stratigraphy, foraminifera and other microfossils.  He had recently been in contact with Dave Lindberg, as he wanted to complete a series on molluscs.  He was also a published author in a more traditional sense, completing a book about the first King of Saudi Arabia whom he met in 1939 – Ibn Saud: King by Conquest.


A visit to his home always began with a glass of champagne, strawberries, and petit fours – a combo he often shared with his wife of many of years and of whom he spoke with much tenderness.  On our last visit, he entrusted me with a beautifully bound biography that he had written along with a photo album reflecting his life and his work.  These I delivered to the Bancroft Library in the hopes that they will be of interest to others.  He lived at a time of great world changes and he lived life to the fullest.  You can find out more about who Sandy really was by reading his mini-autobiography on the web – entitled Peregrinations of a Positivist.  I will really miss him.

Bay Area Field Guide: Point Reyes

Point Reyes and the surrounding area in Marin County is a beautiful place to visit and learn about local geology, paleontology, botany and zoology. Marin County contains large outcrops of the Franciscan Complex rocks. These rocks, mostly Cretaceous in age, are a mélange of rocks that originated to the west and accreted to the California coast as the Pacific Plate subducted beneath the North American Plate.  The Franciscan Complex includes metamorphics, chert, greywacke, shale and pillow basalts. The pillow basalts formed on the ocean floor 100 to 200 million years ago, thousands of miles to the west at a spreading center or a hotspot.

Point Reyes is on the western side of the San Andres Fault, a large fault system that runs along the coast of California. The geological layers that make up Point Reyes originated further south and are traveling north (about 1.6 inches per year) along the fault line.  The basement rock of Point Reyes is 350 to 450 million year old granite and the sedimentary rocks the granite metamorphosed. Overlying these rocks are a series of Tertiary sedimentary deposits including the Pt. Reyes Conglomerate, Laird Sandstone, Monterey Shale and “Drake’s Bay Formation”. This last formation, Miocene in age, has been subdivided into the Santa Margarita Sandstone, Santa Cruz Sandstone and the Purisima Formation. All three of these formations outcrop further south in the East Bay, Santa Cruz and at the San Gregorio Beach, respectively, providing evidence that Point Reyes is traveling north. The Purisima Formation outcrops at Drake’s Beach where several whale fossils have been found by UCMP researchers along with several invertebrate fossils.

Photos courtesy of Nick Matzke, Jenna Judge, and Lucy Chang.

Please note that a collecting permit and official permission is required to collect, or even pick up, any vertebrate fossil or fossil fragment in any of California's State and National Parks. Other public lands, including city parks and open spaces, may have similar regulations. Best to check in with the appropriate land use office wherever your adventures take you to inquire where the best spots are to see fossils in the field and what is and is not permitted while hiking and exploring our fossil heritage in these natural preserves.

Understanding Evolution and Understanding Science February updates

The UCMP's Understanding Evolution and Understanding Science websites have been updated for February with the following features:

Paleo-cartoonist Hannah Bonner visits Berkeley

Writer and illustrator Hannah Bonner paid a visit to Berkeley on January 11 to discuss the scientific and creative processes behind her series of paleontology books for children.

Born in and based out of Mallorca, Spain, Bonner received a degree in art and has since worked primarily as a freelance artist and illustrator. Her credits include creating artwork for Scholastic, WGBH, and the Smithsonian Institute. At the latter she met her UCMP host, Cindy Looy, who, along with Ivo Duijnstee, subsequently served as advisers for Bonner's reconstructions illustrating the biotic recovery following end-Permian extinction.

Bonner's interest in combining paleontology and art began when a friend asked her to draw a reconstruction of a fossil dwarfed goat from Mediterranean islands. She then partnered with National Geographic Children's Books to create a series of books focused on making the lesser known facets of ancient life -- giant insects, coal swamps, the transition to land of both plants and animals, and more -- accessible to children and adults alike.

Bonner's colorfully illustrated and intricately detailed books depict characters in all forms of terrestrial and marine life, spanning five geologic periods, including two mass extinctions. Her latest book, "When Dinos Dawned, Mammals Got Munched, and Pterosaurs Took Flight," to be released April 2012, tells the history of life starting with the recovery from the end-Permian mass extinction and concludes with the end-Triassic mass extinction.

Bonner's talk featured personal anecdotes from the creative and editing work that went into the final product, the struggles involved with accurately communicating the science and depicting paleoenvironments, and behind-the-scenes looks into the illustration process. Primarily an illustrator, Bonner comments that making the leap to writing for her books was easy with this subject matter because, as she states, "the plot is already written in stone."

To find out more about her books, click here.

Scans of artwork provided by Hannah Bonner.

UCMP authors make NSF's 2011 "Hit Parade"

The work that resulted in the Nature paper "Has the Earth's sixth mass extinction already arrived?" came in at #3 on a list of the year's top news and discoveries from NSF-supported research, as measured by NSF web visitor statistics. The paper's UCMP co-authors include Tony Barnosky, Susumu Tomiya, Brian Swartz, Charles Marshall, Emily Lindsey, Kaitlin Maguire, and Elizabeth A. Ferrer.